Thornbury Castle

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

There are major building remains

NameThornbury Castle
Alternative NamesThournebury
Historic CountryGloucestershire
Modern AuthoritySouth Gloucestershire
1974 AuthorityAvon
Civil ParishThornbury

Thornbury Castle is a building of the highest architectural importance. It is one of the last great baronial castles to be built in the old castellated style, (although the lord's residential south front is devoid of defensive architecture), and one of the last castles to provide quarters for a private army. The existing castle represents all that was completed of a reconstruction of the older buildings; it was commenced in 1511 by the third Duke of Buckingham and was still unfinished at his execution in 1521. The older buildings lying east of the Court Quadrant include the Great Hall which had a central hearth, suggesting it was of a date not later than the 14th century (Simpson).

There were three parks: New Park (enclosed c 1511), Marlwood and Eastwood. (See ST 69 SW 14, SE 11 & ST 68 NW 19).

Built 1510-11 for the Duke of Buckingham, incorporating parts of a house of circa 1330. In 1521 the Duke was arrested and executed and the building work ceased. Some repairs and alterations were carried out between 1521 and 1554, when the family estates were returned to the Duke's son. The house then seems to have remained uninhabited until the 1720s. It was partly restored in 1809-11 and more extensively in 1854-5. It is now a hotel.

A manor house built by Hugh de Audley on this site is first documented during the early 14th century. In 1498 it was inherited by Edward Stafford, the third Duke of Buckingham who started to rebuilt the house in 1507. In 1510 he was granted a licence to crenellate. He also extended the surrounding parkland. (PastScape)

All existing buildings begun 1510-1511

Inscription over Inner Gate reads: "This gate was begun the year of Oure Lorde God MCCCCCXI the ij yere of the reyne of Kynge Henri the VIIJ, by me Edw' Duc of Bukkyngha', Erle of Herforde, Stafforde and Northamto'". Building continued until 1521 (one stack is dated 1514) when the duke was executed. The site incorporated a previous house begun circa 1330 (to the east of the inner court). Partly roofed in 1720. Partly restored in 1811 for Lord Henry Howard and finally restored in 1854 by Anthony Salvin for Henry Howard. Total site consists of Outer Court to west (see below), Inner Court to east, and an enclosed walled garden to the south of the south range of Inner Court. Inner Court All ashlar. All roofs concealed, mixture of lead, and modern tiles. Stacks of ashlar, rubble and brick-two particularly fine rubbed and carved brick chimneys on south range with heraldic badges and decorative patterns. U-plan. West Range Outer Elevation Intended to be symmetrical with 6 projecting multiangular towers; only the southernmost 2 towers were completed to full 4 storeys although without crenellations. Remainder of range is 2 storeys; C19 gabled attic storey above tower to right of gate. Central Inner Gate has heavily moulded 4-centred arch with smaller doorway to left under square hood mould; above is inscription, armorial bearings and crests 1, 2 and 3-light casements with 4-centred heads, moulded mullions, all under hood moulds with carved stops. Cross loops at base of major towers. Some 18 pane glazing bar sashes to right of Gate. Continuous string moulding over first and second floor windows. South range Outer Elevation The only completed range and one of the finest examples of Tudor/Aspendicular domestic architecture, carefully restored by Salvin. Four-storey multiangular tower with machicolations at west; adjoining taller, narrow stair tower with single light windows. Main part has embattled parapet. Mixture of single, double and multi-light mullion and transom casement windows with cusped and plain 4-centred heads (some have ogee heads. Three projecting full height bays: canted to west; angled in centre; and to east, cinquefoil in plan on upper stage with convex mouldings and 5 points in plan on ground floor with concave mouldings. String courses above first floor and below parapet. East end is irregular - unfinished or destroyed. All inner elevations are more simple with 2-light casement on ground floor. North range has projecting stair tower. South range has 1-4-1-light mullion and transom oriel window with cusped heads also stack projecting from first floor. Interior Mostly Salvin's work. Plain panelling. Four-centred arch-headed doors; door band and bed pulls are all fashioned out of Stafford knots. Some early C16 tiles on ground floor (small lavatory). Dining room has C19 depressed 4-centred arch fireplace with quatrefoils above and painted heraldic panels around. Heraldic glass by Thomas Willemint, 1858. First Floor Room 4 (Duke's Chamber) has remains of early C16 fireplace: depressed 4-centred arch and carved panels. Room 7 has complete early C17 fireplace; depressed 4-centred arch with carved spandrels and decorative quatrefoils above. (Listed Building Report)

