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Ampthill Castle: a medieval magnate's residence

A Scheduled Monument in Ampthill, Central Bedfordshire

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Latitude: 52.034 / 52°2'2"N

Longitude: -0.5076 / 0°30'27"W

OS Eastings: 502475.853311

OS Northings: 238339.802467

OS Grid: TL024383

Mapcode National: GBR G38.JGK

Mapcode Global: VHFQT.541K

Entry Name: Ampthill Castle: a medieval magnate's residence

Scheduled Date: 3 July 1992

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1009630

English Heritage Legacy ID: 20429

County: Central Bedfordshire

Civil Parish: Ampthill

Built-Up Area: Ampthill

Traditional County: Bedfordshire

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Bedfordshire

Church of England Parish: Ampthill

Church of England Diocese: St.Albans


The monument includes the remains of a 15th century palace, known as Ampthill
Castle, which is situated at the top of the north-facing scarp of the
Greensand ridge. The approximate site of the palace is marked by Katherine's
Cross, erected in the 1770's to commemorate Katherine of Aragon who lived for
a time at the palace. Although there are no upstanding walls, there exists a
detailed survey of the palace precinct drawn up in 1534 which enables the plan
and extent of the ruins to be ascertained. The main precinct comprised four
wings ranged about a rectangular inner court, with a gatehouse on the east
wing and kitchens and a great hall on the north. Other chambers were the
state rooms and private quarters. The external dimensions of this precinct
were about 65m east-west by 55m north-south. Outside the north wing was a
smaller court, measuring 60m east-west by 20m north-south, which contained a
well-house. To the east and south the palace was surrounded by an outer, or
`Base', Court which had a range of buildings at the perimeter which contained
stables, workshops and other rooms which housed the ancillary functions of the
palace. The outer range of buildings lay about 45m to the east of the east
wing of the inner court and, although the full extent of the outer court is
not shown, it must have extended for a similar distance to the south. Using
the known plan as a guide, the remains of the palace can be traced on the
ground. At the crest of the ridge is a rectangular platform, about 0.5-1.0m
above the normal ground surface and measuring 70m east-west by 60m
north-south, which is the site of the Inner Court. Katherine's Cross is
located on this platform. Between the north edge of the platform and the edge
of the steeply sloping natural scarp is a terrace about 15m wide which
accommodated the well-house court. The eastern edge of the Base Court ran
about 50m to the west of the platform, diagonally across the present Rugby
field, and its southern side is considered to lie at the break of slope of the
scarp above the car park fence. The route of an original access into the Base
Court from Woburn Road is marked by a gully leading up this scarp. This scarp
and the steep slope to the west of the palace are likely to have been
terraced, both in order to consolidate them and for aesthetic reasons.
The palace was built in the early 1400's by Sir John Cornwall, later Lord
Fanhope. He married Elizabeth, sister of Henry IV, and wanted a residence
`Meet for his Royal spouse'. The palace came into the hands of Henry VIII in
1524 and Katherine of Aragon lived there during the divorce proceedings of
1533. The buildings had already fallen into decay by 1555 and at the time of
the 1567 survey its partial demolition was planned. Final demolition took
place before 1649. Ampthill Park is a landscape designed by Capability Brown
and is a Registered Garden.
Katherine's Cross is excluded from the scheduling but the ground beneath is

The site of the monument is shown on the attached map extract.

Source: Historic England

Reasons for Scheduling

A magnate's residence is a very high status residence of domestic rather than
military character. Such dwellings were the houses or palaces of the highest
ranks in society, acting as both residences for the elite and their large
retinues and as the settings for meetings. These monuments were formed as a
complex of buildings, usually of stone, and in general comprised a great hall
or halls, chambers, chapels, kitchens, service rooms, lodgings and a
gatehouse, usually arranged around a single or double courtyard. Magnate's
residences were in use throughout the whole of the medieval period from the
Norman Conquest and, due to their connection with the highest ranks of society
and their comparative rarity, surviving examples are considered to be of
national importance.
Although no upstanding buildings survive at Ampthill Castle, the plan of the
magnate's residence is well documented and the site retains important
undisturbed below ground remains. The site has documented Royal associations
and is especially noted as the residence of Katherine of Aragon during one of
the most crucial events of English History, the divorce of Henry VIII.

Source: Historic England


Books and journals
The Victoria History of the County of : Volume III, (1912)
Simco, A, Ampthill Castle, (1988)
Colvin, HM, 'The History of the King's Works' in The History of the King's Works, , Vol. 4, (1963)

Source: Historic England

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