Exeter Castle

Exeter Castle, also known as Rougemont Castle, was originally no more than a defensive city wall built by the Romans and later repaired by King Athelstan around 928 AD.

After the Norman Conquest of England, the city of Exeter —  like many other cities at this time — rebelled against William the Conqueror. In 1068, William laid siege to the city, which lasted eighteen days before surrendering. William then ordered construction of the castle within the city walls. Baldwin FitzGibert managed the construction of the castle, which was placed at the highest norther angle of the Roman city wall on a volcanic outcrop. The large stone gatehouse still survives, a testament to the Anglo-Saxon masons who likely built it on William’s orders.

Additional reading:

I also wrote a short piece based in the city of Exeter, called Exeter Burning. It doesn’t include the castle but instead centers around the cathedral.

*image is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license, author Juan J. Martinez

Bodiam Castle

Bodiam Castle is a 14th century castle in East Sussex built by Edward Dalyngrigge in 1385. Edward Dalyngrigge was a former knight of Edward III, fighting for the king in the Hundred Years’ War as a member of the Free Companies. He received his license to build Bodiam from King Richard II.

The castle has a classic appearance with a water moat surrounding the outer defenses with a bridge leading across to the main gatehouse. The bridge that currently exists today is not the original bridge, however. The original bridge formed a right angle before straightening out to the main gatehouse to prevent attackers easy access to the castle.

While the water moat has a classic “medieval” look to it, surprisingly water moats were not all that common with medieval castles. Many castles simply had a dry ditch with stakes impaled in the dirt and an earthen wall sloping up to the foot of the outer walls. With a retractable drawbridge pulled back across the dry moat, these obstacles put attackers in a difficult position when assaulting a castle.

A unique feature about Bodiam is the fact it has no keep. The buildings within the castle are built into the inner walls and the courtyard is left open. Most castles would employ a central keep in the middle of the courtyard for a last defense, but Bodiam left that space open. This probably is a testament to the fact that Bodiam was as much or more of a residence than actually built for pure defense.

Additional Reading:

*photo by Antony McCallum, licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

Berkhamsted Castle

A brief history:

Berkhamsted Castle is a Norman motte-and-bailey castle at Berkhamsted in Hertfordshire, England. The castle was built during the Norman conquest of England in the 11th century to control a key route between London and the Midlands. Robert of Mortain, William the Conqueror’s half brother, was probably responsible for the construction and became the subsequent owner of the fortification. A motte and bailey design, the castle was surrounded by extensive protective earthworks and a deer park for hunting. The future town of Berkhamsted grew up alongside it. Subsequent kings granted the castle to their chancellors and it was substantially extended in the mid-12th century, probably by Thomas Becket.

Read more…

Additional reading:

Bamburgh Castle

Bamburgh Castle - Bebbanburgh - Medieval Castles - Medieval History - Middle Ages HistoryTowering 150 feet above the northeast coastline of England, the castle of Bamburgh sits as a formidable defense, a testament to the once great glory of the Northumbrian kingdom. The first written reference to the castle is around 547 AD, when the Anglo-Saxon ruler Ida of Bernicia established the castle as his royal stronghold. The site would, throughout the centuries, be a witness to bloody battles, rebellions, and legends.

In 607, Ida’s grandson, Aethelfrith, took control of the castle. Bede, the famous monk and English historian, described Aethelfrith as a ravening wolf. Aethelfrith later gives the castle to his wife Bebba, where the castle earned its name of Bebbanburgh, or Bamburgh, as it is called today.

In the year 993, an invading force of Norsemen attack and pillage the stronghold, in similar fashion to their attacks on Lindisfarne centuries earlier. Their attacks weaken the capital, and afterwards, the castle falls into disrepair.

During the Norman conquest of England, William the Conqueror takes control of Bamburgh and appoints his own men to rule the castle. Bamburgh becomes a launching point for William’s later invasions into Scotland. In the late 11th century, William’s son, Rufus, must put down a rebellion led by the Earl of Northumbria, Robert de Mowbray.

In the later middle ages, during the Wars of the Roses, Bamburgh is besieged and destroyed by cannon fire, making it the first castle in English history to be destroyed by gunpowder.

Of the castle construction itself, the keep is the oldest surviving portion of the castle. Built around 1164, the walls are approximately three to four meters thick. Its doorway is large enough for men on horseback to enter without dismounting. The well, which is now enclosed by the keep, dates back to Anglo-Saxon times.

