Devizes Castle

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

There are masonry footings remains

NameDevizes Castle
Alternative NamesVyes; Diuisis; Divisis; Divisas
Historic CountryWiltshire
Modern AuthorityWiltshire
1974 AuthorityWiltshire
Civil ParishDevizes

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)

Gatehouse Comments

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.

- Philip Davis

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 ReferenceSU002613
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Guide Books

  • Stone, E.H., 1920, Devizes Castle: its History and Romance (George Simpson & Co.: Devizes)

Primary Sources

  • 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
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  • 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


  • Historic England, 2016, Heritage at Risk South West Register 2016 (London: Historic England) p. 228 online copy
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