Launceston Castle

Launceston Castle, Cornwall
Photo © MortimerCat, 14 December 2003

Launceston Castle (Cornish: Kastell Lannstefan) is located in the town of Launceston, Cornwall, England, United Kingdom. The Cornish name of "Launceston", Lannstevan, means the "church enclosure of St Stephen" and is derived from the former monastery at St Stephen's a few miles north-west. The castle and town were originally named Dunheved.

Early history

The castle is a Norman motte and bailey earthwork castle raised by Robert, Count of Mortain, half-brother of William the Conqueror shortly after the Norman conquest, possibly as early as 1067. It became the administrative headquarters for the great Earls of Cornwall where they could control the vast estates that they owned throughout the area. The castle remained with little development, apart from an inner keep added in the 12th century. During the 13th century, Richard, Earl of Cornwall, a younger brother of Henry III began to rebuild the castle in stone.

The tower was constructed from a darker stone than the rest of the castle, with two rooms. A new great hall was constructed within the confines of the 12th century bailey, which remained in use until the early 1600s as an Assize Hall. In the late 13th century, the administrative centre for Cornwall was moved from Launceston to Lostwithiel.

Tudor and Stuart history

In 1548, prior to the Prayer Book Rebellion, 28 Cornishmen were rounded up and taken at gunpoint to Launceston Castle, (then known as Castle Terrible), where many were hung, drawn and quartered following the killing of one of Thomas Cranmer's men, William Body. One of Body's many tasks, was to desecrate religious shrines at Helston which was part of a programme of cultural aggression designed to ensure political conformity.[1]

The castle then fell into disrepair, despite still holding the local Assizes and the jail. George Fox, the founder of the Quakers was confined there for eight months in 1656.

During the Civil War, the castle's walls and defences were in such a poor state of repair that the Parliamentarian army did not bother to damage them when they gained control of the castle from the Royalists. In 1646 the castle was used as the base for the Cornish Royalist defence of Cornwall. Sir Richard Grenville, 1st Baronet positioned Cornish troops along the River Tamar and issued instructions to keep "all foreign troops out of Cornwall". The Cornish were fighting for their Royalist privileges, notably the Duchy and Stannaries and he put a plan to the Prince which would, if introduced, have created a semi-independent Cornwall.

Later history

Following this only the north gatehouse was habitable. It was partially demolished in 1764 to provide stone for an impressive new house which was built immediately outside the north gate. In 1838 the assizes and the seat of county government were moved from Launceston to Bodmin. The jail, the last remaining building in the castle grounds, was demolished and the Duke of Northumberland had the castle landscaped and turned into a public park and garden. It is now administered by English Heritage.

In 1999 there was some controversy regarding this site and others under the care of the English Heritage organisation. Members of a pressure group, the Revived Cornish Stannary Parliament, confiscated several signs bearing the English Heritage name.


  1. ^ West Britons, by Mark Stoyle (Senior Lecturer in History at the University of Southampton) University of Exeter Press, 2002

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