Once considered a strategically important fortress for protecting the approach to London via the Thames estuary, Hadleigh Castle was extensively repaired and rebuilt under Edward III in the 1360s. Today the extremely ruinous remains overlooking the marshes are a haunting reminder of the splendid castle that was given to successive Queens of England as part of their dower.
Hubert de Burgh, Justiciar of England and Earl of Kent, had owned lands at Hadleigh from his time as a revered minister of King John, but a royal licence to crenellate (or to build a castle) was not granted until 1230. At this time de Burgh was enjoying his position as one of the most influential barons, but his fortunes changed drastically within the next few years. Soon after work had begun on his castle, he was imprisoned under some false claim by his enemies, and Hadleigh Castle was seized by King Henry III. Although there is little documented evidence to support the fact, it seems reasonable to assume that the King, recognising even then the important position Hadleigh Castle held, allowed building work to continue.
Originally, Hadleigh Castle was no more than an oval-shape enclosure surrounded by a stone curtain, incorporating a D-shaped tower on the north and south sections of the wall. Domestic buildings were later erected along the western edge of the enclosure and, during Edward III's time, two magnificent round towers were set in the east curtain wall angles, as well as a massive circular tower and barbican to defend a new entrance in the north curtain.
Until Edward VI sold Hadleigh Castle to Lord Riche in 1551, it had remained Crown property, but throughout that period of almost 200 years it was granted 'for life' to a succession of Earls, Dukes and Queens, including three of Henry VIII's wives. Left disused and neglected, Hadleigh Castle had become ruinous by the 17th century. Today the most impressive remains are those of Edward III's 14th century round towers. One of the three-storey towers, built from rubble with ashlar dressings, still stands to nearly full height and has narrow rectangular windows in the upper levels. The second tower has survived considerably less well, appearing to have slid downhill and lost about two-thirds of its shape. Some sections of the curtain exist, and the foundations of the great hall are visible.
Just a mile or so inland from Leigh-on-Sea, it may not be the most evocative setting for an historic ruin, but Hadleigh Castle does have something of a 'desperate' appeal as it sits alone in the marshy Essex wilderness.