Notes: Castle is found to the North East of Berry Pomeroy and is sign-posted. A small car park serves visitors to the site.
WHAT IS THERE TO SEE?
The ruined curtain wall of a fifteenth century castle complete with an unusually shaped Gatehouse. Also visible are the gutted remains of the Elizabethan mansion and evidence of the abandoned seventeenth century works.
1. Berry Pomeroy derives its name from its original title - the Manor of Berri - and from the Norman family who were granted the lands in the immediate aftermath of the Norman Conquest. The first owner was Ralf de Pomaria, who came from La Pommeraye near Falaise in Normandy, and his surname and place of origin became corrupted into Pomeroy.
Gatehouse. The twin turreted Gatehouse has an unusual angular frontage designed to enable the artillery installed within the lower levels to fire on all frontal approaches.
Berry Pomeroy Castle was built in the late fifteenth century by a family who had owned the Manor for over 400 years. Financial woes led to the castle being sold to the Duke of Somerset in 1547 whose descendants converted the site into a lavish Elizabethan mansion. Planned upgrades in the seventeenth century were never funded and it drifted into ruin.
HISTORY OF BERRY POMEROY CASTLE
The manor of Berry (then known as Berri) was granted to Ralf de Pomaria by William I shortly after his 1067 expedition to defeat a West Country rebellion against Norman rule. Unusually, especially for a recently suppressed area, Ralf did not establish a castle and instead built an unfortified manor house. This would remain the main residence for his family for the next 400 years.
The castle itself was built in the late fifteenth century (the first written record noting its existence dating from 1496). Based on archaeological similarities with nearby Dartmouth Castle, the most probable builder was Sir Richard Pomeroy (1442-96). He was a supporter of the Yorkist cause during the Wars of the Roses (1455-87) and was appointed Sheriff of Devon in 1473; it was possible the castle was built as a result of the increased lawlessness in the county as this time. After the defeat of the Yorkist dynasty at the Battle of Bosworth Field (1485), Richard supported the new Tudor regime and was knighted by Henry VII.
Berry Pomeroy was purchased by Edward Seymour, Duke of Somerset in December 1547. He was brother to Queen Jane Seymour, third wife of Henry VIII, and uncle to the King's only male heir. When Henry VIII had died in January 1547, he had named Seymour as Lord Protector of England for his nine year old son, Edward VI. However, whilst it may have been Seymour's original intention to rebuild Berry Pomeroy, he did not get the opportunity - in October 1549 he was overthrown by John Dudley, Duke of Northumberland and later executed (January 1552).
Prior to Edward Seymour's execution, he had excluded his eldest son from his first marriage (another Edward) from inheriting his lands and titles; it seems there was some dispute as to his son's legitimacy although this could equally have been a slander put about by the Duke's scheming second wife. Regardless the Dukedom and associated lands passed instead to the descendants of the second marriage although the disinherited Edward was granted the manor of Berry Pomeroy by his father. Accordingly the new owner styled himself Edward, Lord Seymour and made the site his main residence. He started a major rebuilding of the facility demolishing the medieval buildings within the castle's interior and in its place constructed a lavish Elizabethan style mansion.
Lord Seymour died in 1593 and his heir, another Edward, initiated further rebuilding at Berry Pomeroy aiming to convert the site into one of the foremost residences in England. A new North Wing was to be constructed and the existing elements of the Elizabethan house substantially rebuilt. However, the funding for the project was never forthcoming and when Edward died in 1613 he left his grand building project uncompleted and his heirs lacked the resources to resume the construction.
Despite the abandoned works of the early seventeenth century, the Seymours continued to use Berry Pomerory as their main residence. They supported the Royalists during the Civil War but the castle was never garrisoned and saw no action; it accordingly avoided demolition or slighting at the end of the conflict. However the castle was badly maintained and a report made in the late seventeenth century noted the site was ruinous. It was abandoned as a residence around this time but remains the property of the Seymours (who re-acquired the title of Duke of Somerset in 1750) albeit it is now under the care of English Heritage.