The Norman Castle

When the Normans reached Marlborough in 1067 a month or two after their great victory at Hastings, they quickly realised that the Mound matched the dimensions required for a castle motte. Norman castles at this stage consisted of a central keep or tower with a surrounding wall, and in the urgency of a campaign of conquest they probably put up a timber building with a palisade round it. The Mound is steeper than many mottes and would have been very difficult to attack. 

No trace of the early timber building remains. More surprisingly, nothing remains either from the small early stone castle or even the much larger major fortress which Marlborough Castle became in the following century. The best guess is that the first stone castle looked something like the castle which survives at Launceston. It has a central tower on the motte and a surrounding wall or cingulum, and the royal accounts have an entry for building just such a wall at Marlborough. 

During the reign of King Stephen, there was a long civil war, between him and the empress Matilda, daughter of Henry I, which historians call ‘the anarchy’. Marlborough was held by John Marshal, who supported Matilda. A contemporary said of him that ‘he built castles, designed with wondrous skill’, and he doubtless did just that at Marlborough. The castle successfully resisted a siege in 1139. Under Richard I, there was again civil war when his brother John rebelled during Richard’s absence on crusade. This time Hubert Walter, the archbishop of Canterbury, acting for Richard, took the castle in a siege lasting only a few days.  

At the end of King John’s reign, the French invaded England, and the Castellan of Marlborough went over to the French side. It was recaptured by William Marshal, John Marshal’s son, now regent of England for Henry III. He demolished other castles he had recaptured, and Marlborough may have been among them. 

Archaeological work this year has resulted in a new plan of the Mound.