Launceston Castle, Cornwall
Launceston Town Centre
The Earldom of Cornwall was granted by William the Conqueror to his half brother Robert de Mortain. He made Launceston, or Dunhevet, as it was then called, the administrative centre of his estates. The wooden motte and bailey castle guarded the main route into Cornwall.
In the late 12th century a circular stone keep was constructed on top of the motte and in the mid 13th century extensive alterations were made to the castle. A tower was built inside the keep and stone curtain walls, 10 feet thick with flanking towers, replaced the timber palisades, with substantial gatehouses in the north and south.
However, despite these improvements the stronghold was clearly insufficient to keep the earls of Cornwall in Launceston, and it fell into such disrepair that by 1409 the walls were so overgrown with ivy that two special hooks had to be cast to deal with it.
Thus as a military post it became increasingly inadequate.
It nevertheless retained its importance as an administrative centre for the area, and in the civil war repaired sufficiently to hold out as a garrisoned fortress.
Access to this castle is a short stroll from the town centre, where there is limited parking.
~ History ~
1086 - The Domesday book records that Earl Robert of Mortain holds the castle of Dunhevet, in the huge Earldom of Cornwall as reward for his efforts in helping William conquer England.
1139 - Halveth Malyverer is Castellan of Launceston and during his custodianship King Stephen grants a pension to the castle chaplin.
1140 - The castle is granted to Earl Reginald, an illegitimate son of King Henry I, who builds the shell keep on the existing motte.
1175 - The castle reverts to the crown on the death of Earl Reginald.
1189 - Walter Reynell becomes Castellan. The castle is granted to John, Count of Mortain by King Richard I. However, the castle once more reverts to the crown following Prince John's rebellion.
1227 - King Henry III grants the castle to his brother Richard, Earl of Cornwall.
The castle is remodelled in stone and its defences and accommodation improved.
1256 - Earl Richard spends Christmas in the castle.
1264 - Richard collects his troops that he leads to defeat at the Battle of Lewes from the castle.
1272 - Richard dies. The castle passes to his son Edmund.
1299 - Edmund dies childless. The castle reverts to the Crown.
1337 - King Edward III's young son Edward, the Black Prince, is created Duke of Cornwall. A survey on the castle reports the curtain walls as ruinous and in need of repair, missing lead from leaking roofs and rotting timbers.
1341 - Repairs are made to the main hall which continues to be used for functions for the town.
1353 - Townsfolk are ordered to refrain from allowing their pigs from trampling down the moat, the consequent ground movement endangering the foundations of the curtain walls, suggesting they were poorly built in the first place.
1361 - The bridge in front of the south gate is in much need of repair. Twenty one years later repairs are carried out.
1406 - Substantial repair works are carried out to the castle over the next three years, including removal of all the ivy from the walls.
1461 - King Edward IV orders further repairs to be made to the castle which take three years to complete.
1646 - February 25th, both castle and town surrender to Fairfax's parliamentary troops. As the civil draws to a close so does the life of the castle.
1650 - A survey on the castle reports the hall and chapel "quite level with the ground", the prison having been recently stripped of its lead roof and the only habitable part of the castle being two rooms behind the south gatehouse.