Ampthill Castle: a medieval magnate's residence


Heritage Category: Scheduled Monument

List Entry Number: 1009630

Date first listed: 03-Jul-1992


Ordnance survey map of Ampthill Castle: a medieval magnate's residence
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This copy shows the entry on 19-Dec-2018 at 13:47:21.


The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

District: Central Bedfordshire (Unitary Authority)

Parish: Ampthill

National Grid Reference: TL 02476 38338


Legacy Record - This information may be included in the List Entry Details.

Reasons for Designation

A magnate's residence is a very high status residence of domestic rather than military character. Such dwellings were the houses or palaces of the highest ranks in society, acting as both residences for the elite and their large retinues and as the settings for meetings. These monuments were formed as a complex of buildings, usually of stone, and in general comprised a great hall or halls, chambers, chapels, kitchens, service rooms, lodgings and a gatehouse, usually arranged around a single or double courtyard. Magnate's residences were in use throughout the whole of the medieval period from the Norman Conquest and, due to their connection with the highest ranks of society and their comparative rarity, surviving examples are considered to be of national importance. Although no upstanding buildings survive at Ampthill Castle, the plan of the magnate's residence is well documented and the site retains important undisturbed below ground remains. The site has documented Royal associations and is especially noted as the residence of Katherine of Aragon during one of the most crucial events of English History, the divorce of Henry VIII.


Legacy Record - This information may be included in the List Entry Details.


The monument includes the remains of a 15th century palace, known as Ampthill Castle, which is situated at the top of the north-facing scarp of the Greensand ridge. The approximate site of the palace is marked by Katherine's Cross, erected in the 1770's to commemorate Katherine of Aragon who lived for a time at the palace. Although there are no upstanding walls, there exists a detailed survey of the palace precinct drawn up in 1534 which enables the plan and extent of the ruins to be ascertained. The main precinct comprised four wings ranged about a rectangular inner court, with a gatehouse on the east wing and kitchens and a great hall on the north. Other chambers were the state rooms and private quarters. The external dimensions of this precinct were about 65m east-west by 55m north-south. Outside the north wing was a smaller court, measuring 60m east-west by 20m north-south, which contained a well-house. To the east and south the palace was surrounded by an outer, or `Base', Court which had a range of buildings at the perimeter which contained stables, workshops and other rooms which housed the ancillary functions of the palace. The outer range of buildings lay about 45m to the east of the east wing of the inner court and, although the full extent of the outer court is not shown, it must have extended for a similar distance to the south. Using the known plan as a guide, the remains of the palace can be traced on the ground. At the crest of the ridge is a rectangular platform, about 0.5-1.0m above the normal ground surface and measuring 70m east-west by 60m north-south, which is the site of the Inner Court. Katherine's Cross is located on this platform. Between the north edge of the platform and the edge of the steeply sloping natural scarp is a terrace about 15m wide which accommodated the well-house court. The eastern edge of the Base Court ran about 50m to the west of the platform, diagonally across the present Rugby field, and its southern side is considered to lie at the break of slope of the scarp above the car park fence. The route of an original access into the Base Court from Woburn Road is marked by a gully leading up this scarp. This scarp and the steep slope to the west of the palace are likely to have been terraced, both in order to consolidate them and for aesthetic reasons. The palace was built in the early 1400's by Sir John Cornwall, later Lord Fanhope. He married Elizabeth, sister of Henry IV, and wanted a residence `Meet for his Royal spouse'. The palace came into the hands of Henry VIII in 1524 and Katherine of Aragon lived there during the divorce proceedings of 1533. The buildings had already fallen into decay by 1555 and at the time of the 1567 survey its partial demolition was planned. Final demolition took place before 1649. Ampthill Park is a landscape designed by Capability Brown and is a Registered Garden. Katherine's Cross is excluded from the scheduling but the ground beneath is included.

MAP EXTRACT The site of the monument is shown on the attached map extract.


The contents of this record have been generated from a legacy data system.

Legacy System number: 20429

Legacy System: RSM


Books and journals
The Victoria History of the County of : Volume III, (1912)
Simco, A, Ampthill Castle, (1988)
Colvin, HM, 'The History of the King's Works' in The History of the King's Works, , Vol. 4, (1963)

End of official listing