The motte at Barnstaple was probably constructed soon after the Norman Conquest of 1066 as it was built upon a Saxon cemetery.  It is also one of the largest mottes, making it likely to have been built for
King William I (1066-87) himself.  Certainly the fact that the sons of King Harold seem to have been defeated in the Taw estuary in 1069 would strengthen the need of the Conqueror having a castle built here.  Further, he was lord of the burgh as successor to King Edward the Confessor (d.1066).  In 1086 Barnstaple was worth £3 and contained 49 burgesses.  Within the burgh Bishop Geoffrey of Coutances (d.1093) had 10 burgesses who rendered 45d and 7½ houses with lands and a mill rated at £2, while Sheriff Baldwin had 7s 6d with 7 burgesses and finally Robert Aumale held 2 houses worth 4d per annum.  Despite modern claims to the contrary, there seems no evidence that the castle was built by Bishop Geoffrey, it being more likely that such a large motte was the work of the king, although no castle was mentioned here until the early twelfth century.  Before his death in the period 1123 to 1129, Judhael Totnes was granted Barnstaple, while he was lord of Totnes from before 1086.  As Totnes too has one of the largest of mottes it seems likely that both were actually royal foundations (or built with royal aid) that predated the grants of both places to Judhael.  Before 1066 Totnes, like Barnstaple, had belonged to King Edward (d.1066).

Judhael was the son of Alfred (Aluredus) Mayenne about whom nothing else is solidly known.  Judhael may have been with the Bretons who occupied the South-West of England for William I (1066-87) and fought against the sons of King Harold in 1069.  At some point before 1086 he was granted the honour of Totnes where he founded Totnes priory.  Judhael was not holding Barnstaple at Domesday, although he had acquired it by the time of his death between 1123 and September 1129.

At some point Judhael Totnes (d.1123/29) founded Barnstaple priory, although any foundation charter would seem to be lost.  Instead there is a copy of what was possibly a composite charter made during the episcopate of Bishop William of Exeter (1107-38).  Elsewhere a forgery exists claiming to be a confirmation of the grant by King William I (d.1087).  Despite this a third charter from Bishop William (1107-38) records the gifts of Judhael which included ‘the church of St Mary Magdalen outside his castle of Barnstaple'.  According to a copy of a probably early twelfth century charter, Judhael was expelled from his lands by William Rufus (d.1100) who gave them to Roger Nonant (d.1123).  Roger had died before 15 April 1123 when his son was described as Guy Totnes (bef.1141).  In the same charter Judhael was recorded as Johel Berdestaple.  From this it is deduced that after his disinheritance by Rufus, Judhael was granted the honour of Barnstaple, probably by Henry I (1100-35).  Therefore the charter to Bishop William of Exeter (1107-38) contains possibly the earliest historical reference to Barnstaple castle whose motte stands just 600' east of the church.  The charter therefore must date to after 1107 when William Warlelast became bishop of Exeter and to before 1123/9 by which time Judhael was dead.  It also shows that a town defence was extant at that time as the charter goes on to mention a gift without the town walls between the north and east gates.

It is therefore possible that the earliest mention of Barnstaple castle came in 1113 when a group of canons from Laon came to England.  The monk called Herman wrote up their itinerary and noted that:

We came to a castle which is called Barnstaple, where lived a lord called Judhael Totnes, whose wife was sister to Germond Picquigny....  After this we came to the castle of the previously mentioned Lord Judhael which is called Totnes, certain of his men escorted us there, where we were received honourably by some monks and where we stayed for 3 days.  An old man who had been lame since birth lived there, everybody knew him because he was the brother of the constable (praepositus) of the castle.... the praepositus of the castle offered 40s to the bier and many other people after him added gifts too'.

Presumably the monks were mistaken that Totnes still belonged to Judhael, but were correct in noting that it once had.  The constable may well have been Roger Nonant (d.bef.1123).  Roger appears to have been lord of Totnes by 1091 when his grant of Totnes church to the abbey SS Sergius and Bacchus in Angers was confirmed by Rufus (d.1100). 

