Taunton Castle was a stronghold and administrative centre of the
Bishops of Winchester.
Built in the early 12th century beside the River Tow and near the
Saxon minister church, it included a large keep for soldiers' quarters
and occasionally for prisoners. Beside it stood a hall and a chamber
over a vaulted undercroft. The base of the keep survives in The Castle
Taunton Castle Gate
In the 1240's Bishop William Raleigh improved the hall
and built a new chamber and a chapel, which still survive. There were
also kitchens and other offices, and a gateway (altered by Bishop
Langton in 1496) which housed the treasury and exchequer. Together
these buildings, surrounded by a moat, formed the inner ward.
To the south was a moated outer ward, entered by gates
from east and west (Castle Bow). The Castle Bow also included quarters
for the Constubte. In the outer ward stood St Peter's Chapel, lodgings
and farm buildings. The last Medieval addition was the school house,
built by Bishop Fox in 1521-2.
During the Civil War the castle, then recently fortified,
was defended by Robert Blake for Parliament, but the keep was probably
distmantled soon after the Restoration. The great hall was used for
Assizes, and rebels were tried here by Judge Jefferys after Monmouth's
Rebellion in 1685. Much of the building was restored in the 1780's
by Sir Benjamin Hammet. In 1874 the castle was bought by the Somerset
Archaeological and Natural History Society to prevent its demolition,
and the building now houses the Society, the County Museum, and the
County Local History Library.
• Taunton Castle is Grade
1 listed and a Scheduled Ancient Monument.
• Parts of the building date from the 12th Century.
• For hundreds of years, it was the administrative centre
of the great manor of Taunton Deane, owned by the Bishop of Winchester.
was the setting in 1685
for Judge Jeffreys' Bloody Assizes following the defeat of the Duke
of Monmouth's Army at the Battle of Sedgemoor. Over 500 of the Duke's
soldiers went on trial in the Great Hall for rebelling against the
King, with 144 sentenced to be hanged and their remains displayed
around the county.
• The castle was purchased in 1874 by Somerset Archaeological and
Natural History Society.
• It was placed in the care of Somerset County Council in 1958
on a 49-year lease, which is about to be renewed.
Taunton Castle, with 13ft thick walls and two 15ft deep moats, was a stronghold of the Bishop of Winchester from the 12th Century.
The outer moat partly followed the line of Corporation Street, and an inner moat surrounded the castle. Gatehouses with drawbridges controlled access and two of the gates, including Castle Bow, still survive.
In 1216, Bishop Peter des Roches, a supporter of King John, defended the castle during a barons' revolt.
In 1451, during the Wars of the Roses, the Earl of Devon laid siege to the castle. Some people claim the Wars of the Roses ended at Taunton Castle. It was there in 1497 that Henry VII received the defeated Perkin Warbeck, the last man to seriously threaten Henry's claim to the throne.
Taunton became a centre of resistance to Charles I during the Civil War and was besieged three times with the fiercest fighting in 1645.
The town and castle were bombarded by
the King's army, but Taunton, under Robert Blake, triumphed and for generations celebrated May 11 as 'the day the Cavaliers ran away'.
The castle also served as a prison and a courthouse.
The castle is famous for the Bloody Assizes when Judge Jeffreys tried and condemned hundreds of Monmouth's rebels.
Sir Benjamin Hammet MP restored the castle in the 1780s when the inner moat was converted to gardens and lawns.
Taunton, the County Town of Somerset, has had a Castle since quite early after the Norman Conquest. Henry de Blois, Bishop of Winchester, fortified the original manor around 1135. He built many fortified manors throughout the Bishopric during the Anarchy, although none seem to have seen much action at the time.
Indeed, Taunton Castle seems to have remained a fairly peaceful place right up until the arrival of the Civil War; by which time it was quite a large and strong Castle not unlike Tiverton Castle in Devon.
The Civil War arrived 'big time' in Taunton and the Castle suffered three sieges. Taunton was one of the most staunch Parliamentarian towns. After the Restoration Charles II ordered it to be destroyed, and unfortunately a great deal of destruction did go on.
The main courtyard was later rebuilt and refashioned as we see it today; and it was in this rebuild that the notorious Judge Jeffries sentenced 508 rebels to death after the Battle of Sedgemoor in 1685.
Today the Castle houses the Somerset Museum, and has been greatly reduced in its impact by the loss of the keep and outer gatehouse and the addition of large windows in the the curtain walls and towers.