Heighley Castle

Alternate Spelling:     Healy
Build Instructions by:     Henry de Aldithlege
Date Built:         1226 – 1233
Demolition Date:         1640’s
Current Condition:          Ruined Footings
Grade Listing:         2
Scheduled Monument No:     21537
OS grid reference:    SJ 7724 4675
Latitude:      53.0173 N
Longitude:     2.3408 W
Elevation:     145m Above Sea Level

Nearest Road:     Heighley LaneLittle remains of Heighley Castle today and there are no known images of what it looked like throughout its history. By piecing together data from books and notes, it is possible to give a perspective of the various features that are known about and although conjecture, an idea of the building and the grounds.

Work commenced in 1226 in building a replacement home for the de Audley family who wished to move from Audley Castle. Completion took several years until in 1233, the new manor house built in Madeley deer park was completed with motte and bailey that housed the de Audley’s and their retinue of servants.

The manorial base for the de Audley’s would stand for several centuries and in that time become a fortified enclosure containing a great hall and kitchen, the private family apartments, and all the usual offices which made a castle function like a ‘malthous’, ‘colehouse’ and stabling for the horses.

A focal points in the daily lives of the ‘Lords of the Manor was Heighley Castle but not the sole household in which they lived. Red Castle at Hawkstone in Shropshire, Buglawton Manor in Congleton, Newhall Tower at Combermere and a home in Nantwich all served as residences for the extended family.

Built as a hilltop fortress by Henry de Audley, it’s eventual demolition was ordered by Parliament in the 1640’s, to prevent it being used by the Royalist’s. In that act, an important part of the parish history was removed from the face of the earth, giving little idea save the footings, of what the castle’s true features looked like.

Fortunately, records still exist that give pointers to the make up of the building and its transitions and how daily live went on in and around the ‘manor’.

Heighley Castle was considered to be in the Marches, the English defence line against Welsh invasion. The
grange roof was thatched unlike the tiled roof shown at Stokesay Castle, although it possibly received tiles at a later time. Lord Audley had kennels for his deer hounds. Venison would have been one option for meat, the castle had a cowshed to house cattle for both meat and dairy products. Trees and woodland were managed in regard to the deer park hence the need for a coalhouse (colehouse) to store coal which would have been burnt for cooking and heating to preserve the wood.

  • stables
  • malthouse
  • outside of the rooms in the castle
  • castle doves

Extract From – Topographical and Historical Description of the County of Stafford

Rev. Mr. Nightingale.

The remains of Healy or Heyley Castle, in this neighbourhood, are situated on a lofty rock about a mile to the South east (of Betley). Camden tell us that the lands hereabout were given by Harvey Lord Stafford, to Henry de Aldithlege or Awdlege, already mentioned, in the reign of King John. This Henry appears to have been the founder of the castle. He was descended from William de Bettelegh or, Betley, who besides Audley* left him considerable property in this vicinity. The Stanleys earls of Derby were the descendants of this family, who were created Barons of Audley. Both the estate and title, however, afterwards went to the Touchets, and that family still continues to enjoy them.

*Audley, a small village about two miles to the north, is distinguished, as having given name, as well as title, to the noble family of Audley. This manor according to Camden was conferred upon Henry de Aldethlege or Awdllegc, by Theobald Verdun. Plot informs us, that traces of a very old castle could be discovered here in his time, which had either been built by the Betteleghs, whom Nicholas maintains to have been in possession of it before the Audleys or the Verduns, from whom he says they received it. All vestiges of this edifice are now lost.

(Photo. © Kevin J. Clarke)
Heighley Castle and Heighley Castle Farm as it is today. Taken later in the year than the black and white photo. The castle can just be seen through the branches of the surrounding trees.
The remains of the castle (only just visible, top centre)

Obvious development has taken place on the farm, though the layout of the field and the bridge spanning the River Lea are the still the same.

All that remains today are the footings and a small section of wall with all the stonework being removed from the site shortly after demolition. During wintertime, the remnants of the small section of wall and arcading are just visible from the A531 Nantwich Road above Heighley Castle Farm. The castle site is on private land owned by Lord O’Neill and is not open to the general public.