After the death of Judhael, his only known son inherited Barnstaple on paying a fine to the king.  At September 1129 Alfred Fitz Judhael owed Henry I £110 for having his father's lands.  Undoubtedly this sum was much smaller than the original relief charged by Henry I which indicates that Judhael had been dead for some years.  Of the fine Alfred paid £40 in 1129 and owed a further £2 in a Devonshire taxation.  Of the rest of Alfred's career little is known.  In 1136, after the fall of Plympton castle, Alfred abandoned his castle, presumably Barnstaple castle, ‘as he found that his castle was weak, untenable and incapable of offering sufficient protection to his followers'.  He then marched his forces into royalist besieged Exeter castle in support of his friend, the rebel Angevin Baldwin Redviers (d.1155), declaring to him his wish ‘to endure with them whatever sufferings fate might expose him to'.  The fate of the friends proved to be defeat and exile, Baldwin retiring to the service of Duke Geoffrey of Anjou (d.1151), while Alfred was not heard of again.  After the war the claim to his lands later passed to his nephew, William Braose of Bramber (d.1180). 

After Alfred abandoned his lands they, with Barnstaple castle, were passed to Henry Tracy (d.1165) ‘a veteran soldier and one of great experience in military affairs... by royal grant'.  Henry was holding the fortress by 1139 when he used Barnstaple as his base for reducing the rebel castles of Dunster and Great Torrington.  Despite this, the war in the West turned against the royalists and in 1143, Henry, attacked on all sides, asked and apparently gained a peace with his many Angevin enemies.  By 1147 this truce had broken down and Henry was busy building a siege castle against Castle Cary when he was attacked and overwhelmed, his siege castle being destroyed and his army put to flight.  Regardless of this, he remained a royalist and, before her death in 1151/55, he married Cecily Romiley of Skipton who had been a widow since 1130/34.  The rest of Henry's career is obscure, but he seems to have retained control over the honour of Barnstaple with its castle.

Henry Tracy apparently died a little before September 1165 when his son and heir, Oliver, fined 500m (£333 6s 8d) with the Crown ‘for his part of Barnstaple'.  The same year Oliver paid £16 13s 4d (25m) scutage for the 25 fees he held, ie Barnstaple.  Yet in 1166 he claimed to owe only 21 old pre 1135 fees and 2½ new ones, a figure converted to 28 old ones and 2½ new in 1168.  Undoubtedly this was his part of Barnstaple honour.  It is presumed that Henry (d.1165) and then Oliver Tracy (d.1203+) held Barnstaple castle, but as early as 1158 it was recorded that William Braose fined 1,000m (£666 13s 4d) with the Crown for his part of Barnstaple, a fine he apparently never paid.  According to the cartae of 1166 the barony was split roughly equally between Braose and Tracy, with Oliver having 28 old and 2¾ new and Braose 28 old fees.  This division could be seen as early as 1165 when Oliver Tracy (d.1203+) was fined and paid £16 13s 4d (25m) scutage for his barony.  Similarly William Braose (d.1180) was fined the same amount, but pardoned it by the king.  In the same roll it was recorded that Oliver owed the Crown 500m (£333 6s 8d) for his part of Barnstaple honour while William Braose owed 1,000m (£666 13s 4d).  From this year on both men owed these amounts for the honour and neither paid anything until 1176 when Oliver began to pay off his debt.

In 1176 Oliver Tracy (d.1203+) paid his first instalment of the 500m (£333 6s 8d) fine, namely £33 13s 8d, which left him a debt of £299 13s.  It was possibly at this time and almost certainly before his loss of his part of Barnstaple in 1185, that Oliver Tracy witnessed the notification of the grants of Judhael Fitz Alfred to Barnstaple priory.  He did this as ‘lord of the town of Barnstaple' and not as heir to Judhael as William Braose rightly claimed to be.  The fact that he described himself as lord of the town of Barnstaple would indicate that Braose was lord of the castle in this divided lordship.  This charter alone does away with the creation of another daughter of Judhael who is claimed by some genealogists to have married Henry Tracy (d.1165).  The Tracy claim to Barnstaple was based simply on their grant of the honour by King Stephen (1135-54) as otherwise he would have named himself as an heir of Judhael.

