Castlethorpe’s earthworks are well known, but it’s hard to work out the layout of the castle from the great ditches in the field behind the church.
The high mound of the motte where the keep once stood is obvious enough, but half the castle is hidden beneath the modern village, unless you know where to look and what to look for.
First, what are we looking for? Hanslope Castle, as it was once known, had a nearly circular inner bailey with the motte and the keep inside it. A much bigger outer bailey, nearly rectangular, surrounded it.
The castle covered nearly 20 acres.
It was a wooden castle. The baileys were each surrounded by a ditch, a wooden palisade, and a bank with a wall walk on top. There was a gatehouse in each one.
Building and Destruction
The castle was built in stages. First was a fortified homestead, built not long after 1066 AD and occupied by a Norman supporter, Winemar the Fleming.
It was roughly circular, and there was a hall, a gatehouse, and other buildings including a church.
In around 1140 the castle was strengthened by the owners, the Maudit family. This was because of the civil war known as The Anarchy, between 1138 and 1153. It was fought between King Stephen and his cousin the Empress Matilda, for the English throne. The Maudit family supported the Empress.
The motte (French for mound) was built, probably with soil obtained by deepening the existing ditch. The wooden keep was built on top. This meant that the area inside the ditch was now a bailey; this was a motte and bailey castle. From the keep, a watch could be kept on the Ouse valley and on Watling Street.
In around 1190 a new church was built on the same site as the old one, inside the bailey. The nave and the North arcade (of two arches) of the present church date from that time.
The large outer bailey was probably constructed around 1210. It was war again, this time between many of the English barons, and King John.
Robert Maudit, baron of Hanslope, was against the king. In 1215 Faulkes de Breauté, King John’s general, attacked the wooden castle and destroyed it, and took the manor of Hanslope for himself. That was the end of the castle.
In 1537 stone was taken from the castle ruins to “help build the bowlying aley for Henry VIII at The Great House in Grafton” That was Grafton Regis, four miles away in Northamptonshire. So some parts of the castle were stone, not wood.
The banks on the other side of the railway line are most likely from a 13th Century garden.