Trematon Castle

Trematon Castle stands on an eminence rising steeply above the River Lynher, two miles southwest of Saltash and the Tamar estuary. Robert, Count of Mortain and Earl of Cornwall probably founded the castle. It is referred to as his in the Domesday Book. At that time Trematon was a place of some importance whereas now it is scarcely a village. The castle saw action in the Civil War and, earlier, in the course of Kilter’s Insurrection which broke out in Cornwall in 1594. The rebels laid siege to the castle and managed to lure out and capture its defender, Sir Richard Grenville. Trematon is a fine example of a motte and bailey castle. It is even more notable for the …

Tintagel Castle

The legend of King Arthur has made Tintagel a hallowed place. Geoffrey of Monmouth, writing about the time when the castle was in fact founded, chose it as the setting for Arthur’s conception. That is his only link with Tintagel, but it has lasted in the popular imagination. The beauty of the site is no doubt the reason why. This rocky, sea-battered headland is an unusual setting for a medieval castle but a very likely one in which to find an ancient hill fort. It comes as a surprise to discover that no evidence has been found of any fortification before the Norman period. Instead. The headland first became the retreat of Dark Age monks who were drawn to such …

Thornbury Castle

The Thornbury Castle has been described as the last genuine castle, or rather private house with defensive features, ever raised in England. This is probably true if we ignore Scottish border territory. It is testimony to the ambition of Edward Stafford, Duke of Buckingham, who began building here in 1511. Ten years later, Henry VIII had him executed on a charge of treason. It was alleged that the duke had raised a private army in the Welsh Marches, in defiance of the Tudor laws against such practices, and Thornbury Castle may have been another factor weighing against him. The castle follows the standard quadrangular layout of later medieval times, and is provided with an outer courtyard large enough to house …

Portchester Castle

Portchester Castle originated as the “Saxon Shore” fort of Portus Adurni. It is the best preserved of the chain of Roman forts erected along the southeast coast in the late third century AD. The reason for their construction is still debated. Defense against Germanic raiders is the for the most part the likely explanation and they were without a doubt used for that purpose in the following century. The fort survives in such good condition for the reason that it was in continued use after the Roman departure, first sheltering a Saxon burgh and then becoming an outer bailey of the medieval castle. Henry I restored the fort’s crumbling walls, built the present gate towers, called Land Gate and Water …

Norwich Castle

Norwich and York were the biggest towns of medieval England after London, and Norwich was saddled with a royal castle within a year of the Norman Conquest. The site, at the heart of the old city, is a natural hillock that was scraped into a formidable motte -though a motte large enough to be regarded as an inner bailey. A car park occupies the site of the outer bailey. The strength of this earth and timber fortification is attested in 1075 during the rebellion of some disaffected barons. On the failure of this revolt, the Earl of Norfolk fled abroad, leaving his wife to hold the castle against William I’s supporters, which she commendably did for a siege lasting three …

Cockermouth Castle

Cockermouth Castle crowns a promontory between the rivers Derwent and Cocker. The notorious William de Fortibus acquired the manor in 1215 and built a castle here, possibly on an older site, but Henry III ordered its destruction upon his downfall six years later. It seems to have survived this episode but most of the present complex is the work of Gilbert, last of the Umfraville barons, and Henry Percy, who acquired Cockermouth on Gilbert’s death in 1381. As Earl of Northumberland, the latter played a major part in the Border struggles of the period. And the Black Douglas sacked the unfinished castle. Henry is better known for his revolts against Henry IV, familiar from Shakespeare. The castle remained in Percy …

Carlisle Castle

Carlisle is the great fortress city at the west end of the Scottish Border. Roman Luguvallium grew up in the shadow of Hadrian’s Wall and some vestige of the town remained when William II captured it in 1092. William repopulated Carlisle with Anglo-Norman settlers and founded the great royal castle on a bluff above the River Eden. Carlisle Castle is an impressive reminder of centuries of strife. It sits grim and squat at the north end of the old walled city, still a medieval stronghold but much patched up after the many batterings it has endured. The layout is roughly triangular, comprising two walled baileys but no motte. The curtain walls are basically Norman. Two flanking towers survive on the …

Carisbrooke Castle

Carisbrooke Castle is an extensive fortress situated on a hill about a mile southwest of Newport, virtually in the center of the Isle of Wight. As a fortification, it has a very long history, because the Norman castle is raised on the site of a Roman fort and is surrounded in turn by Elizabethan defenses designed to withstand artillery. The Elizabethan rampart surrounds the two baileys of the Norman castle in concentric fashion. This low, artillery-proof earthwork is encased in stone. There are arrowhead bastions at the corners and a fifth one on the west, commanding the entrance. Beyond the simple gateway through the rampart, one is confronted with the main gatehouse. It began as a thirteenth century gate tower …