Exeter Rougemont Castle

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

There are major building remains

NameExeter Rougemont Castle
Alternative Names
Historic CountryDevonshire
Modern AuthorityDevon
1974 AuthorityDevon
Civil ParishExeter

Exeter Castle is sited on a natural knoll of igneous rock called Rougemont in the northern angle of the Roman-and-later City wall. It was built in 1068, on a site selected by William the Conqueror immediately after his subjection of Exeter in 1068, under the supervision of Baldwin de Meules, who became the first custodian. In the first place the castle was defended on the north east and north west by the city wall and ditch (no doubt strengthened), and on the south side by a large ditch and stockaded ring-work type bank, through which entry was made by an 11th century Gate Tower of strong keep-like character. Walls were substituted for the stockade probably by the early 12th century, but there seems never to have been a motte or keep within the enclosed area (though Norden's Map shows what looks very like a ruined rectangular keep against the north east wall). An outer Bailey, with wall and ditch defences and a barbican entry, was added at some time before 1200, and although the defences were destroyed some time after 1587, their circuit can still be traced and a small portion of the wall survives in Bailey Street. This outer bailey may have been in existence in 1136 when the castle was besieged by King Stephen, as he is recorded as capturing a 'promurale' and a 'pontem interiorem', the former of which might be the outer bailey barbican, without penetrating the main defences. But Vachell considers that the outer bailey could not have been constructed before the end of the 12th century, and is so opposed to an earlier dating that he postulates as the 'promurale' an additional barbican immediately across the inner ditch from the main Gate Tower. Towers at the junctions with the city walls were probably early features, and other towers and a postern came later. The castle was in Royal hands from the beginning, and was a Royal residence in the reign of King John

It was in a poor state of repair in 1325 and the only repairs recorded afterwards were to buildings within the castle rather than to the defences. It was in bad condition by 1774 and had probably ceased to have any military importance by 1300. Claims that Rougemont was a Iron Age fort before the Norman castle are without foundation. (PastScape)

The early Norman gatehouse which was the main entrance into the inner bailey of the castle was little studied until the 1970s and 1980s: two events have led to a greatly improved understanding of the building: R.A.Higham’s doctoral thesis on The Castles of Medieval Devon (Higham 1979), and a fabric survey undertaken in the context of the repair and repointing of the building under the aegis of the Property Services Agency, responsible for the maintenance of Crown Property at the time (Blaylock 1985). The medieval documentary history of the castle in general has been well covered by The History of the King’s Works (Brown et al. 1963); key documentary sources relating specifically to the gatehouse are the account of Orderic Vitalis, which says that William I personally chose the site of the castle in 1068; the account of the siege of 1136 from the Gesta Stephani, which implies that the inner earthwork had received stone walls (replacing a timber palisade, see below) by this date; and the expenditure of some £21 in 1250-51 on repairs to the King’s Tower (Brown et al. 1963, 647-8). From the combination of typical features of late-Saxon masonry (long-and-short quoins; triangular-headed windows; etc.) with other features more typical of early Norman building (cushion capitals to the attached shafts of the entrance archway; billet ornament in the imposts of the top-floor doors and windows) it has been suggested that the building dates to the early 1070s, and was built by local masons in the process of adapting to new architectural details and features. This is a plausible thesis; supported by the early-looking selection of building materials (uniform use of dark purple trap rubble; vesicular trap and white Triassic sandstone freestone for quoins; and a very distinctive dark brown sandy mortar (on which cf. the descriptions of late-Saxon work on the city wall, Monument No. 11000)). The relationship of the gatehouse tower to the bank also supports a very early date, since it is presumed that the bank and ditch of the inner bailey must have