William Braose's debt remained unpaid at 1,000m (£666 13s 4d) for his part of Barnstaple for 4 more years.  In 1177 Oliver paid the larger sum of £66 13s 4d leaving him a debt of £232 19s 8d.  After a series of further payments the debt was finally paid off in 1182.  In 1179 William Braose, under the Bosham subheading in the Sussex account, started to pay the 1000m fine with 2 part payments of £57 6s 8d and £9 6s 8d, leaving him a debt of £600.  The William Braose (d.1211) who made this payment was probably the son of William Braose (d.1180), the grandson of Judhael Totnes.  The elder William seems to have gone into retirement after the massacre of Abergavenny in 1175.  Regardless, Braose's debt remained unpaid in 1180 and 1181, but in 1182, when Oliver Tracy finished paying off his debt, William Braose paid another £52 6s 8d reducing his debt to £547 13s 4d.  Two years later Oliver was captured and his lands, including Bovey Tracey, Nimet, Ferminton and in Exeter city, were taken over by the sheriff of Devon.  The same year William Braose paid a further £6 13s 4d into the treasury bringing his fine for his part of Barnstaple down to £541.  The next year, 1186, it becomes quite clear that Oliver had been captured by royalist forces for not only did the sheriff account for £9 3s 9d taken from his Devonshire land, but Robert Mauduit accounted for £6 15s 4d which he had spent in sustaining Oliver from Michaelmas until Easter at 8d per day.  Further, Ranulf Glanville accounted for 20s he had spent on Oliver's bread, ie feeding him in prison.  During this time William Braose paid another £11 into the treasury and reduced his fine to £530.  In 1187 he paid a further £20 and may have had control of the entire Barnstaple barony as he was recorded as owing £28 of the Galloway scutage for the knights of the honour of Barnstaple.  Of this he paid £15 10s, while the king pardoned Ranulf Glanville 20s for Hamelin Torrington (which covered the cost of Oliver Tracy's bread?), which left a debt of £11 10s of which Hugh Bardolf was responsible for £10.  William was listed as owing the remaining £11 10s for the honour of Barnstaple Galloway scutage in 1188 and paying 30s with Hugh Bardolf still being recorded as responsible for the outstanding £10, which was still owed the next year, 1189.  William also paid off 2 further sums for having the honour this year which resulted in a balance of £477 6s 8d.  William Braose (d.1211) continued to hold the honour of Barnstaple into the reign of Richard I (1189-99), reducing his fine by small amounts until in 1192 he owed £430 7s 8d.

Before September 1195 an accord was agreed between the 2 parties of Braose and Tracy.  In the pipe roll for 1195 it was recorded that William Braose (d.1211) owed 40s for his accord with Oliver Tracy (d.1210) by which Oliver recognised that Braose held all the honour and land of Barnstaple which Oliver had held.  For this William and his heirs would give Oliver £20 annually.  If after the agreement Oliver should die without an heir by his wife then the honour would revert to Braose.  However, if Oliver should have a legal heir after the accord was agreed then he would retain the manor of Freminton with its appurtenances to hold of Braose for 5 knight's fees, namely William Merton with 2 in Merton, Ranulf Fauvell with ½ a fee in Rowley, Henry Chagford with ½ a fee in Fremington, Geoffrey Tapeley with 1 fee in Tapeley and Henry Chagford with a fee in Martinhoe.  The rest of the fee would remain to Oliver if he had an heir for the service to Braose of 23 knights for all service.  If Oliver should die without an heir Bovey Tracey would be the dower of his widow for the service of 7 knights' fees.  At her death it would revert to Braose.  There was then a list of the various fees which existed and those which had been granted by Oliver and his father, Henry.  Despite this agreement Braose again paid nothing for his debt to the Crown for Barnstaple and was again recorded as owing £430 7s 8d.  However, on 28 January 1196, he appeared before the king's court and King Richard himself at Westminster and claimed the part of Barnstaple barony that Oliver Tracy held.  The parties then agreed the terms set out in the pipe roll of the previous autumn, the matter thereby being indelibly recorded by the Crown and Braose paid off his 40s by September 1196.  The same year Oliver paid the Crown 100s for having the scutage of his own lands in Devon which had amounted to £28 13s 4d and £28 for the second and third Normandy scutages.  Despite Braose's attempt to inherit the Tracy barony, the aged batchelor Oliver, who was at least 66, proceeded to marry Eva the daughter of Fulk Fitz Warin and before long the couple had produced an heir, Henry Tracy (d.1274).

