Queenborough Castle

Has been described as a Certain Masonry Castle, and also as a Certain Palace (Royal), and also as a Possible Artillery Fort

There are cropmark/slight earthwork remains

NameQueenborough Castle
Alternative NamesSheppey; Quynborow; Quinborough
Historic CountryKent
Modern AuthorityKent
1974 AuthorityKent
Civil ParishQueenborough

Site of a castle built by Edward III in 1361-1377. It was intended for coastal defence and for the defence of the planned town to be built alongside it. It was also equipped as a Royal residence. Unconventional circular plan with 6 rounded towers projecting from an innner curtain wall. Concentric outer wall with defended gatehouse. A forerunner of the defensive coastal forts later built by Henry VIII. Pulled down in 1650. This was the only wholly new royal castle built in England during the later Middle Ages and was unique in its design. (PastScape)

Queenborough (or Sheppey) Castle was built in 1361-2 under the direction of J. H. Yevele. In his "Survey of the County of Kent", published in 1659, Kilburne states that the castle having become ruinous "was again being repairedby Henry VIII", circa 1545. Further works were undertaken in 1574 and again between 1596 and 1599. In 1635 the castle was again being described as ruinous. A Parliamentary survey of 1650 reported that it was much out of repair. It was accordingly sold and pulled down. Only the earthworks now remain, which are tolerably complete though a railway yard cuts into the moat to the east and a part to the west is asphalted over. (PastScape–ref. HKW)

Queenborough Castle was built in 1361-77 as a defence against French raids. it was demolished after 1650, but it was so remarkable that some comments must be made about it. In plan it was the ultimate development of concentric planning; a circle with six attached circular towers and ranges of rooms built within the walls to form a circular coutyard. A circular outer wall with a gatehouse on the west, a postern on the east, and a circular moat completed the fortifications. Queenborough Castle was, however, more than just a fort and the king stayed there on numerous occasions. The only remains of the castle now are a few mounds, 0.33 miles inland from the church. (PastScape–ref


Despite demolition of the above ground stonework in the 17th century and the construction of a pumping station, the site of Queenborough Castle survives comparatively well with buried features remaining largely undisturbed. It is the earliest example of a concentric circular castle in the country and is possibly the only royal castle to be constructed in the late medieval period. Partial excavation has demonstrated that the monument contains both archaeological remains and environmental evidence relating to the monument's construction, use and demolition. The monument includes an enclosure castle situated on low lying land on the north bank of The Creek, near the west coast of the Isle of Sheppey. The castle survives as a low circular earthwork mound, c.100m in diameter and 1.5m high, surrounded by the partially infilled remains of a moat. This is visible to the north and south of the mound as an earthwork up to 0.6m deep and between 12m and 18m wide. To the east, the outer edge of the moat has been cut away by the construction of the railway line and to the west it has been completely infilled but survives as a buried feature. The early history of the castle is well documented, having been built by Edward III 'for the defence of the realm and for the refuge of the inhabitants of the island' and named after Philippa, his queen. Its construction was started in 1361 and continued until 1369 with final touches, such as the outer gates, being finished between 1373 and 1375. The plan of the masonry structure is known from an Elizabethan manuscript and comprised a central well within a small, circular inner ward, c.18m in diameter, surrounded by a circular keep, 40m in diameter, with six outer circular towers. Beyond this was the outer ward, enclosed by a circular curtain wall with a main gate to the west and a small postern gate to the east. Pairs of high walls connected the main gate with the western face of the keep and the postern with the keep's gate. Each of these walls had a gateway in it. The moat then ran around the curtain wall and was crossed by two drawbridges at the gateways. In 1382 six of the towers collapsed owing to an earthquake and were rebuilt by Richard II. Various alterations and repairs were carried out until 1650, when the castle was declared obsolete by the Parliamentary Commissioners. The structure was demolished soon after. The well was reopened and deepened in 1725 and was retained in use until the 20th century with a second well sunk next to the first in 1868. In 1991 two shallow trenches were excavated in the north west corner of the site which located a cut likely to be the robber-trench where the stones of the outer curtain wall were removed after demolition. (Scheduling Report)

Richard Kilburne's 'A Topography or Survey of Kent' (1659) states that 'A castle was here of ancient foundation' and that Edward III rebuilt and enlarged it. Kilburne does not highlight the source of this information. (Wessex Archaeology, 2005)

Gatehouse Comments

Probably mounted cannon and formed part of Thames defence but was, for a while, a favoured royal residence so, by no means, a stark artillery fort. The floor plan of the castles design has a superficial resemblance to the artillery forts of Henry VIII but this castle was not designed as an artillery fort and the floor plan actually suggests was built with much fancy and romantic allusion.

