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Marlborough Castle

Also known as, or recorded in historical documents as;
Merleberge; Malmesberiae; Marlbergie; The Mount

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

OS Map Grid Reference: SU18376866
Latitude 51.41666° Longitude -1.73721°

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

There are earthwork remains.

This site is a scheduled monument protected by law.


Large mound, possibly a motte and bailey within the grounds of Marlborough College. The first documentary evidence for the existence of a castle is during the reign of King Stephen, who held it in 1139 from the Empress Matilda. It is possible that it existed earlier. Repairs and construction of a ring wall around the motte are recorded for 1209-11. Further building occurred during the reign of Henry II, including a Great Tower. The castle was in ruins by 1403. Parts of the keep and curtain wall have been identified by excavation and a Roman coin recovered. A chapel was allegedly situated within the bailey. The mound was incorporated into a garden layout during the late C17/early C18, with the construction of a summerhouse on the top and a grotto at the base. There has been considerable speculation that the mound has origins in the later Neolithic, by analogy with Silbury Hill, particularly since the discovery in 1912 of several red deer antler fragments within the mound, and the collection of some struck flints from the ground surface to the south and south west in the early 1920s. At present, the extant evidence is rather limited however a late Neolithic origin for the mound cannot be completely ruled out, and the Marlborough place-name (barrow of Maerla) does suggest the mound may be based on a barrow or, at least, a pre-saxon earthwork mound. From 1273-1369 it was in possession of the queen as a dower house. (PastScape)

The wooden castle was built by William the conqueror as his invasion force came to the West Country in 1086. It later became to be strengthened by Roger, bishop of Salisbury in 1100 and was later rebuilt in stone. The history of the structure of the castle is interesting and the details of its strengthening and rebuilding throughout the centuries show us that the castle was highly valued by both monarchs and their officials and powerful locals.
Important individuals feature in the castles history the first being Agelric who was the bishop of the South Saxons. He was held hostage in the castle in 1070 after William came to successfully conquer the West Country in 1068. The royal history of the castle does not finish here as the castle became a royal residence and the royal court often visited. Savernake forest and the neighbouring wood of Aldbourne chase were favourite royal hunting grounds. Notable figures linked to the castle are as follows. John of Gaunt, son of Edward III had a hunting lodge in the middle of the chase. Henry I spent Easter there in 1110. Henry III was married there and in 1245 his mother died there. On his death the castle became part of the dowry of his widow, Queen Eleanor and on her death was conferred by Edward I on his own Queen. Edward II bestowed it on his favourite Hugh Le Despencer in 1308; on his fall his wife Queen Isabel obtained it. In the reign of Edward III the castle was held by various wardens for the King’s sister. Richard II granted it to Sir William Scrope – on his execution in 1399 it reverted back to the crown.
The castle was allowed to fall into ruin after the Wars of the Roses. The wise policy of Henry VII strengthened the crown so great castles were no longer needed to keep the peace. Old feudal fortresses became valueless, as explosives were now in use and castles were defenceless against gunpowder. Edward VI, last royal owner of the castle, passed it on to the Seymour family as this was his mother’s line. Today the site of the castle belongs to Marlborough College. (VCH Explore)

1256. To Stephen Fromund, constable of the castle of Merleberge. Contrabreve to repair where absolutely necessary the wall of the castle of Merleberge, which has fallen down in three places. (Cal. Lib. Rolls)

