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Malmesbury siege castles

Also known as, or recorded in historical documents as;

In the civil parish of Malmesbury.
In the historic county of Wiltshire.
Modern Authority of Wiltshire.
1974 county of Wiltshire.
Medieval County of Wiltshire.

OS Map Grid Reference: ST93228734
Latitude 51.58488° Longitude -2.09924°

Malmesbury siege castles has been described as a certain Siege Work.

There are uncertain remains.


Three siege works erected rapidly against Malmesbury Castle by Robert, Earl of Gloucester in 1144 in response to raids by the garrison.

Comes quoque Glaornensis, erectis in brevi prope Malmesbiriam tribus castellis, dum rex in sedandis belli tumultibus alibi detineretur, non solum consuetos eorum per patriam caute praepedivit excursus, verum usque ad impudentem famis inediam jugiter eos, et constanter coercuit.
Ceterum, ubi rex de tanta suorum afflictione vera percepit, immensa protinus militariae multitudinis copia convocata, Malmesbiriam subitus, et insperatus advenit, escisque ad plurimi temporis sufficientiam impositis, circa castella, quae comes extruxerat, depraedatione, igne, et gladio, atrocissime ubique invaluit: fixisque circa Tetebiriam tentoriis, castellum duntaxat tribus a Malmesbiria distans miliariis, viribus, et armis ad capiendum constantissime desudavit; ulteriore quoque castelli propugnaculo virtuose tandem adquisito, militibusque nonis captis, et interemptis. aliis autem spississime vulneratis, et intra interiorem recessum in angustum locellum catervatim redactis, machinas instantissime undique applicuit, et obsidione eos claudere proposuit. Comes autem Glaornensis, cum regis primum comperisset adventum, immensam quantocius militum sibi ascivit frequentiam, quippe qui plurima e proximo, alia proprii juris, alia fidissime sibi parentia habebat castella, crudelemque, et indomitum pedestris multitudinis, Walensium, videlicet et Bristoensium, aliarumque, quae e vicino aderant, civitatum, quasi cum rege comimissurus, aggregavit exercitum. Comes etiam Herefordiae, Rogerius, sed et alii, robustissimae virtutis, in auxilium suum unanimiter conspirantes, contractis in unum viribus, citissime affuerunt, regiumque, duobus tantum interpositis miliariis, ambientes exercitum, a longe expectarunt, usque dum alii, qui adesse maturabant, in suffragium suum pariter convenissent.
Barones itaque, qui cum rege convenerant, tam copiosum adversariorum examen in suum audientes penculum panter confluxisse, effrenemque Walensium barbariem, sed et incompositum Bristoensium vulgus exhorrescentes, quos comes Glaorniae, mirae multitudinis conserto agmine, ad se conturbandos ductabat, sanum regis auribus instillarunt consilium, ut, obsidione ad tempus soluta, alio, quo necessitas vocaret, admoveret suos; vel quia inconsultum erat, et discrimini proximum, inter tot pedestris multitudinis lanistas longe imparem militiae suae cuneum obviam exponere; maxime, cum sui et a propriis sedibus procul elongati, et ab itineris labore essent defatigati, illi, e converso, de suis e vicino prodientes urbibus, et castellis, tanto constantiores ad dimicandum concurrerent, quanto,a itineris vexatione detriti, e patria sua tunc demum prorupissent: iccirco sanum esse ab obsidione ad praesens desistere, ne a feroci hostium circumventus concursu, suorum, sinistra impediente fortuna, pateretur detrimentum. (Gesta Stephani)

Possible sites are Great Somerford and Cams Hill. Also suggested as a possibility is moated site in Easton Grey. Given map reference is for Malmesbury Castle.
Cam's Hill is clearly one of the siege castles, it is within sight of Malmesbury and it is a small ringwork like other known and undisputed siege works of the era (Danes Castle, Exeter and The Rings at Corfe both also close to the castles they are besieging) (Distances – Cam's Hill 1670m; Danes Castle 320m; The Rings 400m).
Great Somerford, 5.25km from Malmesbury, was, in the view of Gatehouse, an ordinary motte castle that may have had some use as back camp of the siege but wasn't a siege castle.
Jerry Ollis, on the bases that Great Somerfield was a siege castle, examined the local area and suggested a roughly square earthwork at Easton Grey writing "The site would be easy to construct given that it would be using pre existing roman earthworks. It is ideal for defending land to the south and west of Malmesbury, controlling access into Malmesbury via the adjacent Foss Way, and to command control of the main river into Malmesbury – the Avon" The suggestion the site had a Roman origin comes from antiquarian assumptions and is not supported by modern archaeological observation, where it seems to be considered a medieval moated site (these generally being of C13-C15 date). At 4.5km from Malmesbury the site is readily bypassed. Gatehouse feels this is unlikely as a siege castle site.
Presuming Cam's Hill was a siege work the other two castles mentioned in the account were probably within 1-2km of Malmesbury and have long been lost and/or built over. Cam's Hill actually does not have a direct view of Malmesbury, the earthwork being on the reverse side of the hill but clearly forces there would control southern access to the town and castle. Obvious likely locations for the other siege castles would be Blick's Hill, controlling access on the north and east of town and a site between the two branches of the Avon west of the town covering access from the west.

A research project, lead by Professor Oliver Creighton, is examining, in detail, the sieges of the Anarchy and should through more light on the historical sources and surviving archaeological remains. The results of this project are due to be published in 2016. (See University of Exeter website)
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This record last updated 26/07/2017 09:21:27

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