Yattendon Castle
Fateful Setting for Queen Anne's Dance

Yattendon Castle was a large fortified manor house, owned for many years by the great Norreys family. Sir John Norreys of Ockwells, who eventually became the Master of King Henry VI's Wardrobe, inherited Yattendon Manor from his father-in-law, Sir Richard Merbrooke, in about 1440. Sir John was a rising star at the Lancastrian Royal Court at the time and managed to obtain permission to embattle his manor house at Yattendon & empark some 600 acres around it in 1448. He was already rebuilding his manor house at Ockwells in Bray in a fine domestic highly decorative style, but perhaps he saw the Civil War on the horizon and felt some fortifications elsewhere would be prudent. Tradition says that he erected the castle within a large moat immediately adjoining the old house, which was then demolished. Fortunately, the Wars of the Roses that dominated Sir John's life did not come close to Berkshire and so his castle saw no action.

For generations, the Norreyses seem to have used Yattendon as a secondary home. The head of the family would live at Ockwells, while the eldest son would move out to Yattendon upon his marriage. Though presumably the less comfortable home, it may have been more spacious, being suitable for both entertaining and raising a family. Most of the family were probably born there. Sir John's great grandsons, Sir John and Henry Norreys certainly played host to King Henry VIII and Queen Catherine of Aragon at Yattendon during the latter years of their marriage. While there, it is said that the Queen's lady-in-waiting, Anne Boleyn, of whom the King was already enamoured, dropped her handkerchief during a dance. It was retrieved by Henry Norreys, thus setting in motion the rumours that led to both he and Anne eventually losing their heads for adultery.

Henry's son and namesake was made Lord Norreys of Rycote by Queen Elizabeth I and inherited vast estates, particularly in Oxfordshire and North Berkshire, from his father-in-law, Lord Williams of Thame. He lived at Wytham Abbey and Rycote Palace. Yattendon became the home of his eldest son, Sir John Norreys, the great Elizabethan soldier. He was rarely in the country, but may have had a soft spot for the place since his body was brought back there after his death whilst fighting in Ireland in 1597. He has a memorial in the parish church.

Thereafter, the castle was probably left uninhabited and fell into a state of disrepair. Soldiers of both sides passed through the area at the time of the Second Battle of Newbury and the place is said to have been stripped by them and possibly set on fire. Some ruins may have remained, but the centre of the surrounding estate was moved to Frilsham House. Eventually when the manor was purchased by King George III's dancing tutor, Sir John Gallini, in 1784, he tore down the remains of the old castle and, shortly afterwards, built himself the five-bay 'brick box' that we see today on the site of the original medieval house. The dry moat is now all that is left to remind us that the castle was ever there.

    Nash Ford Publishing 2001. Rev. 2011. All Rights Reserved.