Gatehouse Comments

Licence granted in 1510 to Edward Stafford, Duke of Buckingham Building took place from 1511-21, incorporating parts of a house of circa 1330, forfeited to Henry VIII in 1521, converted to a country house in 1720. Restored in 1811 and 1854. Substantially intact and now a luxury hotel.

- Philip Davis

Not scheduled

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 ReferenceST633906
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Copyright Anne G and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons license.
Copyright Anne G and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons license.
Copyright Anne G and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons license.
Copyright Anne G and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons license.
Copyright Anne G and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons license.
Copyright Anne G and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons license.
Copyright Anne G and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons license.

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  • Pugin, A., 1850, Pugin's Examples of Gothic Architecture (London: Henry and Bohn) Vol. 2
  • Ellis, R., 1839, The History of Thornbury Castle
  • Grose, Francis, 1785 (new edn orig 1756), Antiquities of England and Wales (London) Vol. 2 p. 152-7 online copy


  • Chandler, John, 1993, John Leland's Itinerary: travels in Tudor England  (Sutton Publishing) p. 185-6
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  • Charles Hollwey, 2015-16, 'From Chilham via Caernarfon to Thornbury: The rise of the polygonal tower' Castle Studies Group Journal Vol. 29 p. 263-85
  • Guy, Neil, 2005-6, 'Thornbury Castle' Castle Studies Group Journal Vol 19 p. 205-234
  • Walker, D., 1991, 'Gloucestershire Castles' Transactions of the Bristol and Gloucestershire Archaeological Society Vol. 109 p. 5-23 online copy
  • Thompson, M.W., 1986, 'Associated monasteries and castles in the Middle Ages: a tentative list' The Archaeological Journal Vol. 143 p. 321
  • Kellock, A., 1984, Transactions of the Bristol and Gloucestershire Archaeological Society Vol. 102 p. 232 online copy
  • Iles, R., 1983, Bristol and Avon Archaeology Vol. 2 p. 55-6
  • Kenyon, J.R., 1981 'Early Artillery Fortifications in England and Wales: a Preliminary Survey and Re-appraisal' The Archaeological Journal Vol. 138 p. 220, 228
  • Hawkyard, A.D.K., 1977, 'Thornbury Castle' Transactions of the Bristol and Gloucestershire Archaeological Society Vol. 95 p. 51-58 (plan) online copy
  • Colvin, H.M., 1968 April, 'Castles and Government in Early Tudor Government' English Historical Review Vol. 83 p. 225-34
  • Langton, J.M., 1953, 'Old Catholic Families of Gloucestershire II. The Staffords and Howards of Thornbury' Transactions of the Bristol and Gloucestershire Archaeological Society Vol. 72 p. 79-104 online copy
  • Simpson, W.D., 1946, 'Bastard Feudalism and the Later Castle' Antiquaries Journal Vol. 26 p. 145-71 (esp p. 156-6 with plan)
  • 1907 Sept 16, Country Life p. 702-12
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Guide Books

  • Orchard, D.R., nd (c. 1989), A Brief History of the Manor and Castle of Thornbury (Glastonbury: Orchard Bros)

Primary Sources

  • Brewer, J.S. (ed), 1920, Letters and Papers, Foreign and Domestic, of the Reign of Henry VIII Vol. 1 p. 320 no. 1157 (licence to crenellate) online copy
  • The National Archives E36/150 Survey of the lands late of Edward, duke of Buckingham, attainted online details (calendared in Brewer, J.S. (ed), 1867, Letters and Papers, Foreign and Domestic, of the Reign of Henry VIII Vol. 3 p. 506 No. 1286 [online transcription >])


  • Hawkyard, A.D.K., 1969, Some Late Medieval Fortified Manor Houses (MA thesis, University of Keele) p. 187-235