Sometime before 1196, probably in the reign of King Richard (1189-99), William Braose (d.1211), as the son of William Braose (d.1180, the grandson of Judhael Totnes), together with his wife Matilda St Valery (d.1210), sons William (d.1210), Giles (d.1215) and Philip (1218/20) confirmed to the priory of St Martin des Champs, Paris, the Cluniac monks of St Mary Magdalen, the parish church of St Peter, Barnstaple with all the chapels and appurtenances with the chapel of St Salvius which they possessed through the grant of their founder Judhael (Totnes).  This suggests that Braose may have been holding the town at this time and therefore after 1185 and certainly after 1180 by which time his father was dead.

In 1197 it was recorded that William Braose owed £28 for the second scutage of Normandy while Oliver Tracy owed exactly the same amount.  Obviously this was for their shares of Barnstaple.  In 1198 Braose started repayments to his debt, paying the measly amount of £4 to bring his debt down to £436 7s 8d.  In 1199 Oliver was quit of his debts by royal command.  In 1203 he was recorded as owing 56m (£37 6s 8d) scutage of which he paid 20m 2d leaving a debt of 29m 13s 2d.  Similarly William Braose was charged with 56m (£37 6s 8d) scutage of which he paid 118s 11d and Walter his son 20m (£13 6s 8d) by the king's writ leaving a debt of £18 13d.  Oddly Eva Tracy, Oliver's wife, appeared in the 1202 pipe roll as holding a fee in Hanedon.  Oliver was obviously still alive and well at this time as his payment of £5 for raising his own scutage was noted this year and his scutage fines of Richard's reign dropped.  However, he still had to pay his new scutage to King John.  This resulted in him paying off more of his second scutage at £8 3s 4d leaving him a debt of 17m 9s 10d (£11 16s 6d) .  Similarly he was charged with 56m (£37 6s 8d) of the third scutage and 6m (£4) in Gloucestershire for 1 fee.  No doubt this Gloucestershire fee had come with his new Fitz Warin wife.

In 1203 it was recorded that Oliver Tracy owed 17m 9s 10d (£11 16s 6d) for the second scutage, but that this was required from William Braose who owed £14 4s 4d; however this in turn was required under Sussex.  The sum was paid by Braose in 1206.  Under the third scutage of 1203 it was recorded that Oliver owed a further 56m (£37 6s 8d) for his Devon fees, but that these were required from Braose who had his knights' fees as per the accord made between them through the king.  Interestingly one William Champel paid the Crown 2m (£1 6s 8d) to have Oliver summoned to London to explain why he had sold William's cattle in lieu of the service he demands from him and which William does not recognise.  Meanwhile before this date, Braose had begun to alienate some of his barony of Barnstaple when he gave Tawstok together with 13 other fees to the earl of Leicester when his daughter, Laurette Braose (d.1266), married Earl Robert Beaumont of Leicester (d.1204).

In 1206 William Braose's troubles with the Crown began in earnest.  These ended with his death in exile in 1211.  During this period it is possible that Oliver Tracy supported his lord as per their agreement of 1195/96 as he appears nowhere in the written record until 1209 when it was noted in the Devon pipe roll that:

The knights of the honour of Oliver Tracy owe the county 72m (£48) for 24 knights' fees for the Scottish scutage as the sheriff says.  They paid £32 6s 8d and William Briwere was pardoned £5 for 2½ fees at the king's writ so they owe £10 13s 4d.

