Search the Site
Create a Site
Read the News
Whats On

Swerford Castle

The Early History of Swerford

There is no known pre- Domesday history of Swerford, although there were Roman villas at nearby Wigginton and Great Tew, and Hook Norton was a Royal Saxon manor. By 1086 when Domesday Book was produced, Swerford is mentioned as being part of the manor of Hook Norton and was held by Robert D'Oily. Swerford's two oldest monuments, St Mary's Church and the Motte and Bailey result from the period when the D'Oily's owned the manor.

The Motte and Bailey

Robert D'Oily was one of William the Conqueror's companions, who came with him from Normandy and fought with great valour at the Battle of Hastings.His reward was to be made Constable of Oxford,where he built the castle and defensive walls around the town. He married well, to Ealdgyth, daughter of the wealthy Saxon, Wigod of Wallingford. Her dowry included land at Hook Norton and Swerford. By 1086 Robert owned sixty one manors, of which twenty eight were in Oxfordshire. He was held in such esteem by William, that the yearly rent for land that he held from the king was a tablecloth, and this is said to be the origin of the name [i] doily for a small ornamental piece of linen.

Because both RobertD'Oily's sons were lepers they were not allowed to inherit,so he was succeeded by his brother Nigel and then by Nigel's son, also Robert. By this time Henry I was on the throne, and one of his mistresses, Edith Forme had given birth to his eldest illegitimate son, the Earl of Gloucester. In 1120 the second Robert D'Oily married Edith Forme, and it was this marriage which indirectly resulted in the building of the Motte and Bailey and St Mary's Church at Swerford.

When Henry died,in 1135 a bloody civil war raged in England between Matilda, his only surviving legitimate child, and Stephen, his nephew, over the right to the throne. It was inevitable that the D'Oilys would be drawn into the conflict, as Edith's son the Earl of Gloucester was Matilda's half brother and chief supporter. They probably built the castle to protect the road to Hook Norton over the river Swere. It would also have played a useful role in defending their lands against their aggressive neighbour, William Chesney of Deddington. Stone rubble covered with earth would comprise the main structure and the central mound [i] (motte) probably had a timber building on top. Ramparts surrounded an open courtyard [i](bailey) which stretched southwards and was accessed on the eastern side.

After 18yrs of strife, a treaty was finally agreed at Wallingford in 1153 to bring the civil war to an end. The terms were that Stephen would keep the throne,but that Matilda's son Henry would succeed him. When he did so as Henry II the following year,one of his first actions was to order the destruction of all private castles. It is likely that the building was demolished at that time, but the mound and ramparts still remain. Stone from the site may have later been used in the building of the church.

Graphic version of this page