Motte and four baileys with the remains of a stone keep. Constructed by the de Dunstanvilles during the early 12th century. Disused by 1392 when it was divide into tenements. In three of the baileys are the remains of approximately 17 buildings. A Deer Park is documented during the 14th century and there are also pillow mounds. A field investigation in 1976 stated that the motte and baileys were well preserved. A tower, possibly a folly was built on the site in the 19th century, but has since been partly demolished. Scheduled, part of a golf course, not open to the public.
The remains of this castle lie six miles to the N.W. of Chippenham, on the brow of a steep hill jutting out in a narrow valley, overlooking the Box Brook and about a quarter of a mile from. the small market town of Combe. The castle was built within the strong defences of what seems to be an ancient British entrenched camp, placed on a tongue-shaped hill sloping down abruptly on three sides, the fourth joining the flat but high level of the surrounding country. The enclosure occupies, in a long oval trace, about eight acres, and is surrounded by a deep ditch and rampart. Three cross trenches divide the area into four unequal compartments, or courts, and in the last and southernmost of these, on the verge of the hill, are the scanty remains of Castle Combe. In most of the courts there are fragments of masonry, the last two having been surrounded by rude walls, now quite ruined. The keep itself, which appeared a mere mound covered with wood, was cleared some years ago, and the two lower storeys of the donjon are now seen entire, the walls being 10 feet thick, and the lower room measuring 16 feet by 12. “The fragments of carved stonework that were discovered on this occasion exhibit a very rude style of Norman architecture”. (Scrope.)
The place, apart from its castle, obtains additional interest from having been possessed apparently by the Danes in 878 under Guthrum; the great battle of Ethandun, in which Alfred defeated them, was very near, and the routed Danes fled over the Castle Combe brook at a place still called “Slaughterford”. It was at this battle that the Danish standard of the Raven was taken, and the “castellum” mentioned by William of Worcester is possibly this old entrenched camp, which may have sheltered at the time our great Saxon monarch.
The manor at the Domesday Survey belonged to the Conqueror, having an extent of about 1000 acres under plough, and temp. Stephen it was held by Reginald de Dunstanville, Earl of Cornwall, an illegitimate son of Henry I. and half-brother to the great Earl Robert of Gloucester and the Empress Maud. From him it went to his son-in-law, Walter de Dunstanville, who occupied this place during the life of the Earl of Cornwall, his residence being in his own earldom. The Dunstanvilles evidently held the place during the Civil War of the twelfth century and they were probably the builders of this castle (perhaps Walter was the founder, as Camden states), residing there for several generations. Reginald, called Baron of Castle Combe, died in 1156, and the last of the race, Walter, served Henry III. well in the Welsh wars, but fought against him at Lewes, and was appointed by the Barons Constable of Salisbury in 1265. He died 1270, leaving a daughter, Petronilla, wife of Sir Robert de Montfort, one of the two sons of Sir Peter de Montfort, who were all staunch supporters of the cause of the Barons and of their kinsman the great Earl of Leicester. De Montfort became thus in his wife’s right Baron of Castle Combe, and after his death she brought it to her second husband, Sir John de la Mare, who also held this castle and manor, so that Petronilla’s only son,.William de Montfort, under pressure for sustenance perhaps, sold his reversion to Castle Combe to Bartholomew, “the rich lord” Badlesmere of Leeds Castle, Kent, for £1000. This lord, after serving Edward I. in the Gascon and Flemish wars, was created baron in 1310 by Edward of Carnarvon, and much employed by him, and he received grants of Chilham, Kent, and Leeds. He fought at Bannockburn afterwards, where his nephew, Gilbert, Earl of Clare, was killed, and had commands on the Scots and Welsh marches. He however, opposed the King in acting against the Despensers in 1321, when the great barons of the realm, headed by the Earl of Lancaster, took up arms against Edward; Badlesmere marching with his men from Leeds to Oxford on his way to join Lancaster. Then occurred the incident told in the memoir of Leeds, or Ledes, Castle; when the King, desirous of seizing this place in its owner’s absence, arranged the visit there of Queen Isabella, under cover of a Canterbury pilgrimage, and took the castle with his army. Badlesmere failing to relieve that fortress betook himself to the north to join the disaffected Barons, but in March 1322 they were defeated by the Royal forces under Sir Andrew Harclay at Boroughbridge, after which the Earl of Lancaster and eighteen lords were executed at Pontefract. Lord Badlesmere escaped to Leeds, but was taken, and sentenced at Canterbury, the next month, “to be drawn for his treason, hanged for his robberies, and beheaded for his flight”: his head to be spiked on Canterbury gate as a warning. All this was done and his property confiscated. His estates, including Castle Combe, were then conferred first on Hugh Despenser the elder, but on Despenser’s destruction at Bristol in 1326, Lady Badlesmere received Combe and the rest back. She was the elder daughter and co-heir of Thomas de Clare, brother of Gilbert, Earl of Clare, Gloucester, Hertford and Pembroke, and many other earldoms (see TONBRIDGE). Her son Gilbert died early, s.p., and his lands passed to his four sisters; Castle Combe with other lands went to the youngest, Margaret, wife of John de Tibetot, or Tiptoft, of Langar, Notts, whose son Robert dying 1375 left the property to his three infant daughters, co-heirs, when they were placed by King Edward III. under the wardship of Sir Richard Scrope, Lord of Bolton, Yorks (q.v.).
Sir Richard in time married two of the girls to his own second and third sons, the latter, Sir Stephen, marrying Millicent Tiptoft and obtaining Castle Combe; and this property remains in the Scrope family to the present day (after 500 years), their manor-house being situated in the valley.
The widow Millicent, in 1409, married secondly the fatuous Sir John Fastolf, of Caister, Norfolk (see Fern’s “Paston Letters”), who is assumed, undeservedly in many respects, to be the original of Shakespeare’s Falstaff. Sir John, having thus obtained a good settlement in Castle Combe, continued to possess himself of this property and the rest during his life, till 1469, to the displacement and injury of the heir, Stephen Scrape, who was thus kept out for sixty-one years. He complains in bitter terms of his stepfather’s treatment of him in papers preserved at Castle Combe.
The old castle was neglected by the Badlesmeres and Tiptofts, and fell into disrepair. Indeed, as early as the reign of Henry IV. it was dismantled and in ruins, and is mentioned by William of Worcester, writing then, as one of the “castella diruta” of Wilts. The keep tower, however, remained tolerably perfect up to the end of the seventeenth century.
A rough tower, built on the site to mark the position of the former castle, shows well above the woods on the hill. (Castles Of England, Sir James D. Mackenzie, 1896)