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History of Tiverton Castle in Devon
By Charles Oman


Courtenay Stronghold

This was always the most important castle of Eastern Devon and the centre of the great holdings of the Courtenay Earls of Devon. Its very considerable remains lie close to the magnificent Perpendicular Church of Tiverton, at the north-west side of the town. The place must apparently have been a quadrangular fortress with round towers at each angle and a great gatehouse in its main front. But only two of its sides now survive and one of these is imperfect. On the western side are the remains of a large hall of the end of the thirteenth or beginning of the fourteenth century, joining on to the one surviving complete corner tower. On the southern side is a strong gatehouse, looking like work of 1350, a little later than the hall on the west front and much later than the surviving angle-tower. Its antique aspect is spoiled by a three-light Tudor window cut in its centre. There is a battlemented walk along all the surviving parts of the curtain wall. The south front has now been converted into a modern private residence and most of its windows, therefore, have been cut square. This, was probably done by the Giffords, its tenants in the days of Elizabeth and the earlier Stuarts. Tiverton stopped in the possession of the Courtenays till Henry VIII slew the head of their house and confiscated their lands in 1539. The King gave the castle to Lord Russell, the ancestor of the Dukes of Bedford, whom Leland found in possession there in 1540. Russell exchanged it for other lands with Lord Protector Somerset. When Queen Mary restored Edward Courtenay to the Earldom of Devon in 1553, she could not get back for him all the spoil which her father's courtiers had obtained; but Tiverton was recovered and returned to him. On his death, in exile in 1556, it was found that his nearest heirs were four great-aunts who, having to divide his property, sold Tiverton Castle to one Roger Gifford. When this gentleman's estate was cut up among co--heiresses and no single person wished for so large an abode, it was let out to farmers. They allowed the hinder parts of the castle fall into decay and lived in the gatehouse and the adjacent front, which were rescued from agricultural uses and made into a residential tenement. An engraving in Dunsford's 'History of Tiverton' shows that, in 1780, there was more surviving of the hall and the second angle-tower than is now visible.

Edited from Charles Oman's "Castles" (1926).  (T) 302.234.8904    (F) 302.234.9154    Copyright ©2000, LLC