Cambridge Castle in Cambridge, Cambridgeshire was began soon after the Norman conquest on the orders of William I (the Conqueror). Picot of Cambridge, the Sheriff of Cambridgeshire, undertook the works on William’s orders. It is recorded in the Domesday Book that 27 houses were demolished to make way for the castle.
After his campaign to put down a rebellion in the city of York in 1068, William decided to build the castle in Cambridge to ensure his control of the strategically important old Roman route from London to York, which ran through Cambridge, and to prevent a rebellion by the local populace.
The castle was constructed to a traditional motte and bailey design out of wood. The motte of the castle can still be seen to this day, with the bailey now having disappeared under under nearby buildings. At some point in the 12 Century the castle was rebuilt in stone.
The castle would continue to be held by the crown until 1143, when during the Anarchy, it was attacked by Geoffrey de Mandeville, Earl of Essex, who was a leading figure in a revolt against the rule of King Stephen. Geoffrey raided Cambridge and temporarily captured the castle. King Stephen launched a counteroffensive and recaptured the castle. As a result, King Stephen constructed a chain of castle to protect Cambridge and control the local area. These castles include Burwell Castle, Lidgate Castle, Rampton Castle, Swavesey Castle and Caxton Castle.
After the Anarchy, Henry II implemented a castleguard system at the castle where nobles were granted lands around the castle in exchange for providing forces to man it. During this period the castle was well maintained. Building works at the castle were undertaken prior to the First Barons War (1215-1217), though these changes didn’t improve the fortifications themselves and instead focused on developing residential buildings.
During the war, the castle at Cambridge fell under the control of the rebel barons, supported by the forces of Prince Louis of France in 1216. The castle at Cambridge was returned to the control of the crown after the war had ended as part of the Treaty of Lambeth between Prince Louis and Henry III.
During the period between the First Baron’s War and the Second Barons War, the castle was maintained to a basic standard. Cambridge Castle came under siege in 1266, during the Second Barons War (1264-1267). The castle successfully held out and was relieved by King Henry’s forces.
After Henry II’s death in 1272, Edward I acceded to the English throne. In 1283, Edward ordered the castle at Cambridge to be rebuilt. It is during this period that extensive building works at Cambridge Castle were undertaken. The layout and orientation of the bailey were altered, with the bailey remodelled to be roughly rectangular in shape and oriented north-south. Other works that were completed during this time include the construction of a curtain wall with towers, a gatehouse with barbican, a great hall, a chapel and a round tower keep on the motte. Though some of the works that were planned were never completed.
From about 1327 onward, the castle steadily began to deteriorate with little monies being spent on its upkeep. By 1441, the castle was in a bad state of repair. Over the next hundred or so years, stone from the castle was removed and used to construct some of the colleges and a chapel in Cambridge. Other stone was taken to build a manor house in a nearby village.
By 1604, the castle was in a poor state with only the gatehouse remaining as the only building occupied. During the English Civil War in 1643 the castle was refortified by Parliament, with major works being undertaken to strengthen and repair the bailey defences. Bastions and earthworks were constructed, with 15 houses being cleared and a barracks building being constructed on the site of the old great hall. These new defences were slighted in 1647 to put them beyond use.
Over the following centuries, what remained of the castle steadily deteriorated, with some of the structure and earthworks being removed in the late 18th and early in the 19th centuries. The only remaining building was the gatehouse, though this too would be removed too in the the early 1842, having been used as the county goal for much of its life.
Today, only the remnants of some of the earthworks and the motte remain. The motte is on land owned by Cambridgeshire County Council and is open to the public.