Plympton Castle

Has been described as a Certain Timber Castle (Motte), and also as a Certain Masonry Castle

There are masonry footings remains

NamePlympton Castle
Alternative NamesPlympton Earl; St Maurice; Plinton'
Historic CountryDevonshire
Modern AuthorityPlymouth; City of
1974 AuthorityDevon
Civil ParishPlymouth

Plympton Castle consists of fragments of a skell keep, the rubble wall 8ft thick and about 50ft in external diameter around the motte-top, with a large rectangular bailey to the west. The castle is said to date from the first year of Henry I. In 1136 the castle surrendered and was levelled to the ground, but it appears to have been rebuilt and then confiscated by the Crown in 1204 (VCH; Renn).

A recent survey of the motte and surviving fabric suggests the following sequence:

1. The castle was established in or after 1100 but before 1130, by either Richard de Revers or his son Baldwin, and was probably initially timber-built. It was destroyed after its surrender to the royal army in 1136.

2. It was rebuilt in 1141 by Baldwin de Redvers in stone, possibly as a shell-keep. This was reinforced with timber put-logs to counteract the instability of the motte-top.

3. At some stage, an inner circle tower was built in the centre of the motte-top, it having a final form similar to Launceston Castle. It is not possible to tell when the inner tower was added, the available historical evidence suggesting the periods 1184-1224, or even as late as 1297-1340, after Hugh II Courtenay had inherited the de Redver's land.

The castle was confiscated in 1204 by King John (as stated by VCH), as a guarantee of payments for royal favour by Earl William de Vernon, who recovered the castle in 1205. Its subsequent history is sketchy, as its owners major interests often lay elsewhere. It was besieged by Robert Courtenay on behalf of the King in 1224 and surrendered after 15 days. Subsequently, it appears to have been used mainly as the administrative centre for the barony. In 1294, habitable houses and gardens are referred to at the castle, and in 1297 repairs were undertaken as routine maintenance. There is further evidence of maintenance in 1382, but by Leland's time, the walls were standing but the lodges has fallen into decay

It is described in similar terms in 1539 when the Courtenay estates fell to the Crown, and again repairs were undertaken, It was finally destroyed in 1647 according to local tradition (Higham, Goddard and Rouillard 1985).

Remains of castle keep on motte. Probably C12, but may be early C13. Killas rubble walls about 3m thick and surviving in places to about 4m high; putlog holes.

PLAN: circular on plan with evidence for doorway to its S side with deep draw-bar slot on its right (Pevsner notes 2 slots and suggests that they were for reinforcing timbers). It has been suggested that there was also a central tower within the keep as at Launceston Castle. Large bailey to west with very high earthworks.

HISTORY: in 1136 the castle was besieged and razed by King Stephen. The present building may date from the 1140s when Baldwin de Redvers recovered his estates and was made Earl of Devon by the Empress Matilda. However, as recent investigations of the stone keeps of both Launceston and Restormel Castles (Cornwall CC) have suggested C13 dates, then perhaps this castle too may be later than has previously been thought. A thorough examination of the evidence may give a more precise dating. Grade II-star (Listed Building Report). (PastScape)