Close by Newcastle, only some four and a half miles away to the west is the site of the Castle of Heighley, on a high rock, made more pronounced by the excavation of its base and sides to produce an isolated peak. A large fosse was also produced, in places 30 feet deep and 50 feet wide, and because of the rocky nature of the terrain, it has often been said the material for the castle was provided by the contents of the fosse.

The area is about three and a quarter acres, but, like Newcastle, little remains to give the inexperienced eye an idea of what once stood there dominating the area for miles around. All that remains to be seen are two pieces of broken wall and a length of arcading which is now almost entirely obliterated by earth. It is also just possible to get a rough idea of where the moat was crossed by the bridge.
The date of the building of Heighley is given variously as 1215; the 1220’s or 1233. I think it is safe to say that it was constructed in the first quarter of the thirteenth century, and by Henry de Audley, who is also credited with the construction of Hulton Abbey.

A charter of King Henry III in 1226 made to Henry de Aldithele stated:

‘Henry de Audley had of the gilt of William de Betthelih and his heirs, all the land of Helih with its appurtenances; of the gift of Hervey de Stafford all the land which lies under the Castle of Helyh.’

The land for the castle came from William and Henry de Betley in exchange for Knolwood, which was in the Rye Hills area, and King Henry III gave him twelve hinds from Cannock Chase to help him stock his new park.

The Audley family were staunch supporters of the king and took part in every crusade and war that they could! The first Henry de Audley was a major landholder in North Staffordshire and was Constable of the new Castle, but gradually the family began to develop more and more influence as their holdings spread through advantageous marriages, careful purchases and gifts, and Heighley was their main residence when they were in North Staffordshire.

The castle is known to have contained a great hall and kitchen, the private family apartments, and all the usual offices which made a castle function like a ‘malthous’, ‘colehouse’ and stabling for the horses.

The Assize Rolls of 1271-2 recount a tragedy perpetrated by two of Lord James Audley’s men, who killed a man in a case of mistaken identity:

Geoffrey the Clerk of Lek, William the Chaplain of the same place and Thomas the Forester of Lek went over to inspect the Quarries of the Preceptory of Leke in Grytwode and suddenly Roger Hyde and Richard, son of Robert the Miller who were Parkers of the Lord James de Audethel at Heleigh fell upon them thinking that they had come to steal the game and beasts in the park of the same James and they laid hold of the same Geoffrey and cut off his head and carried him to the castle of Newcastle, and then instantly fled, they are suspected and are in the exigent and outlawed.

In 1276 Henry de Audley died, almost certainly while he was at Heighley. He was only twenty-five, but had been in for some time, and three months before his death he and his mother had made a gift to Trentham Priory. The gift was dated March 1276 and was sent from Heighley, one of the witnesses being Henry’s Seneschal at Heighley, Geoffrey de Schesington (Shavington).

Heighley Castle, like all the Staffordshire castles, acted as a garrison and muster point in times of trouble and with civil wars, and wars with the French, Welsh and Scots, there weren’t many periods when peace broke out!

Every fit man aged sixteen to sixty was obliged to become a soldier at the king’s call. Some of the names of the knights have come down to us as signatories and witnesses on documents – Giffard de Brumsfield and Hugh de Audley, both members of the Audley family; Richard de Delves the Seneschal William de Mere; Peter de Limesi…

Richard de Delves and Peter de Limesi had been yet others who had been involved in the downfall of Piers Gaveston, who must really have been an obnoxious little upstart to incur the enmity of almost every member of the Peerage, baronetage and knightage! These two were actually pardoned and were able to continue as faithful knights in the Audley household.

In 1316 Baron Nicholas Audley died aged only twenty-seven and his heir, James, was only three. The boy was also the heir to several other families, and as such was a very powerful pawn in the power game. Edward II gave the right to arrange James’ marriage to his new favourite, Roger Mortimer of Wigmore, who later became the queen’s lover and helped to kill Edward.

When James was fourteen Mortimer had him married to his own daughter, Joan The wedding took place at Hereford and was so prestigious that the queen and the young King Edward II attended. As the ambitions Mortimer made sure that all his daughters were married to men of wealth or power or influence, preferably all three, it followed that the young owner of Heighley had some mightily powerful in-laws.
The whole of the fourteenth century seems to have been almost completely lawless. The latter part saw marauding gangs around Newcastle, but their activities were predated some fifty years by the uproar occasioned by a feud between a branch of the Stafford family and the Swynnertons, which gave a lot of naughty knights the excuse to quarter the county looking for trouble!

