The Norman Castle

This picture is of our Victorian Castle.  The original no longer exists, but its history is integral to that of the town.

The Victorian Castle

The town of Devizes developed around the Norman castle, probably built c.1080 by Osmund, Bishop of Salisbury. Because the castle was built on the boundaries of the King’s manor of Rowde and his own manors of Cannings and Potterne it became known as ‘castrum ad divisas’, the castle at the boundaries. The original castle was probably a motte, or tower, of wood with an outer bailey protected by a ditch, a stockade and a drawbridge. This burnt down in 1113 and was rebuilt in stone by Roger of Caen, Osmund’s successor. The castle was described by a contemporary as ‘the finest and most splendid in Europe’. Sadly little now remains of it apart from fragments of the foundations. Robert of Normandy, the eldest son of William the Conqueror, was imprisoned here by his younger brother Henry from 1106 to 1126.

The years 1139 to 1141 were full of incident. The heir to Henry I’s throne was his daughter Matilda, who was the widow of the Holy Roman Emperor. When Henry I died, his nephew, Stephen of Blois, invaded England to claim the throne, supported by many of the barons and bishops. This was despite the oath he had sworn to King Henry that he would accept Matilda as queen. Bishop Roger also supported Stephen so Devizes became a fortress for Stephen against the advancing forces of Matilda. Eventually the local townspeople captured the castle for Matilda, an action that was rewarded with the town being given the right to hold a regular market.

The castle was again used as a prison when King John’s second wife, Isabella, was sent there in 1206 and in 1216 he sent the Royal regalia and crown jewels to the castle for safe keeping. He died that same year and his nine-year-old son, Henry III, became king whilst living in the castle in the care of the governor.

During the 12th and 13th centuries the town of Devizes developed outside the castle with craftsmen and traders providing the residents of the castle with goods and services. Following the granting by Matilda of the charter allowing a market, the town grew rapidly.  The medieval market place was in the large space outside St Mary’s Church, rather than in the modern Market Place, which at that time would have been within the castle’s outer bailey.

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