been amongst the earliest features of the castle to be constructed. The bank clearly abuts the west elevation of the gatehouse. Evidence that the gatehouse was set within the bank was observed in the fabric of the base of the deep buttresses on the front elevation, where two grades of facework masonry were recorded: good quality facing above the line of the bank (subsequently robbed out); and lower-quality rubble facework below, ending in a diagonal scar representing the line of the bank (Blaylock 1987, 4-5, and Fig. 4). When a small excavation was carried out on top of the bank in 1990, the stone curtain wall was found to have been cut into bank layers (Recognition Event No. 99), implying that the first instance the rampart was crowned with a temporary (timber) defence. The top of the bank aligns (approximately) with the top of surviving early fabric in the buttresses in the rear elevation of the gatehouse, this level represents the position of a platform reached from the wall walk/top of the rampart, from which the upper floor of the interior of the gatehouse was reached by a door in the rear north) wall. As originally built the gatehouse was intended to form the main entrance to the inner bailey, through an arch 3m wide and 3.5m high in the front elevation. The observer now stands within the position of the ditch; the archway above (now blocked) was originally approached by a timber bridge (although the precise details of how such a bridge worked, and on what gradient it lay, are obscure). Inside, the ground floor was wholly occupied by the entrance passage, with a second arch of similar dimensions to the rear. The ceiling of this passage was of timber (beam sockets were recorded in 1985); careful examination of the masonry showed that there had never been a stone vault in this position. A further tier of beam sockets appeared to suggest that there was a very low, unlit room immediately above the entrance passage only c.1.5m high; the significance and interpretation of this remain obscure (Blaylock 1987, 7). Above there was evidence for two further floors: an upper room lit by a pair of triangular-headed windows in the south wall, and a top floor with doorways in north and south walls, accessed from the northern wall walk (as described above), and carried forward in a sort of primitive machioulis by a large arch connecting the deep buttresses of the front elevation. There may have been another storey, with a parapet walk at roof level, although no original fabric survived at roof level (cf. the suggested reconstructed section in Blaylock 1987, Fig. 2). Described as ‘the best preserved early Norman gatehouse keep in the country’ by Cherry and Pevsner (1989, 399), the building is a remarkable structure without many early parallels. There are similar early Norman stone gatehouse towers at Richmond Castle, North Yorkshire (rebuilt above) and Ludlow Castle, Shropshire. A useful reconstruction drawing of a ‘generic’ early stone gatehouse, based on the surviving fabric of the Exeter gatehouse, is given by Davison (1979, 131). Although under-scaled, this gives a good impression of how the gatehouse would have functioned, when set within the earthwork bank, and at the upper end of a timber bridge across the ditch. Addition: One of Richard Parker’s conjectural reconstruction drawing of the castle commissioned by Exeter City Council Department of Leisure and Tourism in 2004 shows an artist's impression of the stone gatehouse tower of the 1070s within the Norman earthwork bank (crowned by a timber fortification), and with a timber bridge and causeway forming the approach to the original gateway within the gatehouse building. It is particularly useful from a topographical and architectural point of view in showing the approaches to the gatehouse, especially for attempting to address the problems of structure, precise location and difference in height presented by the topography of the site at this point. A second drawing shows a similar view in the later medieval period, once the gatehouse had been replaced by a smaller gateway to the east, the timber defence replaced by a stone wall on top of the rampart (plus towers), and the timber drawbridge had been replaced by a stone bridge and barbican (the latter based on views in early 17th century maps, inter alia, see Filmer-Sankey et al. 2004, 174-5). See also notes on another, more general, drawing given under monument description EUAD 11209 (general description of the castle in the later medieval period). (Exeter City Council HER)

