Launceston Castle

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Launceston Castle
Launceston, Cornwall
Launceston Castle
View of Launceston Castle from the south-west
Coordinates grid reference SX331848
Type Motte and Bailey
Site information
Owner English Heritage
Condition Ruins
Site history
Materials Stone

Launceston Castle (Cornish: Kastell Lannstefan) is located in the town of Launceston, Cornwall, England, United Kingdom.

Early history[edit]

The motte at Launceston castle

The castle is a Norman motte and bailey castle raised by Robert, Count of Mortain, half-brother of William the Conqueror shortly after the Norman conquest, possibly as early as 1067. Others attribute its foundation to Brian of Brittany though he only stayed in England for about five years after the Conquest.[1] It became the administrative headquarters for the powerful Earls of Cornwall where they could control the vast estates that they owned throughout the area. The castle remained with little development, apart from an inner keep added in the 12th century. During the 13th century, Richard, Earl of Cornwall, a younger brother of Henry III began to rebuild the castle in stone.

The tower was constructed from a darker stone than the rest of the castle, with two rooms. A new great hall was constructed within the confines of the 12th century bailey, which remained in use until the early 17th century as an Assize Hall. In the late 13th century, the administrative centre for Cornwall was moved from Launceston to Lostwithiel.

A chapel was built within the castle and endowed by the Earl of Cornwall.[2]

Tudor and Stuart history[edit]

In 1548, before the Prayer Book Rebellion, 28 Cornishmen were rounded up and taken at gunpoint to Launceston Castle, (then known as Castle Terrible), where many were hanged, drawn and quartered following the killing of one of Thomas Cranmer's men, William Body. One of Body's many tasks was to desecrate religious shrines at Helston, which was part of a programme of cultural aggression designed to ensure political conformity.[3]

The castle then fell into disrepair, despite still holding the local Assizes and the jail. George Fox, the founder of the Quakers was confined there for eight months in 1656.

During the Civil War, the castle's walls and defences were in such a poor state of repair that the Parliamentarian army did not bother to slight them when they gained control of the castle from the Royalists. In 1646 the castle was used as the base for the Cornish Royalist defence of Cornwall. Sir Richard Grenville, 1st Baronet, positioned Cornish troops along the River Tamar and issued instructions to keep "all foreign troops out of Cornwall". The Cornish were fighting for their Royalist privileges, notably the Duchy and Stannaries, and he put a plan to the Prince which would, if introduced, have created a semi-independent Cornwall.[4]

Later history[edit]

Launceston Castle, Cornwall; painted by Hendrik Frans de Cort

Following this, only the north gatehouse was habitable. It was partially demolished in 1764 to provide stone for an impressive new house which was built immediately outside the north gate. In 1838 the assizes and the seat of county government were moved from Launceston to Bodmin. The jail, the last remaining building in the castle grounds, was demolished, and the Duke of Northumberland had the castle landscaped and turned into a public park and garden. It is now administered by English Heritage.

Prince Charles was officially proclaimed Duke of Cornwall at Launceston Castle in 1973. As part of his feudal dues there was a pair of white gloves, gilt spurs and greyhounds, a pound of pepper and cumin, a bow, one hundred silver shillings, wood for his fires, and a salmon spear.

In 1999, Launceston Castle, along with other sites in Cornwall under the care of the English Heritage organisation, had their English Heritage signs removed by members of the pressure group, the Revived Cornish Stannary Parliament.[5][6][7]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Herring, Peter; Gillard, Bridget. "Launceston" (PDF). Cornwall and Scilly Urban Survey. Retrieved 25 April 2010. 
  2. ^ Cornish Church Guide (1925) Truro: Blackford; p. 137
  3. ^ Stoyle, Mark (2002) West Britons. University of Exeter Press
  4. ^ British Civil Wars 1645
  5. ^ Cornish Stannary Parliament tackles English cultural aggression in Cornwall.
  6. ^ BBC News: Historic signs case trio bound over
  7. ^ How three Cornish men and a raid on King Arthur's castle rocked English Heritage

Further reading[edit]

  • Oman, Sir Charles (1926) Castles; "Cornwall and its castles" (pp. 103–26). London: Great Western Railway

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 50°38′14.8″N 4°21′41.5″W / 50.637444°N 4.361528°W / 50.637444; -4.361528