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Devizes Castle

Also known as, or recorded in historical documents as;
Vyes; Diuisis; Divisis; Divisas

In the civil parish of Devizes.
In the historic county of Wiltshire.
Modern Authority of Wiltshire.
1974 county of Wiltshire.

OS Map Grid Reference: SU00226132
Latitude 51.35099° Longitude -1.99771°

Devizes Castle has been described as a certain Timber Castle, and also as a certain Masonry Castle, and also as a certain Palace.

There are masonry footings remains.

This site is a scheduled monument protected by law.
This is a Grade 2 listed building protected by law*.

Description

The motte and bailey castle at Devizes survives well and is a good example of its type. Despite part of the remains of the original castle having been built over, the motte and the ditch are imposing features, and the relatonship between castle and town can still be seen. Additional evidence relating to the castle has been revealed by excavation, and the unexcavated parts of the castle motte, moat and bailey will contain archaeological information and environmental evidence relating to the castle and the landscape in which it was constructed. There is good documentary evidence to show the history of the castle. Devizes Castle had its origins in about 1080 as an early Norman motte and bailey with wooden pallisade and tower. The wooden castle was burnt down, but its successor, built in stone, became an important castle, and was described by contemporary chroniclers as 'the finest and most splendid in Europe'. The castle subsequently played a significant part in the history of this country, particularly during the wars between King Stephen and Empress Matilda in the 12th century. Thereafter its importance can be gauged by the number of English kings who paid visits to the castle. These included King John, who left Prince Henry, the future Henry III, in the care of the castle governor; and Edward I. The castle has had a varied history and during its later years, it became less of a defensive structure and fulfilled a more domestic role, being used as a prison and a treasury. In the Civil War Devizes was Royalist, and the castle was ordered to be slighted in 1646. From approximately the mid-19th century a castellated folly was built on the motte in the Victorian Gothic style. The castle was used as an Italian prisoner of war camp in WWII. The castle has left its mark on the plan and development of the town of Devizes, where elements of the defensive system, and the way in which the town was laid out around the castle, can still be seen in the town plan today. The castle is private property, but is occasionally opened for public events, and provides a resource and focal point for the people of Devizes.
The monument includes a motte and bailey castle, lying on a hill with steep sloping sides, on the south west side of Devizes. The castle, as it appears today, is a Victorian folly. However, the folly is built on the motte of the original castle, whose moat still survives together with part of the inner bailey. Beyond the ditch is a grass sward and gardens which belong to the modern dwellings which lie around the castle. The east side of the castle grounds encompass the bailey, and enclosing the whole area is a stone-built wall. The castle keep stood on the highest part of the motte. Adjoining the keep on the west side was an aisled hall of six bays, which was first mentioned in 1236-7. Around the hall were several other buildings. The castle was originally protected to the north east and the south by four concentric ditches. The outer two later formed the town fortifications. Near the Corn Exchange the ditch was double with steep sides 6m (20ft) deep. As the town expanded the bailey was reduced to the area between the inner and outer castle ditches. This area was reached by the road which is today called the Brittox, a corruption of the word Bretasche, meaning a timber structure associated with the defence of a gateway. The road passed through an outer gate and entered the inner precinct on the north side by the inner gate. Inside the gate was a courtyard called the inner ward out of which a postern led to the south west. The road crossed two