Cymbeline's Castle: a motte and bailey castle 550m south west of Ellesborough church


Heritage Category:
Scheduled Monument
List Entry Number:
Date first listed:


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

Buckinghamshire (Unitary Authority)
National Grid Reference:
SP 83265 06350

Reasons for Designation

Motte and bailey 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-bailey 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 and bailey 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 or motte-and-bailey castles are recorded nationally, with examples known from most regions. 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of time, motte castles continued to be built and occupied from the 11th to the 13th centuries, after which they were superseded by other types of castle.

Cymbeline's Castle is a good example of a smaller motte and bailey castle with both the major components extremely well preserved, and having additional features such as the entrance and approach. The interior of the baileys and top of the motte will retain buried evidence for former structures, including the foundations of timber defences strengthening the earthworks. The surrounding ditches contain deep deposits of accumulated silts from which may be recovered both artefacts relating to the period of use, and environmental evidence illustrating the developing appearance of the landscape around the castle during its construction and occupation. The buried landsurface beneath the motte and ramparts is of particular importance in this respect, demonstrating the former land use, and perhaps retaining evidence of Roman or prehistoric occupation suggested by surface finds. The commanding location of the castle demonstrates its strategic role in the years following the Norman Conquest, in particular dominating the communication routes which followed the edge of the Chiltern escarpment. It also lies in close proximity to a large medieval moated complex at the foot of Little Kimble Hill, allowing comparisons between the castle and this less defensive settlement which will provide valuable information about the changing lifestyle of the medieval aristocracy.


Cymbeline's Castle occupies a prominent position on the tip of a spur below Beacon Hill, on the northern edge of the Chiltern escarpment. This commanding location overlooks the villages of Ellesborough and Little Kimble and provides wide views across the Vale of Aylesbury. The main stronghold, a conical mound (or motte), measures about 42m in diameter and between 6m and 8m in height in relation to the natural slope of the spur. A level area on the summit, c.15m wide, indicates the dimensions of the timber tower which originally would have stood here, and there is a smaller semicircular annexe cut into the slope below the summit on the northern side. A narrow terrace, c.5m in width, flanks the base of the mound on the western side of the motte, truncating the steep gradient at the end of the spur. The remaining three quarters of the circumference is encircled by a ditch, averaging 3m wide and 1m deep, separating the motte from two adjacent enclosures, or baileys. The larger, southern bailey is roughly square in plan, measuring about 40m across, and enclosed by a broad ditch, 1.2m deep, on the north eastern and south eastern sides. The northern arm is joined to the motte ditch, and both arms contain deep deposits of accumulated silt and humus. The south western side of the bailey was sited to exploit the natural defence provided by a steep slope leading into Velvet Lawn, a narrow coombe flanking the spur. This slope is, however, augmented by an artificial scarp, 2.5m high; with the terrace surrounding the motte continuing along its base. The bailey interior slopes gently from north to south and is bounded by an internal bank averaging 8m in width and 1.7m high. The position of a bridge, spanning the ditch and ascending the motte, is indicated by a break in this bank near the northern end of the intervening section. The northern bailey is thought to be a later development, added to the north western sides of the motte and the earlier, southern bailey. The defences of the two baileys are separated by a narrow causeway which leads into the northern bailey from the east. This causeway, however, remains level with the pasture on the back of the spur, and may be a relatively recent addition. The northern bailey is rectangular, measuring c.48m by 20m; and is similarly defined by a broad ditch and an internal bank, which survives around the eastern side of the enclosure. There are traces of a second causeway near the centre of the north eastern arm, to the south of the terminal of the internal bank. This is approached from the north by a slightly terraced trackway which is aligned with the northern end of an embanked hollow way leading down the hillside to the north west. Together, the track and hollow way skirt around a narrow coombe on the northern side of the spur, providing the most logical approach to the castle from the foot of the escarpment. Quantities of pottery fragments dating from the 13th to 15th centuries have been discovered in the dark soil which covers the interiors of the baileys. Evidence of earlier activity is provided by finds of Iron Age and Romano-British pottery from the adjacent area to the east, in addition to a single Iron Age sherd found within the castle itself. The terms `Cymbeline's Castle', `Cymbeline's Mount' and `Belinus's Castle' have been recorded since the mid 19th century; although sometimes also applied to another hilltop 1km to the south. They are said to be derived from a local tradition that the Iron Age king, Cunobelinus (Shakespeare's Cymbeline), resided in these hills. This tradition may be a Victorian invention, although the same source has been suggested as the basis of the much older place-name `Kimble' which occurs locally as the name of both villages and hills. The terraced approach, together with a sample of the hollow way, is included in the scheduling in order to preserve the archaeological relationship between these features and the castle. All fences and fence posts are excluded from the scheduling although the ground beneath is included.

MAP EXTRACT The site of the monument is shown on the attached map extract. It includes a 2 metre boundary around the archaeological features, considered to be essential for the monument's support and preservation.


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

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Books and journals
Allcroft, A H, Earthworks of England, (1908), 411-12
Lipscomb, G, History of Bucks, (1847), 172
Burgess, B, 'Records of Bucks' in Earthworks at Hampden and Little Kimble, , Vol. 1, (1856), 140-1
Crossley Holland, P, 'Oxoniensis' in Iron Age Pottery From Chinnor, , Vol. 7, (1942), 108-9
Jennett, S, 'Countryside Commission Long-Distance Footpath Guide' in The Ridgeway Path, , Vol. 6, (1976), 91
Note & map filed with Bucks SMR, Thomson, R D, 0901: Potter identified at Ashmoleum Museum, (1957)


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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