Gatehouse Comments

There are high status late Saxon burials in the castle. As the Minster had a monopoly on burial this may be suggest the presence of a royal church. The houses recorded as 'waste' in the Domesday Book were almost exclusively the kings houses. This suggests the castle was built on the site of a Saxon royal palace and it may be the Burghal Hidage figure (which is too small for the garrison needed for the Roman originated medieval city wall) also suggests the north west corner of the city had a particular status (c.f. the Upper City of Lincoln). If this hypothesis, that the area occupied by Rougemont Castle was the site of a Saxon royal house protected by defences to which burghal hideage applied, is correct how would this differ in practice from a Norman Castle defended by 'castle guard'? i.e. was this a Saxon Castle?

- Philip Davis

This site is a scheduled monument protected by law

This is a Grade 1 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 ReferenceSX921929
Latitude50.7262916564941
Longitude-3.53007006645203
Eastings292100
Northings92900
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Copyright Rachel All Rights Reserved
Copyright Rachel All Rights Reserved
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Books

  • Goodall, John, 2011, The English Castle 1066-1650 (Yale University Press) p. 60-1, 76, 183
  • Purton, P.F., 2009, A History of the Early Medieval Siege c. 450-1220 (Woodbridge: The Boydell Press) p. 265
  • 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. 60-2
  • Pettifer, A., 1995, English Castles, A guide by counties (Woodbridge: Boydell Press) p. 58
  • Higham, R. and Barker, P., 1992, Timber Castles (Batsford) p. 50, 58, 59, 61, 129, 130, 189, 194,
  • Pevsner, Nikolaus and Cherry, Bridget, 1989, Buildings of England: Devon (Harmondsworth)
  • Brown, R.Allen, 1989, Castles from the Air (Cambridge University Press) p. 112-3
  • Weddell, P.J., Holbrook, N. and Henderson, C.G., 1987, 'The outer ward of Exeter Castle' in Blaylock, S.R. and Henderson C.G. (eds), Exeter Archaeology 1985/6 (Exeter: Exeter Museums Archaeological Field Unit) p. 51-2
  • Drage, C., 1987, 'Urban castles' in Schofield, J. and Leech, R. (eds) Urban Archaeology in Britain (CBA Research Report 61) p. 117-32 online copy
  • Mildren, James, 1987, Castles of Devon (Bossiney Books) p. 52-7
  • Blaylock, S.R., 1985, 'Exeter Castle gatehouse'in Henderson, C.G. (ed), Archaeology in Exeter 1984/5 (Exeter: Exeter Museums Archaeological Field Unit) p. 18-24
  • King, D.J.C., 1983, Castellarium Anglicanum (London: Kraus) Vol. 1 p. 116
  • Fry, P.S., 1980, Castles of the British Isles (David and Charles) p. 229
  • Renn, D.F., 1973 (2 edn.), Norman Castles of Britain (London: John Baker) p. 185
  • 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. 647-9
  • Toy, Sidney, 1953, The Castles of Great Britain (Heinemann) p. 145
  • Toy, Sidney, 1939, Castles: A short History of Fortifications from 1600 BC to AD 1600 (London) p. 103-4
  • Oman, Charles W.C., 1926, Castles (1978 edn Beetham House: New York) p. 91-2
  • Armitage, Ella, 1912, The Early Norman Castles of the British Isles (London: John Murray) p. 151-5 online copy
  • 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. 2 p. 29-31 online copy
  • Clark, G.T., 1884, Mediaeval Military Architecture in England (Wyman and Sons) Vol. 2 p. 44-7 online copy
  • Timbs, J. and Gunn, A., 1872, Abbeys, Castles and Ancient Halls of England and Wales Vol. 1 (London) p. 470 online copy
  • Turner, T.H. and Parker, J.H., 1859, Some account of Domestic Architecture in England (Oxford) Vol. 3 Part 2 p. 354 online copy
  • Lysons, D. and S., 1822, Magna Britannia Vol. 6 Devon p. cccxlv-cccxlviii online transcription
  • Jenkins, 1806, History and Description of the City of Exeter (Exeter) p. 278-81 online copy
  • Grose, Francis, 1785 (new edn orig 1756), Antiquities of England and Wales (London) Vol. 2 p. 66-70 online copy

Antiquarian

  • Camden, Wm, 1607, Britannia hypertext critical edition by Dana F. Sutton (2004)
  • John Hooker, 1575, The Antique Description and Account of the City of Exeter (Exeter: Andrew Brice) online copy
  • Chandler, John, 1993, John Leland's Itinerary: travels in Tudor England  (Sutton Publishing) p. 120
  • Toulmin-Smith, Lucy (ed), 1907, The itinerary of John Leland in or about the years 1535-1543 (London: Bell and Sons) Vol. 1 p. 227 online copy
  • Celia Fiennes, 1888, Through England on a Side Saddle in the Time of William and Mary (London: Field and Tuer, The Leadenhall Press) Vision of Britain online transcription