Cattle were ‘impounded’ for ransom; food and provisions stolen from wherever the knights fancied; markets were attacked and travellers robbed. Eventually Peter de Limesi, Thomas Blarnkfront, and William de Chetelton were brought to book and fined for their misdemeanours, but many of the perpetrators managed to escape justice by vanishing into the wild countryside.

In 1320 Roger, son of Roger de Swynnerton, lodged a complaint that the same Peter de Limesi this time accompanied by Thomas Tooth, Thomas de Grenewy and Roger de Grenewye and others had committed an assault upon him at Newcastle-under-Lyme, but earlier that year, Joan, the widow of Nicholas de Audley had made complaint that some of her men had been attacked in her park at Heighley, so was the assault on Roger de Swynnerton in retaliation for his breaking into Joan’s park?

At Michaelmas in 1320, Roger de Swynnerton was making a complaint for assault against Thomas de Warwyk who had formerly been the clerk to the Countess of Heighley. According to the complaint he had ‘…like a common malefactor in full market of Newcastle under Lyme’ insulted Roger son of Roger de Swynnerton and had then proceeded to ‘…beat and maltreat him…’.

Then Adam le Hirdeman, Richard de Childerplawe, Richard de Swynnerton and William, son of William the Smith of Chelle at Newcastle on market day, set upon Thomas de Warewyk and almost beat him to death! In the same year, and on market day again, Henry the Clerk of the Countess of Heighley, Henry le Peleter and John de Iselwalle ‘…came like common malefactors..’ and attacked and wounded Agnes the wife of Robert del Bakhous and Adam son of Adam de Lanton. Market days must have been extremely lively affairs!

All this fighting spirit in 1322 became channelled into the rebellion by the Earl of Lancaster, and the Audleys chose to support Lancaster, probably because of family ties – Joan Lady Audley had been Countess of Lincoln on her first marriage, which had given her a stepdaughter who had subsequently married Lancaster. The rebellion was quashed, and Lancaster and his principal supporters were executed, the rest suffering severe fines and the loss of their lands.

Peter de Limesi, was captured at Burton Bridge and suffered the loss of his lands in Herefordshire, which were given to Roger Mortimer. The Audley lands were also confiscated and Joan was forced to leave Heighley and go to Tutbury Castle. Peter de Limesi had been given his freedom and now commanded her escort, most necessary as she took seven cartloads of treasure with her – silver, cloths and the gold and silver chapel ornaments to the value of £300. At this period 2½p per year would have paid the rent of a cottage.

The convoy reached Tutbury on the Vigil of the Epiphany, and Joan chose to stay for two days at the priory before she went to the castle. Somehow, between the priory and the castle, seven cartloads of treasure vanished The Prior denied ever having seen it, and the occupants of the castle said it had never reached there. Its true destination is still a mystery – but someone must have become considerably richer!

By 1330 Mortimer was dead and James Audley gained control of Heighley and the rest of his lands again. James was a fighting knight like the rest of the Audleys for generations before him and he joined Henry Earl of Derby in the Gascony campaign and was away from April to November in 1345, and spent most of 1346 in France fighting at Crécy and Calais.

His family life was almost as stormy as his military life. There was no love lost between the children of his first marriage and the children of his second. His two eldest sons didn’t get along with their father at all, and in 1352 led some of his own men on a foray attacking their father’s castle at Heighley and Redcastle in Shropshire. Whether they thought their father didn’t provide a good enough standard of living or not, we don’t know, but Nicolas and Roger decided to help themselves to goods and livestock from both castles.

Four years later their father was very badly wounded at the Battle of Poitiers in 1356. In September of that year, the Black Prince, at the head of an army of fewer than seven thousand men comprised mainly of Englishmen with a contingent of Gascons under Jean III de Grailly, was raiding from Bordeaux into central France. The advance of the numerically superior French army under John II, aided by a German contingent, had caused the Black Prince to lead his army away, westward and southerly.

