Burwell Castle

Has been described as a Certain Timber Castle (Motte)

There are earthwork remains

NameBurwell Castle
Alternative NamesSpringe Copse; castelli de Burwelle
Historic CountryCambridgeshire and the Isle of Ely
Modern AuthorityCambridgeshire
1974 AuthorityCambridgeshire
Civil ParishBurwell

Large, low platform with a very small motte in its centre. This is a complex site which originated on a Roman site. Part of a raised platform on which there was a village was appropriated by King Stephen's forces in 1143-4 and a motte castle was started. This castles does not seem to have been finished and may have been attacked during construction. The site continued as an, unfortified, manorial site and a private chapel was added in 1246. The castle is thought to have formed part of a chain of defences constructed by King Stephen's forces in 1143-4. It is of unusual design, formed by the excavation of a broad flat bottomed moat to leave a rectangular island 35m by 60m across. The bulk of the material from the moat forms two large mounds flanking the outer edges of the north and western arms. The northern mound overlies the southern parts of three rectangular enclosures within a line of four or five such features defined by shallow banks and ditches. These are interpreted as the curtilages of medieval houses, part of a settlement abandoned when this relatively elevated position was appropriated for the castle. (Derived from Cambs HER and PastScape)

Burwell, Cambridgeshire, is best known as possessing a castle constructed by King Stephen during the mid- twelfth-century civil war commonly referred to as 'the Anarchy'. Documentary sources confirm that the king built a series of fortifications around the East Anglian fen-edge during a.d. 1144 in an attempt to restrict the activities of the rebellious baron Geoffrey de Mandeville, Earl of Essex, who was using the Isle of Ely as a base to raid the surrounding countryside. Written texts also reveal how de Mandeville was mortally wounded during a skirmish or siege which subsequently took place at Burwell. A combination of topographic and geophysical survey, supplemented by documentary analysis, suggests that the castle was constructed in a landscape with a complex earlier history

It is suggested that during the Romano-British period a temple complex was developed on the site, with a spring rising on the edge of the fens providing the likely focus for ritual activity. Burwell later developed into an important early medieval place and the castle itself may have been inserted into a thegnly enclosure — an act which probably sought to appropriate a recognised pre-existing centre of power. The current research provides the most comprehensive assessment of the site to date, and supports existing interpretations which consider the twelfth-century castle to be incomplete. Analysis also gives additional insight into the functional and symbolic significance of the castle at Burwell, and sheds important light on the character of power and conflict in the fenland during the mid-twelfth century. (Wright et al 2016 - paper abstract)

See the Cambs HER online record for a particularly full description.

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 ReferenceTL587660
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  • < >Duncan Wright, Oliver Creighton, Steven Trick and Michael Fradley, 2016, 'Burwell Castle, Cambridgeshire' in Duncan Wright and Oliver Creighton (eds), Castles, Siegeworks and Settlements Surveying the Archaeology of the Twelfth Century (Oxford: Archaeopress Publishing Ltd) p. 6-25 < >
  • Goodall, John, 2011, The English Castle 1066-1650 (Yale University Press) p. 107
  • Lowerre, A.G., 2005, Placing Castles in the Conquest. Landscape, Lordship and Local Politics in the South-Eastern Midlands, 1066-1100 (Oxford: John and Erica Hedges Ltd: BAR British Series 385) p. 232
  • Wareham, A.F. and Wright, A.P.M. (eds), 2002, VCH Cambridgeshire and the Isle of Ely Vol. 10 p. 341 online transcription
  • Malim, C., 2001, Burwell Castle, Cambridgeshire: information pack (Cambridge: Cambridgeshire County Council Archaeological Field Unit)
  • Salter, Mike, 2001, The Castles of East Anglia (Malvern: Folly Publications) p. 16
  • Taylor, Alison, 1986, Castles of Cambridgeshire (Cambridge)
  • Pettifer, A., 1995, English Castles, A guide by counties (Woodbridge: Boydell Press) p. 11
  • King, D.J.C., 1983, Castellarium Anglicanum (London: Kraus) Vol. 1 p. 39
  • Fry, P.S., 1980, Castles of the British Isles (David and Charles) p. 197
  • Renn, D.F., 1973 (2 edn.), Norman Castles of Britain (London: John Baker) p. 124-6
  • RCHME, 1972, An inventory of historical monuments in the County of Cambridgeshire. Vol. 2: north-east Cambridgeshire p. 40-2 no. 132 online transcription
  • Phillips, 1948, in Salzman, L.F. (ed), VCH Cambridgeshire and the Isle of Ely Vol. 2 p. 19-20
  • Harvey, Alfred, 1911, Castles and Walled Towns of England (London: Methuen and Co)
  • Allcroft, A. Hadrian, 1908, Earthwork of England (London) p. 441-2 online copy
  • Mackenzie, J.D., 1896, Castles of England; their story and structure (New York: Macmillan) Vol. 1 p. 309 online copy



