Fotheringhay motte and bailey castle


Heritage Category:
Scheduled Monument
List Entry Number:
Date first listed:
Date of most recent amendment:


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

East Northamptonshire (District Authority)
National Grid Reference:
TL 06221 92967

Reasons for Designation

Motte castles are medieval fortifications introduced into Britain by the Normans. They comprised a large conical mound of earth or rubble, the motte, surmounted by a palisade and a stone or timber tower. In a majority of examples an embanked enclosure containing additional buildings, the bailey, adjoined the motte. Motte castles and motte-and-bai1ey castles acted as garrison forts during offensive military operations, as strongholds, and, in many cases, as aristocratic residences and as centres of local or royal administration. Built in towns, villages and open countryside, motte castles generally occupied strategic positions dominating their immediate locality and, as a result, are the most visually impressive monuments of the early post-Conquest period surviving in the modern landscape. Over 600 motte castles and motte-and-bailey castles are recorded nationally, with examples known from most regions. Some 100-150 examples do not have baileys and are classified as motte castles. As one of a restricted range of recognised early post-Conquest monuments, they are particularly important for the study of Norman Britain and the development of the feudal system. Although many were occupied for only a short period of time, motte castles continued to be built and occupied from the 11th to the 13th centuries, after which they were superseded by other types of castle.

Fotheringhay Castle is a fine example of a large motte and bailey castle strategically placed beside a river crossing. The earthworks of the site are largely undisturbed and documentary evidence indicates that a diversity of archaeological features are likely to be preserved on the site. The castle has well documented royal connections from the Norman period and also has particular historical significance as the prison and execution place of Mary Queen of Scots.


The motte and bailey castle at Fotheringhay lies at the south eastern end of the present village close to the River Nene. The castle consists of a substantial earthwork motte, an inner bailey and the remains of the outer bailey earthworks. The motte is a steep-sided round mound approximately 7m high and about 70m in diameter. The top of the mound is flattened and about 30m across with an irregular surface, indicating the remains of the stone keep. A ditch up to 4m deep and 20m wide is visible on the north and west sides of the motte. Originally this ditch is thought to have encircled the mound. A ditch of similar size surrounds the inner and outer bailey areas. The inner bailey is sub-rectangular and measures about 50m x 65m and retains traces of an earthern rampart. At the north east corner of the outer bailey near the river are the remains of a sluice gate associated with the water management system of the bailey ditches. The outer bailey ditch on the north and west sides has been largely infilled.

The castle is considered to have been built by Simon de St Liz, Earl of Huntingdon and Northampton, who married Judith, a niece of William the Conqueror. From the late 13th century the castle took on the dual role of royal palace and state prison. The castle was enlarged and rebuilt in the late 14th century by Edmund Langley, son of Edward III, and it is thought that the outer bailey dates from this period, as does the infilling of the east side of the motte ditch. Records indicate that in 1341 a stone tower stood on the motte, and within the inner bailey were two chapels, a great hall, chambers and a kitchen. A gatehouse stood beside a drawbridge over the inner bailey ditch. A further gatehouse existed in the north west corner of the outer bailey, and a group of buildings known as The Manor lay north west of the motte on the site of Castle Farm. Mary Queen of Scots was imprisoned in the castle in 1586, and eventually executed there in 1587. The castle was abandoned in the 17th century and by the early 18th century was demolished. In the 19th century the moat on the west side was infilled. Castle Farm, all farm buildings, agricultural installations, made up roadways and paths on the site are 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.

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Books and journals
Royal Commission on Historical Monuments of England, , Archaeological Sites in North East Northamptonshire , (1975), 43-6


This monument is scheduled under the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Areas Act 1979 as amended as it appears to the Secretary of State to be of national importance. This entry is a copy, the original is held by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport.

End of official listing

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