Journals

  • Higham, R., 2013, ‘William the Conqueror’s siege of Exeter in 1068’ Report and Transactions of the Devonshire Association for the Advancement of Science, Literature and the Arts Vol. 145 p. 93-132
  • 2004-5, 'Exeter Castle Purchase' Castle Studies Group Bulletin Vol. 18 p. 81-2 (news report)
  • Bradley, J and Gaimster, M. (eds), 2004, 'Medieval Britain and Ireland in 2003' Medieval Archaeology Vol. 48 p. 253 download copy
  • Hope, I., 1994 - 5, 'Exeter' Current Archaeology Vol. 141 p. 348
  • Harfield, C.G., 1991, 'A Hand-list of Castles Recorded in the Domesday Book' English Historical Review Vol. 106 p. 371-392 view online copy (subscription required)
  • Blaylock, S. R. and Higham, R.A., 1990, 'Exeter Castle' in Royal Archaeological Institute, Proceedings of the 136th Summer Meeting, supplement to The Archaeological Journal Vol. 147 p. 35 - 9
  • Higham, R.A., 1988, 'Devon Castles: an annotated list' Proceedings of the Devon Archaeological Society Vol. 46 p. 142-9
  • Youngs, S.M. et al, 1988 'Medieval Britain and Ireland in 1987' Medieval Archaeology Vol. 32 p. 239 download copy
  • Youngs, S.M., Clark, J. and Barry, T., 1987, 'Medieval Britain and Ireland in 1986' Medieval Archaeology Vol. 31 p. 120-1 download copy
  • Thompson, M.W., 1986, 'Associated monasteries and castles in the Middle Ages: a tentative list' The Archaeological Journal Vol. 143 p. 309, 313
  • Youngs, S.M., Clark, J. and Barry, T., 1986, 'Medieval Britain and Ireland in 1985' Medieval Archaeology Vol. 30 p. 131 download copy
  • Brown, R.Allen, 1984, ‘Castle gates and garden gates’ Architectural History Vol. 27 443-5 (slight)
  • Youngs, S.M., Clark, J. and Barry, T.B., 1984, 'Medieval Britain and Ireland in 1983' Medieval Archaeology Vol. 28 p. 216 download copy
  • Higham, R.A., 1982, 'Early Castles in Devon' Château Gaillard Vol. 9-10 p. 101-116
  • King, D.J.C. and Alcock, L., 1969, 'Ringworks in England and Wales' Château Gaillard Vol. 3 p. 90-127
  • Vatchell, E.T., 1966, 'Exeter Castle; its background and history' Transactions of the Devonshire Association Vol. 98 p. 327-48
  • Renn, D.F., 1964, 'The first Norman Castles in England 1051-1071' Château Gaillard Vol. 1 p. 125-132
  • 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)
  • Radford, C.A.Ralegh 1958, 'Exeter Castle' The Archaeological Journal Vol. 114 p. 138
  • 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
  • Montague, L.A.D., 1936, 'Report of the Exeter Excavation Committee' Proceedings of the Devon Archaeological Exploration Committee Vol. 2 p. 181-2
  • Rose-Troup, F., 1934-5, 'The bailey of Exeter Castle' Devon and Cornwall Notes and Queries Vol. 18 p. 198-200
  • Hope, W.H.St J., 1903, 'English Fortresses and Castles of the Tenth and Eleventh Centuries' The Archaeological Journal Vol. 60 p. 87 online copy
  • Phear, Sir J., 1895, 'Recent Repairs to the Castle at Exeter' Transactions of the Devonshire Association Vol. 27 p. 137-43 online copy
  • Phear, Sir J., 1892, 'Additional Discoveries at the Castle, Exeter' Transactions of the Devonshire Association Vol. 24 p. 147-50 online copy
  • Phear, Sir J., 1891, 'Recent'Discoveries at the Castle, Exeter' Transactions of the Devonshire Association Vol. 23 p. 318-21 online copy
  • Jones, 1888, Devon and Cornwall Notes and Gleanings Vol. 1 p. 119-22 (largely on plans etc)
  • Clark, G.T., 1873, The Archaeological Journal Vol. 30 p. 416-9 online copy
  • Oliver, G., 1850, 'The Castle of Exeter' The Archaeological Journal Vol. 7 p. 128-39 online copy

Guide Books

  • Godsall, 1956, Castle of Exeter (Devon County Council)
  • Chick, 1911, Castle of Exeter (Exeter)

Primary Sources

  • Ingram, James, (ed) 1912, The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle (Everyman Press, London) Laud Chronicle AD1135 view online transcription (Ingram's translation and notes date from 1823. More recent translations of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicles should be consulted for serious study)
  • le Prevost, A. (ed), 1840, Orderici Vitalis, Historiae Ecclesiaticae Vol. 2 p. 181 online copy
  • Sewell, R.C. (ed), 1846, Gesta Stephani, Regis Anglorum et Ducis Normannorum p. 59 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])
  • Pipe Rolls 1169-77, 1180-1, 1207-8 (see Pipe Roll Society for published references)
  • Rickard, John, 2002, The Castle Community. The Personnel of English and Welsh Castles, 1272-1422 (Boydell Press) (lists sources for 1272-1422) p. 172-5
  • C145/33(36) (Survey of 1274) The National Archives reference (calendared in Maxwell Lyte, H.C., 1916, Calendar of Inquisitions Miscellaneous (Chancery), preserved in the Public Record Office (H.M.S.O.) Vol. 1 No. 1005)
  • E101/530/2 (bis) (Survey of temp. Edw II) The National Archives reference
  • E36/157 ff. 100-102 (Survey of temp. James I) The National Archives reference

Other

  • Higham, R., 2014 Sept 27, 'Rougement Castle and Late Saxon Exeter' lecture given at Lives and Landscape of Early Medieval Wessex conference University of Winchester
  • Shapland, Michael, 2012, Buildings of Secular and Religious Lordship: Anglo-Saxon Tower-nave Churches (PhD Thesis University College London) esp. chapter 7
  • Fradley, Michael, 2011, The Old in the New: Urban Castle Imposition in Anglo-Norman England, AD1050-1150 (University of Exeter PhD Thesis) available via EThOS
  • Filmer-Sankey, W., Crellin, D., Aspinall, Z., Higham, R., and Blaylock, S., 2004, Rougemont Castle conservation plan. Alan Baxter & Associates: Unpublished Report: Exeter City Council