The two armies met on the marshes of the confluence of the rivers Moisson and Clain – but the French had obviously not learned their lessons from the Battle of Crécy twenty years previously. Their knights charged headlong at the English, becoming quickly bogged down in the thickets and marsh and offering a horribly easy target for the murderous English longbows, numbering some two thousand, five hundred. The archers fired until they ran out of arrows and had to retrieve them from bodies to enable them to keep up the attack, and during the lull in the withering hail of arrows, the English line began to falter.
Audley rallied his men and led a spectacular charge. The English victory was resounding with John II, the Dauphin Philip, twenty-six lords and nineteen hundred knights and VIPs all taken prisoner, but Lord Audley lay badly wounded after his heroic assault.

The Black Prince, enquiring after Audley’s welfare and learning that he lay grievously wounded, ordered him to be carried to his own tent – some say that the Black Prince actually crossed the battlefield to be at Audley’s side, but whichever is the correct version all agree on the Black Prince’s sentiments ‘…Sir James I and all here present acknowledge you the bravest man of the day. From now on I retain you forever to be my knight with 500 marks of yearly revenue..’.

James Audley survived another twenty years despite his wounds; indeed he must have been an incredibly strong man to survive the trauma of severe wounds on the battlefield, the dubious attentions of barber-surgeons and then the risk of gangrene and other infections. The Crusaders apparently knew the benefits of penicillin, but it was in the form of mouldy bread that was applied to the wound!

The kitchen at Heighley Castle was the scene of a murder in 1360. An argument developed in the early hours of one Sunday morning between Thomas the Cook, and William the son of John of Bromley. The argument became heated and William stabbed Thomas to death. Fearful of the consequences he fled and joined the army, fighting in France and turning up again at Heighley three years later, with the King’s pardon in his pocket – a reward for ‘good service in the retinue of one William de Forde. –

After this, castle life seemed to continue quietly in the 1360s, the hay being mown beneath the castle walls; men were being paid to gather and bind the thatch to re-roof the grange and Lord Audley’s kennels; the cowshed and the colehouse were whitewashed.

Two carpenters with their mate spent eight days working on the stables and the malthouse, repairs were made to the mortar, and some workmen had spent three days repairing the outside of the rooms in the castle which were reserved for Nicholas’s use.

The going rate for a day’s work cleaning the great hall was 2d each to three women, and another sixpence was paid for cleaning the lord’s room. The castle doves were provided with a quarter of peas.
‘Richard the Krypel’ was given a pension of 3d a week at his lord’s instruction, probably a war pension, as it is thought that Richard was probably the son of John le Roo and had fought at Crécy and Calais… and the castle took delivery of liveries sent to John le Marsschal.

James died in 1386 aged sixty-eight and was succeeded by Nicholas who was his only surviving son, and with whom he had spent the best part of his life quarrelling In his will which he had made the previous year styling himself ‘James Audley Lord of Roug Castle and of Heleigh…’ he left his son Nicholas £100; one dozen silver vessels ‘..and all the armour for my body…’ and to ‘Foulk Pitzwarren and Phillip his Uncle all the rest of my armour of plate and mail…’. Lord Audley was a Marcher Lord, and Heighley Castle considered to be in the Marches, that wild land that divided England and Wales, and if he died ‘In the Marches…’ he wished to be buried in the quire of my Abbey at Hulton…’

Nicholas did not survive his father by many years, dying in 1391, and considering the constant ill feeling that had existed between the two it is odd that in his will Nicholas wanted to be buried near his father. He made his will at Heighley calling himself Lord of Rough Castle (Rougemont), which is obviously Red Castle in Shropshire, and Heighley. He wanted ‘…my body to be buried in the Church of our Abbey at Hulton at the end of my father’s tomb, in a marble tomb as my father hath…’

Nicholas had been the brother-in-law to Lady Eleanor Plantagenet, who was a direct descendant of Henry III. She had married the brother of Elizabeth Beaumont, Nicholas’s wife. Elizabeth was well connected being the daughter of Alice Adeline de Beaumont, Countess of Bogham, the heiress of Alexander Comin Earl of Bogham, the Constable of Scotland. Elizabeth died in 1400 and was buried beside her husband Fulk Fitzwarren, who was James Audley’s great grandson, held Heighley Castle until his death when the Barony passed through the female line to John Touchet.