It is quite clear from this that the fee was in the control of the sheriff and not Tracy.  Further, in the Devon territories stripped from Braose this year were included land in Cornwall, Lapford and the farms of Totnes and Barnstaple, the latter being worth 26s.  It is also notable that although Totnes castle was garrisoned by the Crown this year there is no record of Barnstaple castle being likewise held.  The knights of [the Braose] half of Totnes barony were also taxed this year as were the knights of Barnstaple honour.  It was found that the latter owed the county 24m (£16) for 28 fees in scutage and that they paid 20m (£13 6s 8d).  Fifteen fees of the barony worth 45m (£30) had been given to Peter Fitz Herbert (d.1235, of Blaenllyfni) by the king, while Robert Manderville (d.1231?) was pardoned 10m (£6 13s 4d) and Robert Satchville (Secchevill) 9m (£6).

That Oliver Tracy was dead by September 1210 is confirmed by his wife accounting for 120m (£80) for having her dower from the lands of Oliver who was once her husband and for having the right to marry who she pleased as long as this dower and marriage did not exceed a value of £34.  The same year the knights of Oliver owed £10 13s 4d for the Scottish scutage of which they paid some leaving a debt of £4 which was paid off in 1211.  The time of Oliver's death was probably around January 1210 as the sheriff accounted for £25 4d taken from the lands of Oliver for the last ¾ of a year in September 1210.  In the final entry concerning the Tracy lands it was recorded that Eva, the widow of Oliver, owed 500m (£333 6s 8d) for having custody of the heir of Oliver with all his lands as long as she did not marry without the king's consent as the heir was in the king's gift.  Further she could not find pledges for the fine.

In 1211 the sheriff accounted for the scutage of Wales assessed at 2m (£1 6s 8d) per fee from the honour of Barnstaple at 56m (£37 6s 8d) for 28 fees.  From this £7 1s 7d was paid, while Peter Fitz Herbert was pardoned 28m (£18 13s 4d) by the king's writ for the 14 fees he held.  After paying some money the knights were left with a debt of 119s 11d.  The sheriff also accounted for the scutage of Oliver Tracy whose lands were in the king's hand and owed 56m (£37 6s 8d) for 28 fees.  Of these Robert Satchville was pardoned 14m (£9 6s 8d) for his 7 fees and William Briwere 4m 8s 10d (£3 2s 2d) for his 2 and a third fees.  After various payments 3m 14d (£2 1s 2d) was owed.  The same year Eva reduced her dower payment from 120m (£80) to £28 4s 8d.  Interestingly one of her payments of £10 was made by Hawise Dinan (d.1218), her widowed mother.

In 1212 Robert Peverel recorded that he had drawn £17 17s 10½d from the lands of Oliver Tracy for half a year.  At the same time it was recorded that Eva, his widow, owed £29 4s 8d as in the previous roll and paid 25m (£16 13s 4d) by the sheriff of Wiltshire, which left a debt of £12 11s 4d which was pardoned by the king.  For the scutage of Wales in 1212 it was noted that 119s 11d was due from the honour of Barnstaple and beneath this the fee of Oliver Tracy, which was in the king's hands was assessed for 3m 14d (£2 1s 2d) of which 2m 14s (£2 8d) was paid leaving a debt of 1m (13s 4d).  The sheriff also accounted for 5m (£3 6s 8d) from the new fees and paid 4m (£2 13s 4d), 1m (13s 4d) being pardoned by charter.

On 27 June 1213 King John announced to the knights and freemen of Barnstaple barony that he had returned the barony to Henry Tracy and that they were to be intendant upon him.  This followed the royal writ of 15 June when the king had informed the sheriff of Devon that he had returned to Henry Tracy the manors of Barnstaple and Tavistock with the entire honour of Barnstaple which William Braose (d.1211) and Oliver Tracy (d.1210) had held.  As Henry had only been born after 1196 he must have been underage at this time.

In 1214 the sheriff of Devon accounted for 119s 11d from the honour of Barnstaple and 1m (13s 4d) from the fee of Oliver Tracy which was in the king's hand, while William Paenel owed 24s for the same.  The same year it was noted that Henry Tracy's honour of Barnstaple was quit of the tax he owed on 28 fees as were the 28 fees that had previously belonged to Oliver Tracy.  Presumably this Henry Tracy was the son of Oliver who was still underage and had been confused with the Braose half of Barnstaple.  Certainly a Henry Tracy was assessed for the Poitevin scutage of 1214.  On 21 October 1215 Henry was instructed to return Barnstaple castle to its rightful owner, Bishop Giles Braose of Hereford (d.1216).  As the royal agreement with Braose proved abortive and in any case the bishop soon died, it is uncertain whether this happened or not.