Additional reading:

  • http://www.bamburghcastle.com

Image source: Michael Hanselmann, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license

Pevensey Castle

Pevensey Castle - Medieval EnglandPevensey Castle:

Pevensey Castle is a medieval castle and former Roman fort at Pevensey in the English county of East Sussex…

The fort of Anderitum was built during the 3rd century to protect the southern coastline of Roman Britain from Saxon raiders…

Evidence for some form of permanent occupancy next appears in 1042, when the Anglo-Saxon Earl of Wessex, Harold Godwinson (later King Harold II) established a strong point there, improving fortifications by digging ditches within the walls of the Roman fort…

Robert, Count of Mortain (half-brother to William the Conqueror of Normandy) was granted Pevensey shortly after the Norman Conquest. Mortain used the existing fort as the basis for building a castle around 1100, carrying out only minor repairs to the walls to form an outer bailey, and building a new wooden palisaded irregular rectangular-shaped inner bailey against the Roman wall.

Read more…

Additional resources:

*image is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.
Attribution: Piotr Zarobkiewicz at en.wikipedia

Medieval History Term of the Week: Merlon

Etymology: French, from Italian merlone, augmentative of merlo battlement, from Medieval Latin merulus, from Latin, merle

1) Part of a battlement, the square “sawtooth” between crenels.
(Gies, Joseph and Francis. Life in a Medieval Castle, 226)

2) Solid part of embattled parapet between embrasures, sometimes pierced with slit.
(Wood, Margaret. The English Medieval House, 413)

*term definitions retrieved from Netserf’s Medieval Glossary (http://www.netserf.org/Glossary)

Farleigh Hungerford Castle

Farleigh Hungerford Castle - Medieval History - Medieval England - Middle Ages History - Thomas HungerfordFarleigh was the manor house of the family of Montfort. In 1369, Thomas Hungerford purchased it. Thomas was a citizen and merchant from New Sarum, or Salisbury, though he was of high standing as he was steward to John of Gaunt, and for a brief period, he was Speaker of the House of Commons. Thomas obtained knighthood with help from John of Gaunt. Thomas’ father at one time was a baliff in Salisbury, and his uncle was one of the King’s Justices in the Eyre, so Thomas came from an influential background.

In 1383, Thomas received a license to crenellate the manor house of Farleigh, and from that point on, the house was referred to as Farleigh Hungerford instead of Farleigh Montfort.

The remains of the castle reside on the borders of Somerset and Wiltshire. The ruins consist mostly of the inner bailey and the later additions to the outer bailey made by Thomas’ son,  Walter, who was a soldier of King Henry V at Agincourt and at the Siege of Rouen. Walter eventually became a Knight of the Garter and Lord High Treasurer before his death in 1449.

The inner bailey of Farleigh was enclosed by a curtain wall with a cylindrical tower at each corner. A dyke to the north and east of the castle and a ditch to the south and west still show some of the outer protective barriers of the site. At one time, a collection of domestic buildings filled the inner bailey, but now, only two outer towers and some sections of the wall are standing. Remains of two fireplaces near the center of the inner courtyard are also still visible.


Farleigh Hungerford Castle, Somerset.  http://www.theheritagetrail.co.uk/castles/farleigh%20hungerford.htm (retrieved April 28, 2010).

Farleigh Hungerford Castle: From Rags to Riches – and Rags Again. http://www.britannia.com/history/somerset/castles/fhungcast.html (retrieved April 28, 2010).

Nunney Castle

Nunney Castle - Somerset England - Medieval History - Middle Ages HistoryWest of Frome in Somerset, England, lies the ruins of the medieval castle of Nunney. Founded by Sir John Delamere, the castle consists of a single courtyard surrounded by a water moat fed by a natural stream. Delamere supposedly funded the construction through ransom money obtained from the wars with France during the 14th century.

The makeup of the castle is fairly simple. Four large drum towers form the corners of the castle’s rectangular tower-house. The southern and northern pairs of towers are extremely close together, which gives Nunney a unique design. The gate was once a part of the western curtain wall. Inside, there are three stories and a basement. The first story is the hall with a large fireplace, and on the top story are the remains of a small chapel.

According to 17th century drawings, the four drum towers once had conical roofs with a walkway running below them and encircling the top story of the castle. The remaining corbels that once supported the walkway indicate that the walkway was most likely made of wood and projected out from the curtain walls.

The families of Paulet and Prater owned the castle after the Delameres. During the great Civil War, the “New Model Army” brought down the western curtain wall and captured Nunney. Supposedly, a traitor to the Prater family informed the besieging army that the western wall was the weakest section of the castle.


“Nunney Castle.”  http://www.timeref.com/hpl1203.htm (accessed December 8, 2009).

Oman, Charles. “Nunney Castle: A Chateau in Somerset.”  Edited from Charles Oman’s “Castles.” http://www.britannia.com/history/somerset/castles/nunneycast.html (accessed December 8, 2009).

*photo by Tom Oates, Creative Commons License