  • Duncan W. Wright, Oliver Creighton, Steven Trick and Michael Fradley, 2016, 'Power, conflict and ritual on the fen-edge: the Anarchy-period castle at Burwell, Cambridgeshire, and its pre-Conquest landscape' Landscape History Vol. 37.1 p. 25-50 online access
  • Creighton, O.H., 2004, ''The Rich Man in his Castle, The Poor Man at His Gate': Castle Baileys and Settlement Patterns in Norman England' Cha^teau Gaillard Vol. 21 p. 25-36
  • Davidson, B.K., 1967, 'Burwell and Ely Castles' The Archaeological Journal Vol. 124 p. 240
  • Lethbridge, T.C. and Tebbutt, C.T., 1951, 'Excavations on the castle site known as "The Hillings" at Eaton Socon, Bedfordshire' Proceedings of the Cambridge Antiquarian Society Vol. 45 p. 48-61 online copy
  • Phillips, 1936, Antiquity Vol. 10 p. 465-8
  • Lethbridge, T.C., 1936, 'Excavations at Burwell Castle, Cambridgeshire' Proceedings of the Cambridge Antiquarian Society Vol. 36 p. 121-33 online copy
  • O'Farrel Hughes, W., 1913, 'Burwell, Its Castle, &c.' Transactions of the Cambridgeshire and Huntingdonshire Archaeological Society Vol. 3.8 p. 291-3 (history, unimportant) 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. 201 online copy
  • Clark, G.T., 1881, 'The castles of England and Wales at the Latter part of the Twelfth Century' The Archaeological Journal Vol. 38 p. 258-76, 336-35 esp. 268 online copy

Guide Books

  • (Malim, C.), 2001, Burwell Castle, Cambridgeshire, leaflet (Cambridge: Cambridgeshire County Council Archaeological Field Unit) online copy

Primary Sources

  • Sewell, R.C. (ed), 1846, Gesta Stephani, Regis Anglorum et Ducis Normannorum p. 109 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 > http://web.archive.org/web/20101229213751/http://www.deremilitari.org/resources/articles/speight.htm])
  • Macray, W.D. (ed), Chronica Abbatiae Ramesiensis (Rolls Series 83) p. 331
  • Stubbs, W. (ed), 1879, Historical works, the Chronicle of the Reigns of Stephen, Henry II, and Richard I, by Gervase, the Monk of Canterbury (Rolls series 73) Vol. 1 p. 128 online copy


  • Lowerre, A.G., 2004, Placing Castles in the Conquest. Landscape, Lordship and Local Politics in the South-Eastern Midlands, 1066-1100 (PhD thesis: Boston College) p. 488
  • Cambridgeshire Extensive Urban Survey: Burwell. Draft Report 22/05/2003 online copy
  • Scheduling record, 1997, Monument Number 29382