Periwinkle Hill is situated between the villages of Reed and Barkway, in Hertfordshire, overlooking the old London to East Anglia road, with views that stretch as far as Ely. Located on this hill are the remains of a structure ploughed out from the surface, but believed to be a “proposed motte and bailey castle.”
The site, also described as ‘an enclosure upon the hill (Chauncey 1826, p. 196) may be describing remains of what once stood on the site. Was the enclosure masonry, earthen or ‘other’? We do not know. Munby (1977) described the layout of the village of Reed and suggested possible Roman origins due to the unusual layout of its streets with no typical village green (Clarke 1984, p. 15), and with a dedication to the Roman God Mars, found in a chalk quarry on Periwinkle Hill, there is a strong possibility that he may be correct.
The Victoria County History (1971 edition) states ‘ a moated round with two small baileys’ present on the hill, and to have belonged to part of the Manor of Reed, and this is where confusion around the sites arises, as it is believed to be part of Barkway. The Old Saxon Hundred boundaries of Odsey and Edwinstree show the remains as being part of Barkway, but these boundaries had a habit of moving to suit the Norman landowners of the time.
Tymms (1832) refers to Eustace of Boulogne having built the castles of Anstey and Barkway at the time of William I, but there is no reference as to where he sourced this information. Capper (1825), before Tymms (1832), also stated that there once stood a castle on the site, built by Eustace of Boulogne, again with no reference as to where he obtained this information. With the two references citing the castle possibly being built under the orders of William I, this places its probable construction in the period of c. 1066 – c.1087. Eustace of Boulogne owned land in Reed, not Barkway, so if he was responsible for the construction of the castle, then it would have been as part of the Manor of Reed, not Barkway.
Researching the owners who held the land in Reed and Barkway has unearthed some interesting and colourful characters, all high-ranking nobles in Medieval history,
- Eustace of Boulogne
- Geoffrey de Mandeville
- Eudo Dapifer and
- Hardwin de Scales
Each of the above had their issues with the English crown, its holders and the rifts and fighting behind the eventual victors; all of them had connections with the royal households of England through marriage; there are connections with the Knights Templar; Eustace of Boulogne and possibly Hardwin de Scales, were descendants from the Merovingian and Carolinian dynasties. These four nobles were connected in so many ways that their lives seem to cross at all aspects through marriage, relationships, ties of blood and beliefs. The families were all powerful and any of them would have had the means and motive to build the castle on their land.
Newsells and Barkway Manors came together under Eudo Dapifer and subsequently went to Hardwin de Scales, who held Challers Manor in Reed (Chauncy 1826, p. 197). Thus, Newsells, Reed and Barkway lands, held by de Scales formed a rough triangle with Periwinkle Hill roughly in the middle.
Eustace of Boulogne was not only a wealthy noble but also a crusader. He went on crusade in 1096 with his younger brother, Godfrey of Bouillon, later King of Jerusalem (King 2000, pp. 282-283). His marriage to Mary of Scotland placed him in a powerful position. He died in 1125 and his daughter Maud (Matilda) inherited the Honour of Boulogne. That same year she married Stephen of Blois, later King Stephen, placing the Honour of Boulogne in royal hands, and with it, Periwinkle Hill, if indeed it was part of the Reed Manors.
The de Mandeville family originated in France, very close to the lands held by the Honour of Boulogne (Keats-Rohan 1999, p.61). Lands granted to Geoffrey I de Mandeville made up one of the three largest honours in England following the Norman conquest. He served as Sheriff of London and Middlesex and was custodian of the Tower of London (Hollister 1973). This title was conferred upon his son William de Mandeville who unfortunately fell out with Henry I when he allowed the political prisoner, the Bishop of Durham, Ranulf Flambard, to escape from the Tower of London. He was severely punished and had a large chunk of his lands confiscated (Hollister 1973, pp. 19-20).
Geoffrey II de Mandeville inherited the remaining lands when William died. King Stephen used some of the lands as bargaining tools to buy de Mandeville’s support during the Anarchy (Harper-Bill 1999, p.243). Not only did Geoffrey II want his family lands back but also to claim those of his maternal grandfather, Eudo Dapifer.
Changing sides during the Anarchy, Geoffrey II received charters from both the Empress Maud and King Stephen, but in 1143 he was charged with treason at Stephen’s Court and asked to hand over his castles (Davies 1964, p. 304). Not happy by the developments he took his band of men to the Fens and set up an outlaw base at Ramsey Abbey Ely (Greenway & Watkins 1999, p. 19) and is remembered in history as the Scourge of the Fens.
The real mystery surrounding Geoffrey II de Mandeville concerns his death near Burwell Castle, and some Knights Templars riding by, throwing their mantle over him and taking his body to the Old Temple Church in London. Firstly, the mantle with the red templar cross was not used until 1146 (Addison 1999, p. 296), secondly, did his body hang in a tree in the old church yard as rumoured? thirdly, why did the Templars refuse to hand his body over to the Abbot of Walden Abbey when ordered to do so by the Pope? (Round 1892, p. 226).