Restormel Castle

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Restormel Castle


Type: Shell keep with bailey
Grid reference: SX10326147
Location: 50°25’18"N, 4°40’14"W
Village: Lostwithiel
Condition: Ruined
Owned by: English Heritage
Website: Restormel Castle

Restormel Castle stands by the River Fowey near Lostwithiel in Cornwall. 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.

Once a luxurious residence to the Earl of Cornwall, the castle became ruined in the years after the Civil War and is now in the care of English Heritage and is opened to the public.


Plan of Restormel Castle; A – gate; B – guest chambers; C – kitchen; D – hall; E – solar; F – chapel

Standing 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.[1] These included a kitchen, hall, solar, guest chambers and an ante-chapel.[2] Water from a natural spring was piped under pressure into the castle buildings.[3]

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.[2] On the opposite side, a square mural tower contains the castle chapel.[2] A former external bailey wall has since been destroyed, leaving no trace.[4]

There are also historical references to a dungeon, also now vanished.[5]

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.[6] This may have occurred in the castle's later history to provide a garden walk around the ruin.[7]


Restormel Castle was probably originally built after the Norman Conquest as a motte and bailey castle around 1100 by Baldwin Fitz Turstin, the local sheriff.[8] Constructed in the middle of a large deer park, the castle overlooked the primary crossing point over the River Fowey, a key tactical location;[9] it may have been originally intended for use as a hunting lodge as well as a fortification, however.[10]

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.[2] The village of Lostwithiel was established close to the castle at around the same time.[11] 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.[12]

The castle was seized in 1264 without fighting by Simon de Montfort during the civil conflicts in the reign of King Henry III,[13] and was seized back in turn by the former High Sheriff of Cornwall, Sir Ralph Arundell, in 1265.[14] After some persuasion, Isolda de Cardinham granted the castle to Henry III's brother, Richard Earl of Cornwall in 1270.[15] 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".[16] The castle in this period resembled a "miniature palace", with luxurious quarters and piped water.[17] It was the headquarters of stannary administration and oversaw the local, profitable tin-mines in the village.[18]

The inner chambers at Restormel Castle

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,[2] although Edward the Black Prince stayed at the castle in 1354 and 1365.[14] The prince used these occasions to gather his feudal subjects at the castle in order for them to pay him homage.[19] 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.[20] 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.[21] King 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 King 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.[22]

It is not known whether the castle was deliberately slighted by the victors but it was certainly in ruins by 1740.[23] It became a popular attraction for visitors, and in 1846 the royal family visited the castle; arriving on their yacht the Victoria and Albert up the River Fowey, the royal party toured the ruins.[24]


In 1925 the later King Edward VIII, then the Duke of Cornwall, entrusted the ruin to the state.[25] The castle is a Scheduled Monument.[26] It is now maintained by English Heritage as a popular tourist attraction and picnic site.

In 2007 British Archaeology magazine reported the discovery of a Roman fort near Restormel Castle. A geophysical magnetometer survey was conducted by members of the Saltash Heritage group.[27]

Outside links

("Wikimedia Commons" has material
about Restormel Castle)


  1. Pounds, p. 188; Pettifer, p. 21; Hull and Whitehorne, p. 64.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 Pettifer, p. 22.
  3. Creighton, p. 54.
  4. Pettifer, p. 21; Steane, p. 42.
  5. Oman, pp109-11.
  6. Pettifer, p.21; Hull and Whitehorne, p. 65.
  7. Creighton, p. 83.
  8. Hull and Whitehorne, p. 64; Steane, p. 42.
  9. A bridge further along the river later transformed the significance of the site; Creighton, p. 43.
  10. 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.
  11. Paliser, p.597.
  12. Deacon, p. 64.
  13. Pettifer, p. 21.
  14. 14.0 14.1 Hull and Whitehorne, p. 64.
  15. Hull and Whitehorne, p. 64; Emery, p. 447.
  16. Pettifer, p. 22; Emery, p. 447.
  17. Long, p. 105; Creighton, p. 54.
  18. Creighton, p. 187.
  19. Davies and Smith, p. 78.
  20. Long, p. 105.
  21. Emery, p. 448.
  22. Memegalos, p. 196.
  23. Oman, pp. 109–11.
  24. Naylor and Naylor, p. 474.
  25. Hull and Whitehorne, p.64.
  26. National Monuments Record: No. 432711 – Restormel Castle
  27. British Archaeology #96 September / October 2007 Roman fort found in Cornwall


  • Creighton, O. H. (2002) Castles and Landscapes: Power, Community and Fortification in Mediæval England. London: Equinox.
  • Davies, R. R. and Brendan Smith. (2009) Lords and Lordship in the British Isles in the Late Middle Ages. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • Deacon, Bernard. (2010) Cornwall & the Cornish. Penzance: Hodge.
  • Emery, Anthony. (2006) Greater Mediæval Houses of England and Wales, 1300–1500: Southern England. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Hull, Lise and Stephen Whitehorne. (2008) Great Castles of Britain & Ireland. London: New Holland Publishers.
  • Long, Peter. (2003) The Hidden Places of Cornwall. Aldermaston, Travel Publishing.
  • Memegalos, Florene S. (2007) George Goring (1608–1657): Caroline Courtier and Royalist General. Aldershot: Ashgate.
  • Naylor, Robert and John Naylor. From John O' Groats to Land's End. Middlesex: The Echo Library.
  • Oman, Charles. (1926) Castles.. London: Great Western Railway.
  • Palliser, D. M. (2000) The Cambridge Urban History of Britain: 600 – 1540, Volume 1. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Pettifer, Adrian. (1995) English Castles: A Guide by Counties. Woodbridge: Boydell Press.
  • Pounds, Norman John Greville. (1990) The Mediæval Castle in England and Wales: a social and political history. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Steane, John. (1985) The Archaeology of Mediæval England and Wales, Volume 1985, Part 2. Beckenham: Croom Helm