Notable for its perfect circular design, Restormel Castle is one of the oldest and best preserved Norman motte-and-bailey castles in Cornwall

Jack Beckett
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Built atop an early Norman mound, Restormel Castle lies by the River Fowey in Cornwall, England. It has a perfect circular design and was one of the four most important Norman castles in Cornwall. Restormel is one of the oldest and best-preserved castles in the county.

The motte-and-bailey castle is thought to have been built shortly after the Norman conquest of England, around 1100, by the Sheriff of Cornwall, Baldwin Fitz Turstin.

The circular stone shell keep was constructed circa 1200 to replace the original timber fortifications, and the walls of a hall, chapel, kitchen and administrative center can still be seen within the bailey. The square tower opposite the gatehouse was added later in the 13th century and contains a chapel.

Panorama of the castle. Author: Robert Pittman CC BY2.0

In it’s heyday, the castle was painted with limewash so it would have stood proudly as a dazzling contrast against the lush green landscape. Its original intended use was probably as a hunting lodge because it was constructed in the middle of a large deer park.

Robert de Cardinham, who was lord of the manor from 1192 to 1225, built the round curtain walls and the stone gatehouse.

Robert de Cardinham designed the current look of the castle. Author: Darren Shilson CC BY2.0

After Robert de Cardinham, the owner of the castle until 1264 was Thomas de Tracey, who was the husband of Cardinham’s daughter.

Inside the castle. Author: Mark Hoogenboom CC BY2.0

During the rebellion against King Henry III known as the Second Baron’s War (1263–64), Restormel Castle was given up to Simon de Montfort. It was soon taken back by loyalist forces, again with no fighting, and in 1270 the castle was granted to Henry’s III brother, Richard of Cornwall.

After Richard’s death, his son Edmund built the inner chambers and used the castle as his main administrative base.

The entrance of the castle from the inside. Author: Judy Ginn CC BY2.0

In 1337, the title Duke of Cornwall was created and bestowed upon Edward of Woodstock, the eldest son of Edward III. This brought Cornwall tighter under the reigns of the monarchy. Restormel became one of 17 manors, or antique maneria, that belonged to the Duchy of Cornwall. Restormel manor included the castle and surrounding parkland, and a large estate that included the town of Lostwithiel.

Edward of Woodstock made substantial repairs and alterations to Restormel Castle, but stayed there only twice — during the summer of 1354, and then over Christmas in 1362.

Plan of the castle.

After many restorations and repairs, Restormel Castle is still owned by the Duchy of Cornwall. Today, the castle is protected as a grade II listed building.

The wall of the castle is 25 feet in height, and is surrounded in turn by a ditch which is 49 feet wide and 13 feet deep. Visitors are able climb a stone staircase to walk the full length around the top of the eight-foot-thick keep walls, a great way to imagine how life once was inside the castle.

The castle saw action only once: during the English Civil War (1642–1651), it was used as a garrison by Parliamentarian forces until it was captured by the Royalists in 1644. Since then, it has slowly decayed into the picturesque ruin that can be seen today.

The castle is still owned by the Duchy of Cornwall. Author: essygie CC BY2.0

In the 1980s, the castle was designated as a Scheduled Monument and today is maintained by English Heritage. It commands fantastic views of the surrounding area and is filled with spring flowers and plants all year round.

Various events are staged here from time to time, bringing history to life. Restormel Castle is a popular tourist attraction and a beautiful picnic site.