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Burwell Castle

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Subject: Stephen, King of England, List of castles in England, The Anarchy, Burwell, Cambridgeshire
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Burwell Castle

Burwell Castle
Burwell, Cambridgeshire, England

Earthwork remains of Burwell Castle
Type Motte and Bailey

Burwell Parish Council

Burwell Castle was an unfinished medieval motte and bailey castle in Burwell, Cambridgeshire, England.


Burwell Castle was built near the village of Burwell in 1143 by Stephen I of England, on the site of a former Roman villa.[1] It was constructed during the civil war of the Anarchy, a long running dispute between the supporters of Stephen, and his Angevin rival, the Empress Matilda. The baron Geoffrey de Mandeville was dispossessed of his castles by Stephen and rose up in revolt immediately afterwards, taking up a position near Ely in the Fens and threatening Cambridge Castle and the route south to London; Burwell Castle was built as part of a chain of castles to protect the region, including Lidgate, Rampton, Caxton and Swavesey Castle.[2] Stephen appropriated the village of Burwell, which was constructed on a raised area of land of Roman origin, and proceeded to commence building a small motte on top of it, surrounded by an unusual rectangular earthwork with a curtain wall and a small gatehouse.[3]

Geoffrey de Mandeville attacked Burwell in 1144 when the castle was still unfinished, but during the operation he was hit by a crossbow bolt; he retired to nearby Mildenhall, where he died from the injury.[4] After Geoffrey's death the castle was never completed, although a stone gatehouse was completed on the site, suggesting a period of further occupation.[5] The Abbot of Ramsey built a chapel on the site around 1246, and the site was finally abandoned in the 15th century.[6]

The archaeologist Thomas Lethbridge excavated the site in 1935.[7] The castle site was bought by the Burwell Parish Council in 1983.[8] Today only the unfinished earthworks remain of the castle, which have scheduled monument status.[3]

See also


  • Cambridgeshire Extensive Urban Survey: Burwell. Draft Report 22/05/2003. Cambridge: Cambridge County Council.
  • Creighton, Oliver Hamilton. (2005) Castles and Landscapes: Power, Community and Fortification in Medieval England. London: Equinox. ISBN 978-1-904768-67-8.
  • Malim, C. (2001) Burwell Castle, Cambridgeshire. Cambridge: Cambridgeshire County Council Archaeological Field Unit.
  • Pettifer, Adrian. (2002) ISBN 978-0-85115-782-5.


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