bridges, between which was a barbican. The earthen bank above the inner castle ditch had a stone curtain wall, which is thought to have been repaired in 1240. From about 1837 there was gradual redevelopment of the castle motte on the east side, with the gradual construction of what is now known as Devizes Castle, a house in the Victorian Gothic style, which is believed to sit on the site of the stone keep. This house is a Listed Building Grade I and is excluded from the scheduling, although the ground beneath is included. It is thought that the stone keep stood on the south east part of the motte, which is the highest part, and was the earliest building on the site, although it may have had a timber precursor. The aisled hall was to the west of the keep, and was presumably a later addition. Surrounding the motte is a ditch, which varies in depth and width, but is approximately 4m deep and varying between 10m and over 30m wide. The ditch has been partially landscaped and also affected by the construction of a railway tunnel. References contemporary with the tunnel construction suggests that the tunnel was dug through the fill of the ditch, whilst leaving the base of the ditch untouched. This indicates that the archaeologically sensitive lower levels of the ditch survive. On the east side of the ditch are the remains of the inner bailey. Map evidence shows that it originally extended further east, and beyond it was a second bailey which has since been incorporated into the town. The scheduling has been drawn to include as much of the bailey as is known to have been unaffected by later developments and where archaeological evidence will survive. The whole of the site is surrounded by a curtain wall which may lie on the line of an original medieval wall. This wall is a Listed Building Grade II, and bears evidence of ex-situ medieval masonry, particularly in the gateway, but appears to be a largely Victorian construction and is therefore excluded from the scheduling. The ground beneath is, however, included. Map evidence indicates that the original entrance to the castle was an approach from the NNW. There is evidence of what is described as a sally port, but this is a Victorian structure on the south east side, which is thought to have provided access to the deer park. The entrance alignments have now been changed, and the site is now approached along Castle Road and through the gatehouse which is a late 19th century structure and a Listed Building Grade II. The sally port, together with the modern additions to the gatehouse are excluded from the scheduling, although the ground beneath is included. As the castle was built on a naturally defensive site with access to water it is possible that the motte and bailey had a prehistoric precursor, but the first documentary evidence for the castle is in 1106 when Robert of Normandy was imprisoned there. In 1113 the castle was burnt, but was virtually rebuilt by Bishop Roger in about 1138. Between 1139 and 1141 the castle was fortified, but fell to King Stephen. By 1140 it was in the hands of Matilda. From her it passed to the future Henry II who was holding it in 1152. Thenceforth until the 17th century it remained in the hands of the Crown. The town grew up and by 1141 became a 'borough'. The first known constable was Guy de Diva in 1192. During and after the Civil War there were several changes in custody. Throughout the 13th century a number of kings and notables stayed in the castle, including King John who often visited between 1204 and 1216 and later Henry III and Edward I. Part of the castle was also used as a prison, and by the late 13th century the castle was becoming less of a fortress and more an administrative centre. During the Civil War Devizes was Royalist, and the castle was probably pressed into service. The defences were ordered to be slighted in 1646 and this was completed by 1648. The stone was subsequently used for local buildings. The keep and aisled building were first excavated in the 19th century. Excavations in 1858 revealed a number of lesser buildings surrounding the hall. The castle ditch, or moat, was excavated in 1860, and was found to be 14m (45ft) deeper than the exposed portion. (Scheduling Report)

