The de Lacys were powerful Norman barons, whose home castle was at Lassy, near Falaise in southern Normandy. The shape of their castle can still be detected in a field at the edge of the village. Ilbert and Walter de Lacy sailed with William the Conqueror to England c. 1066 and were rewarded with great estates - Ilbert in Yorkshire, based on Pontrefact (sic), and Walter on the Welsh border
In 1066 Walter de Lacy, a henchman of William the Conqueror, was granted the manor of Stanton (now Stanton Lacy), together with other manors on the Welsh border. Walter and his heirs built many castles along the Welsh border and laid out several towns, as at Weobly and Ewais Lacy (now Longtown) in Herefordshire, but Ludlow was their most ambitious creation and became their principal stronghold. They also endowed a number of religious houses, including Llanthony Abbey in a remote location in Monmouthshire. A number of the de Lacys were involved in the development of Ludlow, which was described as a town in 1138. Hugh II gave burgages in lower Corve Street to the Knights Hospitallers before 1186 and Walter II is signatory to a number of local charities.
Ludlow Castle is first referred to by chroniclers in 1138 but its date of origin is not certain. The architecture suggests that the curtain wall of the inner bailey, its flanking towers and parts of the gatehouse-keep date from the later 11th century. The site of Ludlow was in a corner of the important manor of Stanton, held since 1066 by the de Lacy family.
The Norman frontier town of Ludlow (first spelled Ludelaue) occupies a site of about 50 acres inside a large, right-angled bend of the River Teme. Before the first weirs were built, probably in the 12th century, there were rapids along the Teme which caused 'the loud waters' from which the 'lud' of Ludlow is derived. The 'low' of Ludlow meant hill, i.e. the small but, in places, steep-sided hill which constitutes the site of the town or a tumulus or burial ground. The castle and the original market place occupied the crest of this hill, with residential streets sloping southward to the Teme.
The oldest part of the castle is the inner bailey, probably built by Walter's son, Roger Lacy, between 1086 and 1094 on a well protected site in the southwestern corner of the manor. This is dominated by the Great Tower, which was built in c. 1130, though incorporating an earlier T-shaped gate-house. The much larger outer bailey was built in the late 12th century and a new town was laid out under the protection of the castle, partly to provide essential services for the garrison, partly to stabilize the surrounding countryside, and party as a source of income for the manorial lord through tolls, rents and fees. Though not all the demarcated burgage plots were built upon, the privileges of town life - in the Middle Ages it was said that 'town air breathes free' - attracted sufficient migrants, most of them from surrounding villages, to make the venture a success.
The de Lacys were great local administrators. They were also involved in national affairs, especially the conquest of Ireland. Hugh de Lacy II, described as 'swarthy with an ugly scar on his cheek,' played a leading role in the first invasion in 1171. He took an Irish princess as his second wife and became Procurator General of the conquered areas. His harsh politics led to his assassination in 1186. Walter II was also much involved in Ireland, though he was often out of royal favor.
The de Lacys spent much of their time in Ireland, where they won great estates; but Ludlow remained a major power base. At times it was taken into royal hands, as in 1177 and afterwards, when the Pipe Rolls record regular payments 'to the keeper of Ludlow Castle'.
Until c. 1240 the castle was part of the large estates of the Lacy family, though for much of that time the Lacys lived elsewhere, especially in Ireland, where they seized great possessions and held important offices. During this period the castle was a grim border stronghold and was often held by rival barons or by the King himself.
The de Lacys and their heirs retained the lordship until the later 13th century, but in the civil wars of King Stephen's reign it was held by their enemy, Joce de Dinan. In 1139 Stephen himself besieged the castle and showed great bravery by rescuing his ally, young Prince Henry of Scotland, from a grappling iron. The conflicts of those years are reflected in the Fitzwarine Romance, a prose tale of the early 14th century which related events that supposedly occurred in the 1140s, when the castle was held by de Dinan. The romance tells how the castle was betrayed by Mariana de Bruere, who killed her lover when she discovered his treachery and then threw herself out of a window.
Through marriage with the heiress of the de Lacys, the Mortimers obtained the castle and lordship of Ludlow in the early fourteenth century. The ambitious Roger Mortimer plotted the overthrow of Edward the Second and lavishly entertained his Queen at Ludlow. A rival faction secured his execution and established Edward the Third as King. But later Mortimers married members of the royal family and so strengthened their aspirations to the throne. The son of the last Mortimer was Richard, Duke of York, the leader of the Yorkist faction in the Wars of the Roses. Ludlow was thus involved in the Wars and was sacked by the Lancastrians in 1459. But when Richard's son became King as Edward the Fourth, he rewarded loyal Ludlow with its charter of incorporation as a borough, confirming many ancient privileges.
Original text authored by David Lloyd, M.A., M.Ed., England. Edited for presentation.