On 2 October 1216 the king's council ordered the sheriff of Wiltshire to let Eva Tracy and Hawise, the mother of Oliver the king's brother, have their manor of Hamedon'.  This interesting entry connecting Eva with Hawise the mother of Oliver would strongly suggest that Hawise Dinan, the mother of Eva, gave birth to a son Oliver by Prince John around the time of his succession to the throne.  She had been widowed since 1198.  The case is proved on 14 March 1218, after the death of Hawise Dinan, when her daughter Eva claimed the vill of Hamedon, which was assigned to Oliver Plantagenet, as the dower of her husband, Oliver Tracy (d.1210), but the government bought her off with 60m (£40) compensation.  In the meantime Henry Tracy seems to have revolted with his Fitz Warin relations, consequently on 15 March 1217, Henry Tracy with Eudo and Alan Fitz Warin were allowed to come to the king to make their peace.

On 23 June 1217 the sheriff of Devon was ordered to return to Reginald, the son of William Braose (d.1211) all his lands in his bail.  This order included both Totnes and Barnstaple with their castles.  A few days later on 23 June 1217, Henry Tracy was ordered to hand the manor of Tawstock over to Countess Laurette  [Braose] of Leicester (d.1266).  This appears not to have happened for on 26 December 1217, Reginald Braose (d.1228) appeared at the court of Earl William Marshall, who was running the regency government of Henry III (1216-72) and claimed the honour of Totnes from Henry Fitz Count (d.1222) and the honour of Barnstaple from Henry Tracy (d.1274).  The honours seem to have finally been returned to Braose for on 7 March 1219, Henry Tracy appeared at the Marshall's court and petitioned for the return of his land of Barnstaple which had been taken into the king's hand and given to Reginald Braose at the Marshall's writ.  Presumably Tracy's lands were returned for on 27 August 1223, the sheriff of Devon was deputised to collect Henry Tracy's scutage. 

Henry Tracy (d.1274) could not have been born before 1196 as his parents had only married after 28 January 1196.  This would suggest that he was underage in 1217 when he was holding Barnstaple, but probably of age in 1219 when he lost control of the barony to Braose.  He was certainly back in favour by 1226 when he was used in assizes in Devon and Gloucestershire, counties in which he held lands.  Presumably Reginald Braose remained lord of Barnstaple, with perhaps Tracy holding the castle from him.  Reginald died before 9 June 1228 and Henry was obviously lord of Barnstaple castle soon afterwards for on 30 July 1228, the king ordered Torrington castle to be thrown to the ground and its ditches erased as it had been strengthened without the king's licence.  The order continued:

But allow Henry Tracy, under his own supervision, to cause the walls of his castle of Barnstaple to be flattened so far that those walls remain only 10' high, so that Tracy himself can have his buildings and abodes within the strength of those walls.

Such a grant suggests that Tracy was not particularly under a cloud and in April 1230 he was ordered to prepare himself for Henry's French campaign.  The castle would appear to have remained vaguely in operation as in September 1274, soon after Henry Tracy's death, it was reported that:

there was a place called the castle, around which a wall is almost built and there is a motte in which are a hall, chamber, kitchen and other houses almost built...

This hardly sounds like a fully functional castle and suggests that all that remained was the 10' high curtain around the bailey and a shattered shell keep containing the main surviving buildings of the castles, these too possibly reduced to only 10' high.  The barony of Barnstaple consisted at this time of Up Exe (Uppehesse), Greenslinch (Grenesnylche in Silverton hundred), Kilmington (Kelmeton), Bovey Tracey, Fremington (Fremyngton), Tawstock, Nymet Tracy, Halsford (Hallesworth in Whitestone parish), Torrington, George Nympton (Nymet St George), Northlew (Lewe), Hele (in Meeth parish), Ilfracombe and Winkleigh (Wynkelegh).  This was now held in chief, there being no mention of Braose overlordship.  Henry himself was recorded as holding the entire 56 fees of the lordship in 1236. 