Neo Norman/Gothic castle and gatehouse built from 1842 with additions of 1860-80. Built on the motte of a castle of first mentioned in 1106. The first castle was burnt down in 1113 and was replaced by a stone structure circa 1123, probably by Roger Bishop of Salisbury who also created the borough. When visted by Leland circa 1540 much of the castle had fallen into ruin though the keep probably survived, for in 1645 the castle was held by the Royalists. (PastScape)

Originally founded by Bishop Osmund of Salisbury between 1078-1099, the castle passed to royal hands when it was siezed by King Stephen from Bishop Bigod in 1139. Even then it was described as one of the finest and strongest castles in England. It remained a royal stronghold, but its upkeep was always burdensome. From 1299, it passed to the Queen as a possession, and thereafter remained a dower possession for successive queens. By the early 16th century it was severely decayed, and was ordered to be demolished in the Civil War. (HKW)

The castle, would initially have been a wooden construction, but this burnt down in 1113 and was rebuilt in stone between then and 1121 by Osmund's successor to the bishopric of Salisbury, Bishop Roger (Haslam 1976). The new castle was evidently an impressive affair, and earned praise from several chroniclers of the time. According to Norden in 1610, it had five towers, two chapels, and a large hall and keep on a lofty motte, although by then it was largely in ruins (Haycock 1993). The keep and hall were surrounded by a curtain wall on top of the motte, which had its own ditch. Around this were arranged the buildings of the inner bailey, which occupied the remainder of the outlier described above. The bailey wall was augmented on three sides by the natural slope of the hillside, whilst the eastern side of the inner bailey was defended by a bank and a wide ditch (Pugh 1975). (Urban Survey Devizes)

For George Clark, writing in 1886, 'This is probably the grandest mound in Britain, and its ditches the deepest.'
Although built by Bishop Roger of Salisbury did not stay in episcopal hands for long.
Leland wrote 'Such a pecee of castle worke so costly and so strong was never before or since set up by any Bisshope' He also recorded that the principle gate from the castle to the town had seven or eight portcullises. Leland had a particular interest in portcullises, which were a symbol of his employer's family the Tudors. However, seven portcullises is clearly much more than is required for defence and here a symbolic meaning is probably meant by this excess. It is possible this is a reference to Robert Grosseteste's poem Carmen de Creatone Mundi where a castle with seven barbicans is symbolic of the seven virtues (see Wheatley, A., 2004, The Idea of the Castle in Medieval England (York Medieval Press) p. 94-5). Given the cost of maintenance it is possibly that some, if not all, of these portcullises were sham.
Links to archaeological and architectural databases, mapping and other online resources

