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Benefield Castle

Also known as, or recorded in historical documents as;
Beningfield; Castrum de Beinfeld'; Castellum de Beningfeld'; Benigfelde; Beningfeud; Benyfeld

In the civil parish of Benefield.
In the historic county of Northamptonshire and the Soke of Peterborough.
Modern Authority of Northamptonshire.
1974 county of Northamptonshire.
Medieval County of Northamptonshire.

OS Map Grid Reference: SP98718845
Latitude 52.48505° Longitude -0.54779°

Benefield Castle has been described as a certain Timber Castle.

There are earthwork remains.

This site is a scheduled monument protected by law.


The remains of Benefield Castle survive well as substantial earthwork features occupying a prominent position in the landscape. Although there are no building remains standing above ground, archaeological evidence relating to both their construction and to the construction of the platform on which they sit will survive in the form of buried structures and deposits. Part infilling and waterlogging of the ditch will preserve additional artefactual and environmental evidence for the nature of occupation on the site which will provide valuable information about its role, both social and economic, in the local and regional landscape. As a result of the survival of early documentary sources the historical context of the remains is well understood, and the topographical relationship of the monument to the church and manor of Lower Benefield provides further valuable information about the development of these central elements of the medieval and post-medieval landscape.
The monument includes the earthwork and buried remains of Benefield Castle, a medieval ringwork castle believed to have been constructed in the mid-12th century. It is recorded in documentary sources of the 13th century but went out of use before 1315. In the early 18th century a stone wall remained standing but there are now no architectural features surviving above ground. The remains of the castle are located on the end of a natural spur which projects north eastward towards the western edge of the present village of Lower Benefield. They include a rectangular platform with rounded corners, measuring approximately 60m by 50m and raised up to 2m above the surrounding land. The interior of the platform, which is now largely level, includes slight earthworks which are considered to indicate the survival of the buried remains of the castle's defensive, domestic and agricultural buildings. The platform is surrounded on three sides by a broad ditch, over 10m wide and up to 2.5m deep, representing the remains of a moat; on the west and north it is still water-filled while on the south, where it has been partly infilled, it is visible as an earthwork depression. Outside the ditch are the remains of an earthen bank; on the south and west it survives as a substantial feature up to 1m in height and on the north, where it has been altered by later activity, it is visible as a low earthwork. The area to the east of the central platform, now largely level, includes the infilled remains of the eastern arm of the castle moat, and in the south eastern part of the monument is a raised trackway. Mapped representations of the site in the early 19th century indicate that the entrance to the castle was formerly from the east in the direction of St Mary's Church and Manor Farm. The castle is thought to have originated as a defended manor which was superseded in the late medieval period by a manor house adjacent to the north east. (Scheduling Report)

The church of St. Mary stands on rising ground and adjoining it on the west is the moated site of the castle of the Lisurs. The date of the erection of the castle is unknown, but it may well have been one of the numerous forts thrown up during the anarchy of Stephen's reign (1138–44). It was in existence in 1208, when John seized it for the debts of Hugh de Lisurs. ( Rot. Litt. Pat. John (Rec. Com.), 79b, 97b) On 15 May 1264, the day following the Battle of Lewes, Henry III, while a prisoner with Simon de Montfort, issued a mandate to the knights and others in Benefield Castle, stating that peace having been made between the king and his barons, they were not to go out of the castle nor do any ill in those parts. ( Cal. Pat., 1258–66, p. 318) It was probably in the following year that, the castle being held for Edward the king's son, the men of the castle plundered the manor of Biggin and crossed the river to Oundle, where and at Ashton they took a number of cattle. The men of Oundle, however, made a counter-attack and recovered many of their beasts. (Sparke, Hist. Angl. Script. iii, 135) Not long after this date the castle was probably dismantled. In 1298 it is described as an old castle, ( Cal. Inq. iii, no. 468) and in 1315 the site of the castle only is referred to. (Cott. MS. Vesp. E. xxi, fol. 30b) It continued a ruin and is so described in 1378. (Chan. Inq. p.m. Rich. II, file 4, no. 8) Leland about 1535 mentions the site as 'the diche and mines of an old castelle.' ( Itinerary (ed. Toulmin-Smith), i, 12, 13) Part of the wall was still standing in Bridges' time (1724), when the inclosure was said to be square, covering about an acre of land. On the north of it was the manor house, (Bridges, Hist. Northants, ii, 395) which apparently superseded the castle and is mentioned in 1445. (VCH 1930)

The suggestion the castle was founded in the Anarchy is unsupported speculation based of early C20 received wisdom. It is not impossible the castle dates from that time but could dated from the immediate post-Conquest period or anytime up to its first record in 1208. It is likely it is on the site of a Saxon thegnal house, which may have been fortified.
Were it not for the historical records mentioning a C11/C12 castle here this site may well have been taken for a C13/C14 moated manor house (as it seems to have been by the VCH earthworks chapter). Was this its original form? Was it adapted in the C13/C14 to resemble a fashionable house? Did other squared moated sites start out as roughly square C11/C12 ringwork castles? There does not seems to have been any archaeological investigation of the site.
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Sources of information, references and further reading
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Suggestions for finding online and/or hard copies of bibliographical sources can be seen at this link.
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This record last updated 26/07/2017 09:21:02

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