This site is a scheduled monument protected by law

This is a Grade 2* listed building protected by law

Historic England Scheduled Monument Number
Historic England Listed Building number(s)
Images Of England
Historic England (PastScape) Defra or Monument number(s)
County Historic Environment Record
OS Map Grid ReferenceSX544557
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  • Purton, P.F., 2009, A History of the Early Medieval Siege c. 450-1220 (Woodbridge: The Boydell Press) p. 266 (1136 siege)
  • Higham, Robert A., 1999, 'Castles, Fortified Houses and Fortified Towns in the Middle Ages' in Kain, R. and Ravenhill, W., Historical Atlas of South-West England (University of Exeter Press) p. 136-43
  • Salter, Mike, 1999, The Castles of Devon and Cornwall (Malvern: Folly Publications) p. 77
  • Pettifer, A., 1995, English Castles, A guide by counties (Woodbridge: Boydell Press) p. 61-2
  • Pevsner, Nikolaus and Cherry, Bridget, 1989, Buildings of England: Devon (Harmondsworth) p. 683
  • Mildren, James, 1987, Castles of Devon (Bossiney Books) p. 78-81
  • King, D.J.C., 1983, Castellarium Anglicanum (London: Kraus) Vol. 1 p. 118
  • Fry, P.S., 1980, Castles of the British Isles (David and Charles) p. 276
  • Renn, D.F., 1973 (2 edn.), Norman Castles of Britain (London: John Baker) p. 280-1
  • Sanders, I.J., 1960, English Baronies p. 137-8
  • Bracken, 1931, History of Plymouth (Plymouth) p. 14-15
  • Oman, Charles W.C., 1926, Castles (1978 edn Beetham House: New York) p. 101
  • Harvey, Alfred, 1911, Castles and Walled Towns of England (London: Methuen and Co)
  • Wall, C., 1906, in Page, Wm (ed), 'Ancient Earthworks' VCH Devon Vol. 1 p. 620-1
  • Brooking-Rowe, S.R. 1906, A History of the Borough of Plympton Earle, the Castle and Manor of Plympton (Exeter) esp p. 38-78
  • Mackenzie, J.D., 1896, Castles of England; their story and structure (New York: Macmillan) Vol. 2 p. 38 online copy
  • Turner, T.H. and Parker, J.H., 1859, Some account of Domestic Architecture in England (Oxford) Vol. 3 Part 2 p. 356 online copy
  • Lysons, D. and S., 1822, Magna Britannia Vol. 6 Devon p. cccxlv-cccxlviii online transcription



  • Speight, Sarah, 2000, 'Castle Warfare in the Gesta Stehani' _Château Gaillard_ l. 19 p. 269-274
  • Higham, R.A., 1988, 'Devon Castles: an annotated list' Proceedings of the Devon Archaeological Society Vol. 46 p. 142-
  • Thompson, M.W., 1986, 'Associated monasteries and castles in the Middle Ages: a tentative list' The Archaeological Journal Vol. 143 p. 315
  • Higham, R.A., Goddard, S. and Rouillard, M., 1985, 'Plympton Castle, Devon' Proceedings of the Devon Archaeological Society Vol. 43 p. 59-75
  • Higham, R.A., 1982, 'Early Castles in Devon' Château Gaillard Vol. 9-10 p. 101-116
  • 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)
  • Clark, G.T., 1889, 'Contribution towards a complete list of moated mounds or burhs' The Archaeological Journal Vol. 46 p. 197-217 esp. 203 online copy
  • Rowe, 1877-8, Transactions of the Plymouth Institute Vol. 6 p. 246-74
  • Hine, 1866-7, Transactions of the Plymouth Institute Vol. 2 p. 81-6

Guide Books

  • 1987, Plympton Castle, Devon Archaeological Society Field Guide No. 3 (Exeter: Devon Archaeological Society)

Primary Sources

  • Sewell, R.C. (ed), 1846, Gesta Stephani, Regis Anglorum et Ducis Normannorum p. 23 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 >])
  • Hardy, T.D. (ed), 1835, Rotuli Litterarum Patentium in Turri Londinensi Asservati (1201-16) (Record Commission) p. 48b view online copy
  • Hardy, D.H (ed), 1835, Rotuli de oblatis et finibus in Turri Londinensi asservati tempore Regis Johannis (London: PRO) p. 235 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. 176-7


  • English Heritage, 2014, Heritage at Risk Register 2014 South West (London: English Heritage) p. 193 online copy
  • English Heritage, 2013, Heritage at Risk Register 2013 South West (London: English Heritage) p. 185 online copy
  • English Heritage, 2012, Heritage at Risk Register 2012 South West (London: English Heritage) p. 196 online copy
  • English Heritage, 2011, Heritage at Risk Register 2011 South West (London: English Heritage) p. 179 online copy
  • Harvey, L., 1998, Geophysical Survey: Plympton Castle, Devon (Report No, 1998/29. Geophysical Surveys of Bradford (GSB Prospection): Thornton, Bradford) download copy [download copy >]