Restormel Castle, seen from the west.
|Type||Shell keep with bailey|
|Controlled by||English Heritage|
Restormel Castle (Cornish: Kastel Rostorrmel) lies by the River Fowey near Lostwithiel in Cornwall, England, UK. It is one of the four chief Norman castles of Cornwall, the others being Launceston, Tintagel and Trematon. The castle is notable for its perfectly circular design. Although once a luxurious residence to the Earl of Cornwall, the castle became ruined in the years after the English Civil War and is now in the care of English Heritage and is open to the public.
Located on high land overlooking the River Fowey, Restormel Castle is an unusual, perfectly circular shell keep with an internal bailey, built of shale. It contains a limited number of stone domestic buildings, clustered around the inside of the wall to form a defensive bailey; the buildings are curved to fit into the shell keep, in an extreme example of the 13th century trend. These included a kitchen, hall, solar, guest chambers and an ante-chapel. Water from a natural spring was piped under pressure into the castle buildings. A square gate tower, largely ruined, guards the entrance to the inner castle, and may have been the first part of the original castle to have been partially constructed in stone. On the opposite side, a square mural tower contains the castle chapel. A former external bailey wall has since been destroyed, leaving no trace. There are also historical references to a dungeon, also now vanished.
The castle appears to stand upon a motte; this is partially correct, as the massive walls were, unusually for the period, sunk deep into the original motte; the effect is heightened by a surrounding ringwork, subsequently filled in on the inner side so as to appear to heap against the castle wall. This may have occurred in the castle's later history to provide a garden walk around the ruin.
Restormel Castle was probably originally built after the Norman conquest of England as a motte and bailey castle around 1100 by Baldwin Fitz Turstin, the local sheriff. Constructed in the middle of a large deer park, the castle overlooked the primary crossing point over the River Fowey, a key tactical location; it may have been originally intended for use as a hunting lodge as well as a fortification, however.
Robert de Cardinham, lord of the manor 1192–1225, then built up the inner curtain walls and converted the gatehouse completely to stone, giving the castle its current design. The village of Lostwithiel was established close to the castle at around the same time. The castle belonged to the Cardinhams for several years, who used it in preference to their older castle at Old Cardinham. Andrew de Cardinham's daughter, Isolda de Cardinham, finally married Thomas de Tracey, who then owned the castle until 1264.
The castle was seized in 1264 without fighting by Simon de Montfort during the civil conflicts in the reign of Henry III, and was seized back in turn by the former High Sheriff of Cornwall, Sir Ralph Arundell, in 1265. After some persuasion, Isolda de Cardinham granted the castle to Henry III's brother, Richard of Cornwall in 1270. Richard died in 1271, and his son Edmund took over Restormel as his main administrative base, building the inner chambers to the castle during his residence there and titling it his "duchy palace". The castle in this period resembled a "miniature palace", with luxurious quarters and piped water. It was home to stannary administration and oversaw the local, profitable tin-mines in the village.
After Edmund's death in 1299 the castle reverted to the Crown, and from 1337 onwards the castle one of the 17 antiqua maneria of the Duchy of Cornwall. It was rarely used as a residence, although Edward the Black Prince stayed at the castle in 1354 and 1365. The prince used these occasions to gather his feudal subjects at the castle in order for them to pay him homage. After the loss of Gascony, one of the key possessions of the Duchy, the contents of the castle were stripped out and removed to other residences. With an absent lord, the stewardship of the castle became much sought after as a result, and the castle and its estate became known for its efficient administration. Henry VIII removed the park status from the surrounding land, which reverted to the status of normal countryside.
Restormel has seen action only once during its long history, when Charles I's forces drove out the Parliamentarian garrison during the Civil War. The castle was taken by Sir Richard Grenville, a local member of the gentry who had been the member of Parliament for Fowey before the war. Grenville stormed the castle on 21 August 1644, whilst manoeuvring to encircle Parliamentary forces.
It is not known whether the castle was deliberately slighted by the victors but it was certainly in ruins by 1740. It became a popular attraction for visitors, and in 1846 the British royal family visited the castle; arriving on their yacht the Victoria and Albert up the River Fowey, the royal party toured the ruins.
In 1925 the later King Edward VIII, then the Duke of Cornwall, entrusted the ruin to the state. The castle is a Scheduled Monument. It is now maintained by English Heritage as a popular tourist attraction and picnic site.
In 1999 members of the Cornish Stannary Parliament removed signs from this site and other Cornish sites under the care of the English Heritage organisation, based upon the claim that the sites should properly be marked as Cornish heritage and not English. Three men later paid criminal fines in connection with these actions.
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- A bridge further along the river later transformed the significance of the site; Creighton, p. 43.
- Hull and Whitehorne, p. 64; Deacon notes that the precise location was not perfect for a castle, but would have been ideal for hunting parties, p. 64.
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- Hull and Whitehorne, p. 64.
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- Hull and Whitehorne, p.64.
- "Restormel Castle", Pastscape (English Heritage), retrieved 14 August 2010
- BBC news – Historic signs case trio bound over
- British Archaeology #96 September / October 2007 Roman fort found in Cornwall
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