Although the Battle of Blore Heath in 1459 was fought only a short distance away, Heighley remained unaffected. James Touchet, Lord Audley was the commander of the Lancastrian forces and a monument stands to him on the spot where he is reputed to have fallen. The original wooden cross was knocked over by a cow using if as an itching post, and was replaced by a more substantial stone memorial in 1765 by the Lord of the Manor, Charles Boothby Skrimsher.

The castle was mentioned by Leland in his itinerary as one of ten Staffordshire castles still in existence in the sixteenth century but by then was ‘…old and ruinous…’ according to Sir Brian Tuke, the father-in-law of the then Lord Audley, who was using the dissolution of the monasteries to try and get Hulton Abbey lands returned to the Audley family; but two cases which were heard in the Court of Star Chamber in the sixteenth century show that despite being ‘ruinous’ some parts of it were still inhabited. Eventually the estate was mortgaged, then sold and the Audleys finally left North Staffordshire.

In the seventeenth century the Parliamentary Committee at Stafford, fearful that the castle could be used as a Royalist stronghold, ordered ‘Mr. Edward Mainwaring jnr. Mr. Samuel Terrick and Mr. Simcox, or any two of them…, to go and visit Heighley and organise masons and their labourers to demolish what was left of the castle as cheaply as possible! ‘…To demolish and pull down the said castle and walls for feare lest an enemie should possess himself of it…’

The local men were slow to comply with these orders, and there was great difficulty in collecting the money to pay them – but perhaps that was why they were so slow! Heighley was only worth a mention on two more occasions: in 1694 when Celia Fiennes noted its existence with ‘…ruinated walls…’ and in the 1840’s when rumours flew that the Chartists were attempting to fortify it to provide a refuge for their rebellious followers!

1215/1220’s – Built by Henry de Audley.
1226 – A charter of King Henry III made to Henry de Audley gifted all the land which lies under the Castle
of Helyh.’
1251 – Henry de Audley born.
1271/2 – Two of Lord James Audley’s men killed a man in a case of mistaken identity:
1276 – Henry de Audley and his mother make a gift to Trentham Priory.
Henry de Audley died, aged twenty-five.
1289 – Nicholas de Audley born.

1316 – Baron Nicholas Audley dies aged twenty-seven.
1316 – James, aged only three is heir.
1320 – (Michaelmas) Roger de Swynnerton makes complaint for assault against Thomas de Warwyk former
clerk to the Countess of Heighley.
1322 – Rebellion by the Earl of Lancaster, Audleys choose to support Lancaster.
Audley lands confiscated.
1327 – James aged fourteen marries Joan on instruction of her father Mortimer.
1330 – Mortimer was dead, James Audley regains control of Heighley and the rest of his lands.
1345 – April to November, James joins Henry Earl of Derby in the Gascony campaign.
1346 – James in France fighting at Crécy and Calais.
1352 – James two eldest sons led some of his own men on a foray attacking their father’s castle at
Heighley and Redcastle in Shropshire.
1356 – James was very badly wounded at the Battle of Poitiers.
1360 – In the kitchen at Heighley Castle, William the son of John of Bromley murders Thomas the Cook,
fleeing he joins the army, fighting in France.
1363 – William Bromley returns to Heighley, with the King’s pardon in his pocket.
1386 – James dies, aged sixty-eight. Buried in the Church of our Abbey at Hulton.
Nicholas his only surviving son is heir.
1391 – Nicholas dies, buried in the Church of our Abbey at Hulton.

1400 – Elizabeth wife of Nicholas dies and is buried beside her husband.
Foulk Fitzwanen, who was James Audley’s great grandson, held Heighley Castle until his death
when the Barony passed through the female line to John Touchet.
James Touchet born.
Married 1. Margeret d. of Lord Cobham (two d’aughters)
2. Elenaor, d. of Edmund Holland Earl of Kent and Lady Constance Platagenet (d. of Edmund
Langley Duke of York, the g,father of Richard Duke of York.
1422 – James Touchet, Lord Audley, returned to England with King Henry V’s body from France
1431 – Had a command in France
Bill in Parliament 9th Henry VI against Eleanor Lady Audley, upon which she was declared to be
the offspring of ‘pretended espousals’, and consequently entitled to nothing. Hence bringing forth a
grievance of long standing against the Duke of York and both branches of the Neville family.
1457 – James Touchet, Lord Audley received a commission to summon, if necessary, the sherrif and posse
comitatus of Herefordshire to suppress any designs formed by the King’s enemies in that county.
1459 – Audley was chosen by the Queen to uphold her cause in the Midland counties in September.
Battle of Blore Heath. James Touchet, Lord Audley commander of the Lancastrian forces
killed. Veteran of the the war in France.
1497 – The son of the Lord Audley who turned Yorkist and fought against his father’s friends, rebelled
against Henry VII, was captured at Blackheath and beheaded on Tower Hill.