Radiocarbon dates of charcoal from cores taken from the mound in 2010 have dated the mound as prehistoric (2800-2000 BCE) and a contemporary of Silbury Hill. This does not exclude later use of the mound as a motte for Marlborough Castle. However, the motte was merely a part of the castle and most of the medieval castle is probably lost beneath the school buildings.
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Sources of information, references and further reading
  • Websites (Gatehouse is not responsible for the content of external websites.)
  • Books
    • Salter, Mike, 2002, The Castles of Wessex (Malvern: Folly Publications) p. 95
      Whittle, A., 1997, Sacred Mound, Holy Rings. Silbury Hill Hill and the West Kennet Palisade Enclosures: A Later Neolithic Complex in North Wiltshire (Oxford: Oxbow) p. 169-70
      Pettifer, A., 1995, English Castles, A guide by counties (Woodbridge: Boydell Press) p. 275-6
      James, T.B., 1990, The Palaces of Medieval England (London; Seaby) p. 50, 57, 70-1, 85, 86
      King, D.J.C., 1983, Castellarium Anglicanum (London: Kraus) Vol. 2 p. 499
      Crowley, D.A. (ed), 1983, 'Marlborough Castle' VCH Wiltshire (Oxford: OUP for the Institute of Historical Research) Vol. 12 p. 165-70 online transcription
      Fry, P.S., 1980, Castles of the British Isles (David and Charles) p. 259
      Haslam, J., 1976, Wiltshire towns: the archaeological potential (Devizes: Wiltshire Archaeological and Natural History Society) p. 41-2
      Renn, D.F., 1973 (2 edn.), Norman Castles of Britain (London: John Baker) p. 239-40
      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. 734-8
      Stedman, 1960, Marlborough and the Upper Kennet Country (Marlborough) p. 38-48
      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. 229-30 online copy
      Timbs, J. and Gunn, A., 1872, Abbeys, Castles and Ancient Halls of England and Wales Vol. 2 (London) p. 11-12 online copy
  • Periodical Articles
    • 2011 July, 'Proof that mound in college grounds is Silbury twin' British Archaeology no. 119 p. 7 (news report)
      Field, D., Brown, G. and Crockett, A., 2001, 'The Marlborough mount revisited' Wiltshire Archaeological and Natural History Magazine Vol. 94 p. 195-204 online copy
      Creighton, O.H., 2000, 'Early Castles in the Medieval Landscape of Wiltshire' Wiltshire Archaeological and Natural History Magazine Vol. 93 p. 108 online copy
      Stevenson, J.H., 1992, 'The castles of Marlborough and Ludgershall in the Middle Ages' Wiltshire Archaeological and Natural History Magazine Vol. 85 p. 70-79 online copy
      King, D.J.Cathcart, 1972, 'The Field Archaeology of mottes; Eine kurze übersicht' Château Gaillard Vol. 5 p. 101-112
      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)
      Williams, 1956, Wiltshire Archaeological and Natural History Society Collectanea, Records Branch Vol. 12 p. 1-49 (accounts)
      Brown, R. Allen, 1955, 'Royal Castle-building in England 1154-1216' English Historical Review Vol. 70 (Reprinted in Brown, R. Allen, 1989, Castles, conquest and charters: collected papers (Woodbridge: Boydell Press)) p. 19-64
      19??, Reports of the Marlborough College Natural History Society Vol. 97 p. 13-20
      Brentnall, H.C., 1937-9, Wiltshire Archaeological and Natural History Magazine Vol. 48 p. 133-43 (plan) online copy
      193?, Reports of the Marlborough College Natural History Society Vol. 85 p. 42-7
      Brentnall, H.C., 1935-7, 'Marlborough Castle' Wiltshire Archaeological and Natural History Magazine Vol. 47 p. 543 online copy
      Brentnall, H.C., 1933, Reports of the Marlborough College Natural History Society Vol. 82 p. 66-104
      Brentnall, H.C., 1922, Reports of the Marlborough College Natural History Society Vol. 71 p. 37-46
      Brentnall, H.C., 1913, 'The Marlborough Castle Mound' Wiltshire Archaeological and Natural History Magazine Vol. 38 p. 112 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. 214 online copy
  • Guidebooks
    • Brentnall, H.C., n.d., Castellum Merlebergae (reprint of Marlborough College articles)
  • Primary (Medieval documents or transcriptions of such documents - This section is far from complete and the secondary sources should be consulted for full references.)
    • Evans, D.L. (ed), 1959, Calendar of Liberate Rolls Henry III (1251-1260) Vol. 4 (London: HMSO) p. 289 view online copy
      Sewell, R.C. (ed), 1846, Gesta Stephani, Regis Anglorum et Ducis Normannorum p. 104 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)
      Luard, H.R (ed), 1865, 'Annales de Wintonia' in Annales Monastici (Rolls Series 36) Vol. 2 p. 51 online copy
      Pipe Rolls 1209-11 (see Pipe Roll Society for published references)
      Michel, F. (ed), 1890, Historie de Dus de Normandie (Paris) 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. 465-6
      C145/246(16) (Survey of 1391) The National Archives reference
      C145/281(9) (Survey of 1403) The National Archives reference
      E101/476/4 (Survey of 1328) 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. 500
      Toulmin-Smith, Lucy (ed), 1910, The itinerary of John Leland in or about the years 1535-1543 (London: Bell and Sons) Vol. 5 p. 80 online copy
  • Other sources: Theses; 'grey' literature; in-house reports; unpublished works; etc.
    • 2004, The Archaeology of Wiltshire's Towns An Extensive Urban Survey Marlborough (Wiltshire County Archaeology Service) online copy
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This record last updated on Saturday, November 15, 2014

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