Nunney Castle was constructed in the fourteenth century by John de la Mare, a soldier who had served in France during the Hundred Years War. Its design was influenced by continental architecture. The castle was held by Royalist forces during the Civil War but was besieged by a Parliamentary army under Sir Thomas Fairfax and bombarded into submission.
John de la Mare, was an experienced soldier who is believed to have fought in France during the early years of the Hundred Years War and had made his fortune from ransom money. He subsequently held numerous important appointments including Constable of Old Sarum Castle and Sheriff of Somerset. He was knighted in 1373 and, to mark his new found status, he sought permission to build an elaborate residence. On 28 November 1373, John was duly granted a "licence...to crenellate his dwelling-place at Nonny".
Nunney Castle was clearly intended as a statement of power and status rather than as an effective fortification due to its placement near a valley bottom, overlooked by nearby higher ground. The design was heavily influenced by John's experiences on the continent as it reflected contemporary French architecture (although this should not be over-stated as similar English examples also survive at Dudley, Haughton, Langley and Stafford). It was constructed from oolite ashlar and was a four storey quadrangular castle with round towers, topped with conical roofs, on each corner. The ground floor was occupied by a kitchen and storerooms whilst the first floor was servants' accommodation, the second floor was dominated by the Great Hall and the level above served as high status accommodation. At parapet level projecting corbels provided support for a wooden platform that surrounded the top of the structure. The tower was in immediate proximity to the Nunney Brook, which provided a source of fresh water and also filled the moat that surrounded the structure. Beyond, a large courtyard would have contained stables and other supporting buildings.
The de la Mare family remained owners of Nunney Castle until the early fifteenth century when the last male heir, Elias de la Mare, died during Henry V’s 1415 campaign in France. It passed through marriage to Sir John Poulet, whose main residence was Basing Castle (now Basing House) in Hampshire. It remained with the Poulets until 1572 at which point it was sold and eventually came into the hands of the Roman Catholic Prater family. They made extensive modifications to the tower to bring it into line with the enhanced levels of domestic comfort expected at the time.
In 1642 friction between King and Parliament erupted into Civil War. The owner of Nunney Castle at this time was Richard Prater who, like his immediate ancestors, was a staunch Roman Catholic. Accordingly he opposed the Protestant leanings of Parliament and supported the Royalist cause. Throughout the early years of the war, Royalist dominance in the South West meant Nunney Castle was untouched by the conflict. However, after the destruction of the King's last major field army at the Battle of Naseby in June 1645, Parliamentary forces started reducing Royalist garrisons. In Somerset Sherborne was attacked first followed by Castle Cary and Shepton Mallet. On 6 September 1645 a Parliamentary army under Sir Thomas Fairfax arrived at Nunney. The garrison refused to surrender so heavy artillery was brought up from Shepton Mallet. This was in place by the 8 September 1645 and used to smash a breach in the north wall prompting Colonel Prater to surrender. The castle was set alight by the Parliamentary troops as they departed.
The damage to Nunney Castle left the structure as little more than a gutted ruin but, after it was returned to the Prater family in the 1660s, it was restored back into a habitable residence. The burnt out floors were replaced and the north side, which had suffered from the artillery bombardment, was rebuilt. The castle remained inhabited for much of the eighteenth century but thereafter was abandoned and allowed to drift into ruin. On Christmas Day 1910 a portion of the wall collapsed and, as the rest of the structure continued to deteriorate, the then owner, Robert Bailey-Neale, handed the castle over to the State.
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Nunney Castle consists of the ruins of an elaborate fourteenth century tower surrounded by a water filled moat. The structure stands almost to its original height.
Nunney Castle. The castle consisted of a rectangular main block with round towers, each with conical roofs, on each corner. The lower levels were lit by small slits whilst the high-status upper levels had elaborate windows. The name of Nunney derives from the Saxon word ‘nuni’ suggesting a nunnery once existed near the site.
Roof. The towers were originally topped with conical roofs. The projecting corbels originally supported a wooden platform.
Collapsed Wall. This section of the curtain wall collapsed on Christmas Day 1910. It was the same section that suffered artillery damage during the Civil War.
Moat. The castle was surrounded by a wet moat filled from the adjacent Nunney Brook. The current water feature is a twentieth century reconstruction. The original moat would have been far more substantial and there was no terrace, instead the water washed the bottom of the castle walls.
Nunney Castle Interior. The castle is a gutted shell but the high quality of its masonry and internal chambers can still be appreciated.