By 1308 the barony had been split between the heirs of Matilda Brion, the only heir of Eva Tracy, the only surviving child of Henry Tracy (d.1274).  Before 1260 Matilda Brion had married Nicholas Fitz Martin (d.bef.1274) of Newport castle in Cemais.  By him she had had a son, William (d.1324) and a daughter, Eleanor (d.1325+).  Matilda then married Geoffrey Camville (d.1308) of Llanstephan.  She also presented him with 2 children, William (d.1338) and Amice.  Matilda Brion died in about 1279, leaving the barony to Geoffrey Camville for the remainder of his life ‘by courtesy of England'.  On his death in 1308 William Fitz Martin inherited the barony and castle and held it until his death in 1324 when his son, another William, took over until his death in 1326.  Traditionally he is said to have died after riding into the moat in the dark after coming home from stag hunting and not noticing that the drawbridge had been raised.  As the castle was most likely abandoned at this time and other places like Coombe Martin claim to the site of this disaster, this is probably best seen as apocryphal.  After this his sister, Eleanor Fitz Martin, inherited taking the castle to her 2 husbands.  On her death in 1342 her half of the barony reverted to James Audley (d.1386), the son of her younger sister, Joan Fitz Martin (d.1322), who then had inherited the whole.  The real point of interest is the 1326 inquest post mortem of William Fitz Martin.  This listed the full extent of the Fitz Martin barony and this included in Barnstaple manor ‘a ruinous castle'.  The position was reinforced by the inquest post mortem on the death of James Audley in 1386 where all the Tracy fief was listed in great detail, but nothing much was said of the castle, other than a couple of notes that service was due there.

Quite obviously Barnstaple castle had had its day by 1326 and although a castle chapel was mentioned in 1333, the fortress seems never to have seen service again.  Quite likely the castle never recovered from its reduction in 1228.  Some 300 years later Leland commented:

The town of Berdenestaple had been walled and the wall was by estimation half a mile.  It is now almost clean fallen.  The names of the 4 gates to east, west, north and south yet remain and manifest tokens of them.

There are manifest ruins of a great castle at the north-west side of the town a little beneath the town bridge and a piece of the donjon still stands.  One Judhael Totnes the son of Alured was the first that I can read of that lay in this castle.

It seems clear that Barnstaple castle has not changed much from his day to this.

The castle stands at the west end of the town occupying a position between the rivers Taw and Yeo which once coursed through its moats making the fortress an artificial island.  As such it guarded the lowest crossing point of the Taw.  The motte is large which puts it in the ‘royal' castle class, which indeed, like Totnes and Launceston, it could well be.  Unfortunately the castle grounds were landscaped in the nineteenth century, the most disfiguring part of which was cutting a circular path to the summit into the motte side.  On the summit are the overgrown foundations of a shell keep some 65' in diameter with walls some 10' thick.  This in turn was surrounded by another lighter, 3' thick wall at 75' diameter.  This rather parallels the layout at Launceston, although there is apparently no central round tower keep at Barnstaple.  Instead the shell was lined with buildings as in the 1228 and 1274 reports.  The motte was surrounded by a 50' wide and 15' deep moat.

There is still argument as to whether the motte was supported by 1 or 2 baileys.  One certainly lay to the north-west at Castle Green where traces of a rectangular bailey about 150' deep and 200' wide still exists.  Parch marks suggest several rectangular buildings in the northern part of this, although this may be traces of the nineteenth century Castle House demolished in 1976.  Modern reclamation beyond this has hidden the fact that it was once lapped by the estuary.  Excavation found traces of 2 wingwalls running down the motte to this bailey.  The excavators also suggested that the bailey rampart was 30' wide and protected by a wide 15' berm from the river-filled moats.  A stone wall some 3' thick seems to have been added to the front of the rampart, but this had been totally robbed out.

A further bailey is postulated to the south-east towards the town under the car park, but no certain trace of this has been found.  No trace of the Saxon burgh is currently visible, but excavations show that there were at least 105 Saxon graves under the castle site in a graveyard tentatively dated to about 900 and suspected as no longer operational at the time of the Norman Conquest.


Copyright©2022 Paul Martin Remfry