Site of Medieval Motte and Bailey Castle at Montacute

Record ID:  118081 / MNA138087
Record type:  Monument
Protected Status: Scheduled Monument, Registered Park or Garden, Listed Building: Grade II
NT Property:  Montacute House; South West
Civil Parish:  Montacute; South Somerset; Somerset
Grid Reference:  ST 4935 1697
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Castle of Montacute was mentioned in 1102, a Norman Castle constructed in 1068, motte and bailey type. Nothing is known of the castle's history after 1102, when it was given to the Cluniac Priory.

Identification Images (0)

Most Recent Monitoring

None Recorded

Monument Types

  • MOTTE AND BAILEY (Medieval to Mid 16th C - 1068 AD to 1539 AD)


The earliest known structure on the summit of St. Michael's Hill is the castle built after the Norman Conquest by Robert, Count of Mortain, which was in existence by 1086. There are some indications that the hill may have been occupied before the Norman Conquest ( Aston & Leech 1977, 104; Toulmin Smith 1964, 157-8), but there is no definite evidence of buildings pre- dating the castle. Together with Dunster, the castle is one of only two Somerset castles mentioned in the Domesday Book ( Aston 1982, 123). It is thought that the castle may have been built of stone, but this would be very unusual for such an early castle.
A manuscript from Waltham Abbey records the legend of the finding of a miraculous cross buried on top of St. Michael's Hill, which Tovi, a local lord, took to Waltham, Essex ( Dean 1975). A church was built to house the cross, the foundations of which have been recently traced ( Huggins 1989, 140), and gave rise to Waltham Abbey. The cross continued to work miracles, although it failed to prevent the Normans winning the Battle of Hastings, where apparently "holy cross" was invoked as a battle cry. It is thought that the siting of the Norman Castle at Montacute on the findspot of the cross may have been a deliberate insult to the defeated English ( V.C.H. 1974, 212). The castle was besieged briefly in 1086, during an English revolt ( V.C.H. 1911, 180), the records of which give the first firm evidence of buildings on the summit of the hill, but presumably the castle quickly lost its strategic importance because it was given to the nearby Montacute Priory in c. 1102.' ( L. Adkins & R. Adkins 1989, p.125).

There are no longer any extant masonry remains of Montacute Castle. The base of the motte is accompanied by a bank on the N. and W. sides. On the S. and E. a wide berm separates the motte from the natural slopes.

The earthworks were surveyed by English Heritage in April 2000 and a report published.

St Michael’s Hill is an isolated natural knoll which has been artificially sculpted to create impressive earthworks. A substantial conical motte was formed on the upper part of the hill. It is flanked on the western side by a strong bank and ditch. It is almost completely enclosed by a broad terrace at its base, about halfway up the knoll. The origin and function of this terrace are unclear but it may have been created to form an annular bailey. There is a substantial horseshoe-shaped bailey on the southeastern side of the knoll with a deep outer ditch and a partial inner bank, which cut across the line of the broad terrace. Unusually very little of the interior of the bailey is level. It is crossed by four narrow terraces along the slopes (118275). The earthworks were surveyed by English Heritage in April 2000 and a report published (Fletcher 2000).[sna62827]


  • --- SNA62827 - Report: Bellamy Peter. July 2003. Montacute Historic Landscape Assessment.

  • --- SNA62838 - National Trust Report: Fretwell, K.A.. 1988. The National Trust - Montacute - Park and Garden Survey.

  • --- SNA64557 - Unpublished document: Martin Papworth. 2011. St Michael's Hill Montacute watching brief of water trough installation.

  • --- SNA64558 - Unpublished document: Martin Papworth. 2009. St Michael's Hill, Montacute, Geophysical Survey of hill summit and the Bower.

  • --- SNA66396 - Unpublished document: Cookson and Tickner. 2015. Montacute Park Conservation Management Plan.

  • --- SZN10509 - Monograph: Robert Dunning. 1974. The Victoria History of the County of Somerset. 3.

  • --- SZN3183 - Article in serial: P J Huggins. 1989. Re-use of foundations at Waltham Abbey. 6.

  • --- SZN4348 - Article in serial: L Adkins, R A Adkins. 1989. Excavation on St. Michael's Hill, Montacute. 133.

  • --- SZN457 - Monograph: D Dean. 1975. The Legend of the Miraculous Cross of Waltham.

  • --- SZN48151 - Document: Martin Fletcher for National Monuments record. 2000. St Michael's Hill, Montacute, Somerset.

  • --- SZN6044 - Monograph: 1964. Leland's Itinerary in England and Wales. I.

  • --- SZN6046 - Monograph: William Page. 1911. The Victoria History of the County of Somerset. 2.

  • --- SZN6077 - Monograph: M Aston, R Leech. 1977. Historic Towns in Somerset.

  • --- SZN9957 - Monograph: M Aston. 1982. 'The Medieval Pattern 1000-1500AD' The Archaeology of Somerset.


Other Statuses and References

  • HER/SMR Reference (External): 54297
  • National Monuments Record Reference: ST41NE7

Associated Events

  • ENA3281 - Field Survey, Measured Survey by English Heritage April 2000
  • ENA3282 - Archaeological Intervention, Excavation for lightning conductor summit St Michaels June 1989
  • ENA4587 - Field Survey, Montacute Historic Landscape Assessment July 2003
  • ENA4598 - Field Survey, Montacute - Park and Garden Survey
  • ENA6149 - Archaeological Intervention, Watching Brief during the installation of a new water trough March 2010
  • ENA6150 - Field Survey, Geophysical Survey of hill summit and the Bower Apri 2008
  • ENA7936 - Heritage Assessment, Montacute Park Conservation Management Plan

Associated Finds

None Recorded

Related Records

  • Related to: Medieval Strip Lynchets on St. Michael's Hill, Montacute (Monument) - 118275 / MNA137132