On the recent visit to Hemyock (see last post) I finally managed to get a look at Hemyock Castle. I say “finally”, not as in I fulfilled a life-long ambition, but rather that I was finally able to put a face to the name. I’ve spent the past two months researching into the Hines of Hemyock as part of some family history (again, refer to last post), and came across this odd little castle.
Castles are usually trumpeted and highlighted: they were owned by monarchs or great dukes, or they played a role in history-defining battles. But my favourite castles are the ones that have been marginalised and forgotten about. (My own favourite is that of Plympton Castle, in Devon: fairly pointless and unknown to most of the local community.) Many of the remains of the nation’s smaller castles appear to be packed away in corners, with many walking by unable to detect its former life or use.
In many ways, Hemyock Castle fits into this category. In 1380 King Richard II granted Sir William and Lady Margaret Asthrope a licence to fortify their manor:
‘And so the castle was built, following a plan typical of late medieval castles: a high curtain wall surrounding a rectangular site, with four high round towers at the corners and central interval towers; all topped with crenellations’ (Historic UK, 2018).
It appears that Sir William Asthorpe constructed the castle as a way to maintain his position within the elite in Devonshire society; it provided an element of protection and showed off to others that he had an impressive status. This was the classic purpose of the smaller castle in the margins of the country (such as Devon): to impress the locals that you were not to be trifled with. (Again, I have a favourite example of this, in Berry Pomeroy Castle in south Devon: a castle to provide a stark warning to those in the area during the times of the Wars of the Roses).
Hemyock Castle’s main role in terms of military history was during the Civil War of the 1640s; the Parliamentarian Roundheads used it as a garrison, and also imprisoned captured Royalists. In the winter of 1643/44 Hemyock was captured by the Royalist Cavaliers: they released the prisoners (about 200 at this time), and then hanged three of the Roundheads. The west-country itself was strongly Royalist and in favour of King Charles I during this period, however, the Parliamentarian cause was strongest. The castle was recaptured and remained in Parliamentarian hands until the Restoration of the monarchy in 1660. It is stated that Charles II ordered that the castle ‘be slighted, its walls and towers breached so that it could never again by held against the King’ (Historic UK, 2018).
Now, in the twenty-first century, the castle is non-operational, but parts of it remain on display (the walls, and towers, and a still visible moat). On visiting the village I made a point of having a gander at the remains of the castle. There is not much to observe, and due to the remains having been renovated for private accommodation, it was not possible to inspect in closer detail. It is still possible to arrange such a closer viewing, which is warming, and it is particularly nice to know that the village of Hemyock highlight and promote their own history.
However, the warning – as promised in the title of this post – comes from utilising Wikipedia for an understanding of Hemyock Castle. The entry for the village of Hemyock notes how King Richard II granted a licence to construct the castle in 780: 500 years before the actual event happened. The same article has a couple of other confusing errors, such as the mention of the Anglo-Saxon ‘King Ime’; it took a while of ploughing through Google searches to come across the realisation that the name is general spelt as ‘King Ine’. A warning, then, to always check the facts!