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Near Cholsey Church are some ancient earthworks believed to be the remains of a Norman siege-castle. It would have been one of those built by King Stephen to harass to the Empress Matilda who was opposing his claim to the throne from nearby Wallingford Castle. Being on Reading Abbey lands, it may have been the castle, mistakenly called Reading Castle, that was destroyed by the Empress' son in 1153. Alternatively, it may have fallen two years earlier and been replaced by the fortification at South Moreton.
Richard Abberbury the Elder was granted a licence to crenellate his castle at Donnington by Richard II in 1386. The present gatehouse dates from this time. Abberbury had been one of the young King's guardians, when his father was still alive. The castle was later bought by Chaucer (the poet)'s son, Thomas. He was Constable of Wallingford Castle as well, but his main residence was at Ewelme (Oxon). Through him, the place became associated with the Dukes of Suffolk. Henry VII and Elizabeth I both visited in their time. both visited in their time. both visited in their time.
During the Civil War, the castle was quickly taken for the King and held by Sir John Boys. Its guns held off the parliamentary army during the Second Battle of Newbury. After this Royalist victory, it was placed under a rather half-hearted siege.
In 1144, Robert, Earl of Gloucester built a castle in Faringdon Clump (an old Iron Age hillfort) at the behest of his son, Philip. Philip had been holding Cricklade Castle (Wilts) for his aunt, the Empress Matilda, but had suffered badly from Royalist attacks and wanted another friendly stronghold in the Thames Valley. Unfortunately, no sooner had the place been built than King Stephen arrived to lay siege to it. Robert refused to send reinforcements and, after only a four day siege, the castellan, Brian De Soulis, capitulated. Soon after, Philip, exasperated by his father's inactivity, surrendered up Cricklade and joined King Stephen's cause. Rumour had it that the two Imperialists had conspired together, letting the enemy into Faringdon by night in order to safeguard their own futures. The castle was partly excavated in 1935, when some of Stephen's men, who had fallen in the assault, were found in the encompassing ditch. The dig preceded the erection of, what may be, the latest folly in England. Faringdon Folly is a 140ft brick tower built on a whim for Lord Berners. It has a look-out room at the top.
The FitzHarris estate, just north of central Abingdon, was given to a Norman knight called Owen just after the Conquest. He was one of thirty new landowners imposed on Abingdon Abbey by King William the Conqueror. The motte of his castle can still be seen off Kingston Close. Owen's 13th century descendant, Hugh FitzHarry, gave the place its name. With his lands came the right to gather up all stray livestock and extract compensation for any damage caused before their return. Hugh, of course, set the fines himself and was rather over zealous in their collection. He thus became a deeply hated man in the town. Suddenly, for some unknown reason, Hugh turned to religion and decided to join the Knights Templar on crusade in the Holy Land. All his lands were therefore put up for sale.
The Abbey was, naturally enough, very keen to purchase the FitzHarry's Manor and negotiated a price of 1,000 marks (£666 13s 4d), despite strong competition from the Earl of Cornwall. A third of the asking price was to be given over to FitzHarry when the Abbey took possession on St. Michael's Day 1247. However, when the monks arrived, they found that Hugh and his cronies had set themselves up in their hall with a great banquet and they weren't about to move on. Keen to carry out the terms of their contract, the monks were forced to send in the Rector of Wytham to negotiate. FitzHarry eventually capitulated and, in front of a large crowd that had gathered, he was ejected to Shippon.