Data >
PastScape   County HER   Scheduling   Listing   I. O. E.
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Sources of information, references and further reading
  • Websites (Gatehouse is not responsible for the content of external websites.)
  • Books
    • Goodall, John, 2011, The English Castle 1066-1650 (Yale University Press) p. 103, 113
      Purton, P.F., 2009, A History of the Early Medieval Siege c. 450-1220 (Woodbridge: The Boydell Press) p. 269
      Emery, Anthony, 2006, Greater Medieval Houses of England and Wales Vol. 3 Southern England (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press) p. 627-9
      Salter, Mike, 2002, The Castles of Wessex (Malvern: Folly Publications) p. 89-90
      Thompson, M.W., 1998, Medieval bishops' houses in England and Wales (Aldershot: Ashgate Publishing) p. 85-8, 90, 184
      Pettifer, A., 1995, English Castles, A guide by counties (Woodbridge: Boydell Press) p. 275
      Haycock, L., 1993, Devizes: a history and guide (Alan Sutton)
      James, T.B., 1990, The Palaces of Medieval England (London; Seaby) p. 86
      King, D.J.C., 1983, Castellarium Anglicanum (London: Kraus) Vol. 2 p. 498
      Fry, P.S., 1980, Castles of the British Isles (David and Charles) p. 219
      Haslam, J., 1976, Wiltshire towns: the archaeological potential (Wiltshire Archaeological and Natural History Society)
      Pugh, R.B., 1975, 'The borough of Devizes' in Crittall, E. (ed.), VCH Wiltshire Vol. 10 p. 237-45 online copy
      Renn, D.F., 1973 (2 edn.), Norman Castles of Britain (London: John Baker) p. 163-4, 165
      Colvin, H.M., Brown, R.Allen and Taylor, A.J., 1963, The history of the King's Works Vol. 2: the Middle Ages (London: HMSO) p. 626-8
      Toy, Sidney, 1953, The Castles of Great Britain (Heinemann) p. 81, 157
      Harvey, Alfred, 1911, Castles and Walled Towns of England (London: Methuen and Co)
      Mackenzie, J.D., 1896, Castles of England; their story and structure (New York: Macmillan) Vol. 1 p. 223-6 online copy
      Timbs, J. and Gunn, A., 1872, Abbeys, Castles and Ancient Halls of England and Wales Vol. 2 (London) p. 19 online copy
      Turner, T.H. and Parker, J.H., 1859, Some account of Domestic Architecture in England (Oxford) Vol. 3 Part 2 p. 334 online copy
  • Periodical Articles
    • Thames Valley Archaeological Services, 2008, 'Medieval Britain and Ireland' Medieval Archaeology Vol. 52 online copy
      Creighton, O.H., 2004, ''The Rich Man in his Castle, The Poor Man at His Gate': Castle Baileys and Settlement Patterns in Norman England' Château Gaillard Vol. 21 p. 25-36
      Creighton, O.H., 2000, 'Early Castles in the Medieval Landscape of Wiltshire' Wiltshire Archaeological and Natural History Magazine Vol. 93 p. 107 online copy
      Youngs, S.M., Clark, J. and Barry, T., 1987, 'Medieval Britain and Ireland in 1986' Medieval Archaeology Vol. 31 p. 167 download copy
      King, D.J.C. and Alcock, L., 1969, 'Ringworks in England and Wales' Château Gaillard Vol. 3 p. 90-127
      Brown, R, Allen, 1959, 'A List of Castles, 1154–1216' English Historical Review Vol. 74 p. 249-280 (Reprinted in Brown, R. Allen, 1989, Castles, conquest and charters: collected papers (Woodbridge: Boydell Press) p. 90-121) view online copy (subscription required)
      Cunningham, R.H., 1945-7, 'Devizes Castle: a suggested reconstruction' Wiltshire Archaeological and Natural History Magazine Vol. 51 p. 496-9 online copy
      Wood, M., 1935, 'Norman Domestic Architecture' The Archaeological Journal Vol. 92 p. 167-242 esp. 207 online copy
      Stone, E.H., 1920, The Archaeological Journal Vol. 77 p. 354 online copy
      Butcher, W.H., 1918, Journal of the British Archaeological Association Vol. 24 p. 129-63
      Stone, E.H., 1917, 'The early Norman castle at Devizes' Wiltshire Archaeological and Natural History Magazine Vol. 40 p. 417-29 online copy
      Clark, G.T., 1889, 'Contribution towards a complete list of moated mounds or burhs' The Archaeological Journal Vol. 46 p. 197-217 esp. 213 online copy
      Butcher, W.H., 1884, 'Historical sketch of the castle od Devizes' Journal of the British Archaeological Association Vol. 40 p. 133-51 online copy
      Burgess, Tom, 1881, 'On Devizes Castle' Wiltshire Archaeological and Natural History Magazine Vol. 19 p. 306-17 (poor) online copy
  • Guidebooks
    • Stone, E.H., 1920, Devizes Castle: its History and Romance (George Simpson & Co.: Devizes)
  • Primary (Medieval documents or transcriptions of such documents - This section is far from complete and the secondary sources should be consulted for full references.)
    • Luard, H.R (ed), 1865, 'Annales de Wintonia' in Annales Monastici (Rolls Series 36) Vol. 2 p. 44 (report of fire in 1113) online copy
      Sewell, R.C. (ed), 1846, Gesta Stephani, Regis Anglorum et Ducis Normannorum p. 47, 50, 66-7 online copy (The newer edition and translation by Potter, K.R. (ed), 1976 (2edn), Gesta Stephani (Oxford University Press) should be consulted for serious study. See also Speight, S., 2000, 'Castle Warfare in the Gesta Stephani' , Château Gaillard Vol. 19 see online transcription)