1500’s – Leland in his itinerary mentioned Heighley Castle in existence but by then was ‘…old and ruinous…’
Court of Star Chamber records show that despite Heighley Castle being ‘ruinous’ some parts of it
were still inhabited.
Heighley Castle sold and the Audleys finally left North Staffordshire.
1535 – The Manor of Buglawton belonging to the Audley’s was surrendered to the Crown.
1559 – The manor of Hawkstone, the site of Red Castle was held by Sir Rowland Hill.
1577 – Audley was sold to Sir Gilbert Gerard. Sir Gilbert was then lord of the Manor.

1600’s – Parliamentary Committee order Heighley Castle demolished to prevent it becoming a Royalist
1617 – George Lord Audley was created Earl of Castlehaven.
1694 – Celia Fiennes noted Heighley Castle’s existence with ‘…ruinated walls…’

1777 – Earl of Castlehaven dies and the old barony of Audley passes to George Thicknesse.
1790 – Ralph Thicknesse sells Balterley Hall.

1840’s – Rumours that the Chartists were attempting to fortify as a refuge.

Stokesay Castle, A Close Relative?

Heighley Castle now a Scheduled Ancient Monument, Grade 2 listed was completed as a hilltop fortress by Henry de Audley in 1233. Its demolition was ordered by Parliament in the 1640’s to prevent it being used by the Royalist’s. No records of how the castle looked exist, however it is believed to have a close similarity to Stokesay Castle near Craven Arms in Shropshire, although the idea of perching it atop an outcrop originates from Beeston Castle..

From excavations at the site the ground plan shows that there was a kidney shaped ring ditch running North, North, West to South, South, East with an earth ramp to twin entrance towers to the west. After its initial construction a request for castellation walls was put forward, hence the belief that the original fortifications were of a basic wooden construction with a fosse.


Some of the referenced material can also to be found on other pages of this site.

Extract From – Topographical and Historical Description of the County of Stafford – Rev. Mr. Nightingale.
Madeley Village Timeline – Chris Machin & Phil Shaw (e-document).
Madeley: History & Dates. – Chris Machin (e-document).
Audley: a Brief Survey of its Surnames from the Fourteenth to the Seventeenth Century – Edgar Tooth.
Domesday Survey – The Crown.
The Barons Audley of Heley Castle And Hulton Abbey – Thelma W Lancaster.
Audley – An out of the way quiet place. – Edited by Robert Speake.
Audley Historian: The Journal of the Audley & District Family History Society.
Audley Parish Millennium 1000-2000 AD – Robert Speake.
Kinsale, County Cork in Lewis Topographical Dictionary of Ireland 1837 – Samuel Lewis.
English Peerage 1790 Barons. – GENUKI website.
The Battle of Blore Heath – Edited by Paddy Griffith.
Deer and deer farming in medieval England – Jean Birrell.
Staffordshire County Council Historic Environment Record Monument Full Report. (pdf document.)

Thanks to:
Philip Davis of The Gatehouse website. Guidance and Information.
Chris Cooper. For the loan of material.
Terry Elks. For the loan of material.
Suzy Blake – Historic Environment Record Office.
Newcastle-under-Lyme Reference Library.
English Heritage.
National Monuments Record Office.
Public Monument and Sculpture Association.
Greater Manchester County Record Office.

Photographs & Images:
Old Map – Ordnance Survey 1898.
Heighley Castle and Heighley Castle Farm. (b&w) – Anon.
Heighley Castle and Heighley Castle Farm as it is today. – Kevin J. Clarke.
Red Castle – Shrewsbury Museums Service and the Darwin Country website.
Stokesay Castle Photos – Authors Collection.
Digital Impression – Authors Collection.
Fosse Diagrams – Authors Collection.

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