- Philip Davis

This site is a scheduled monument protected by law

Not Listed

Historic England (PastScape) Defra or Monument number(s)
County Historic Environment Record
OS Map Grid ReferenceTQ912721
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  • Goodall, John, 2011, The English Castle 1066-1650 (Yale University Press) p. 29, 238, 291, 317, 320-1, 437
  • Purton, P.F., 2009, A History of the Late Medieval Siege: 1200-1500 (Woodbridge: The Boydell Press) p. 138
  • Hughes, D.T., 2007, Queenborough Castle : Sheppey's lost fortress (Sheerness: SeaSheppey)
  • Salter, Mike, 2000, The Castles of Kent (Malvern: Folly Publications) p. 58-9
  • Pettifer, A., 1995, English Castles, A guide by counties (Woodbridge: Boydell Press) p. 133 (slight)
  • King, D.J.C., 1983, Castellarium Anglicanum (London: Kraus) Vol. 1 p. 232
  • Newman, John, 1983, Buildings of England: North east and east Kent (Harmondsworth) p. 419
  • Guy, John, 1980, Kent Castles (Meresborough Books)
  • Smithers, David Waldron, 1980, Castles in Kent (Chatham)
  • Colvin, H.M., Ransome, D.R. and Summerson, John, 1975, The history of the King's Works Vol. 3: 1485-1660 (part 1) (London) p. 292-293
  • 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. 793-804
  • Toy, Sidney, 1953, The Castles of Great Britain (Heinemann) p. 207-8
  • Toy, Sidney, 1939, Castles: A short History of Fortifications from 1600 BC to AD 1600 (London) p. 165-9
  • Clapham, A.W., 1913, 'Queenborough Castle and its Builder, William of Wykeham' in Clapham, A.W. and Walter, H.G. (eds), Some famous buildings and their story: being the results of recent research in London and elsewhere (Technical Journals Ltd) p. 271-5
  • Harvey, Alfred, 1911, Castles and Walled Towns of England (London: Methuen and Co)
  • Gould, I. Chalkley, 1908, in Page, Wm (ed), VCH Kent Vol. 1 p. 408-9 online copy
  • Daly, A.A., 1904, History of the Isle of Sheppey p. 85
  • Mackenzie, J.D., 1896, Castles of England; their story and structure (New York: Macmillan) Vol. 1 p. 30-2 online copy
  • Hasted, Edward, 1798 (2edn), The history and topographical survey of the county of Kent Vol. 6 p. 233- online transcription
  • Grose, Francis, 1785 (new edn orig 1756), Antiquities of England and Wales (London) Vol. 3 p. 90-3 online copy
  • Kilburne, R., 1659, A Topography or Survey of the County of Kent



  • Richard Nevell, 2014-15, 'Castles as prisons' Castle Studies Group Journal Vol. 28 p. 203-224
  • Birbeck, V. and Chelu, R.A., 2008, 'Geophysical survey and evaluation trenching at Queenborough Castle, Isle of Sheppey' Archaeologia Cantiana Vol. 128 p. 378-86 online copy
  • Anon, 2006-7, 'Time Team at Queenborough' Castle Studies Group Journal Vol. 20 p. 165-7 (Brief report of Time Team Excavation)
  • Hodge, C., 1998, 'The castles of Kent No. 4: Queenborough Castle' Kent Archaeological Society Newsletter Vol. 42 p. 2-4
  • Pratt, S., 1992, Archaeologia Cantiana Vol. 110 p. 370-2 online copy
  • Kenyon, J.R., 1981 'Early Artillery Fortifications in England and Wales: a Preliminary Survey and Re-appraisal' The Archaeological Journal Vol. 138 p. 209
  • 1949, Country Life Vol. 21 p. 136
  • D'Elboux, B.H., 1945, Coats of arms in Queenborough Castle' Archaeologia Cantiana Vol. 58 p. 14-27 online copy
  • Tout, T.F., 1911, 'Firearms in England in the Fourteenth Century' English Historical Review Vol. 26 p. 666-702 esp. 675
  • Woodruff, C.E., 1897, 'Notes on the Municipal Records of Queenborough' Archaeologia Cantiana Vol. 22 p. 169-85 esp 170-2 online copy
  • Cockerell, 1845, Proceeding of the Archaeological Institute p. 6-8

Primary Sources

  • Rickard, John, 2002, The Castle Community. The Personnel of English and Welsh Castles, 1272-1422 (Boydell Press) (lists sources for 1272-1422) p. 273-4
  • E317 Kent/52 (Survey of Commonwealth After 1650) The National Archives reference


  • Time Team (Mike Aston et al), 2006 March 12 (1st broadcast), 'Castle in the round' Time Team TV Programme (Time Team, a Videotext/Picture House production for Channel 4) view online
  • 2006, Queenborough Castle, Isle of Sheppey, Kent - Time Team archaeological evaluation (Wessex Archaeology) online copy
  • Wilkins, I., 2005, Geophysical Survey: Queenborough Castle, Isle of Sheppey Report No. 2005/58. Geophysical Surveys of Bradford (GSB Prospection): Thornton, Bradford online copy
  • Kent County Council, December 2004, Kent Historic Towns Survey (Kent County Council and English Heritage) view online copy
  • Pratt, S., 1991, Queenborough Castle: Report on Evaluation Trenches (Canterbury Archaeological Trust)