      Potter, K.R. (ed), 1955, The Historia Novella of William of Malmesbury (Nelson's Medieval Texts) p. 24, 43-4 (A revised edition by Edmund King (Oxford University Press, 1999) should also be consulted)
      Rich Jones, W.. and Dunn Macray, W. (eds), 1891, Charters and Documents Illustrating the History of the Cathedral, City, and Diocese of Salisbury (Rolls Series 97) p. 15-16 online copy
      Hardy, T.D. (ed), 1844, Rotuli de Liberate ac de Misis et Praestitis, regnante Johanne (Record Commission) p. 120 online copy
      Stubbs, W. (ed), 1880, The Minor Works comprising the Gesta regum with its continuation, the Actus pontificum, and the Mappa mundi, by Gervase, the Monk of Canterbury (London: Longman Rolls series 73) Vol. 2 p. 422 online copy
      Rickard, John, 2002, The Castle Community. The Personnel of English and Welsh Castles, 1272-1422 (Boydell Press) (lists sources for 1272-1422) p. 463-4
      C145/221(13) (Survey of 1380) The National Archives reference (calendared in Evans, D.L. (ed), 1957, Calendar of Inquisitions Miscellaneous (Chancery), preserved in the Public Record Office (H.M.S.O.) Vol. 4 p. 65-6 No. 105 online copy)
      C145/284(7) (Survey of 1405) The National Archives reference
      C145/318(1) (Survey of 1461) The National Archives reference
      E101/476/4 (Survey of 1328) The National Archives reference
      SP14/49/32 (Survey of 1609) The National Archives reference
  • Antiquarian (Histories and accounts from late medieval and early modern writers)
    • Camden, Wm, 1607, Britannia hypertext critical edition by Dana F. Sutton (2004)
      Chandler, John, 1993, John Leland's Itinerary: travels in Tudor England  (Sutton Publishing) p. 501
      Toulmin-Smith, Lucy (ed), 1910, The itinerary of John Leland in or about the years 1535-1543 (London: Bell and Sons) Vol. 5 p. 82 online copy
  • Other sources: Theses; 'grey' literature; in-house reports; unpublished works; etc.
    • English Heritage, 2014, Heritage at Risk Register 2014 South West (London: English Heritage) p. 242 online copy
      English Heritage, 2013, Heritage at Risk Register 2013 South West (London: English Heritage) p. 230 online copy
      English Heritage, 2012, Heritage at Risk Register 2012 South West (London: English Heritage) p. 220 online copy
      English Heritage, 2011, Heritage at Risk Register 2011 South West (London: English Heritage) p. 201 online copy
      English Heritage, 2010, Heritage at Risk Register 2010 South West (London: English Heritage) p. 197 online copy
      Weale, A., 2007, New public conveniences, West Cental Car Park, Devizes; Wiltshire; an archaeological watching brief 06/01 (Thames Valley Archaeological Services: Reading) online copy
      2004, The Archaeology of Wiltshire's Towns An Extensive Urban Survey Devizes (Wiltshire County Archaeology Service) online copy
      Payne, Naomi, 2003, The medieval residences of the bishops of Bath and Wells, and Salisbury (PhD Thesis University of Bristol) p. 28 (available via EThOS)
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The information on this web page may be derived from information compiled by and/or copyright of English Heritage, County Historic Environment Records and other individuals and organisations. All the sources given should be consulted to identify the original copyright holder and permission obtained from them before use of the information on this site for commercial purposes.
The author and compiler of Gatehouse does not receive any income from the site and funds it himself. The information within this site is provided freely for educational purposes only.
The bibliography owes much to various bibliographies produced by John Kenyon for the Council for British Archaeology, the Castle Studies Group and others.
Suggestions for finding online and/or hard copies of bibliographical sources can be seen at this link.
Minor archaeological investigations, such as watching brief reports, and some other 'grey' literature is most likely to be held by H.E.R.s but is often poorly referenced and is unlikely to be recorded here, or elsewhere, but some suggestions can be found here.
The possible site or monument is represented on maps as a point location. This is a guide only. It should be noted that OS grid references defines an area, not a point location. In practice this means the actual center of the site or monument may often, but not always, be to the North East of the point shown. Locations derived from OS grid references and from latitude longitiude may differ by a small distance.
Further information on mapping and location can be seen at this link.
Please help to make this as useful a resource as possible by contacting Gatehouse if you see errors, can add information or have suggestions for improvements in functality and design.
Help is acknowledged.
*The listed building may not be the actual medieval building, but a building on the site of, or incorporating fragments of, the described site.
This record last updated on Saturday, November 15, 2014

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