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Dunster siege work

In the civil parish of Dunster.
In the historic county of Somerset.
Modern Authority of Somerset.
1974 county of Somerset.
Medieval County of Somerset.

OS Map Grid Reference: SS991434
Latitude 51.18160° Longitude -3.44443°

Dunster siege work has been described as a probable Siege Work.

There are no visible remains.


A stone built castle {at Dunster} was in existence by 1138 but no masonry from this survives. At about that time the castle was held by William de Mohun against Henry de Tracy and although siegeworks were erected by Stephen in order to help de Tracy no structures remained. (Aston and Leech)

A siege castle is documented at Dunster in 1139. (PastScape ref. King 1983)

No early masonry appears to survive on this scarped natural hill, held by William de Mohun against Henry de Tracy in 1139, nor any trace of the siege-work built by Stephen to help de Tracy. (Renn 1973)

Eo in tempore Willelmus de Mohun vir non solum honoris summi, sed et generis conspicui, praevalidam in regem dissensionem commovit, inque suo, quod pulchre et inexpugnate in pelagi litore locarat, municipio, nonnullis militum et peditum manipulis aggregatis, per universam illam Angliae plagam ferox, et turbine plenus discursare: omni in loco, omni in tempore, surrepta pietate, crudelia operari; non solum vicinos, sed et remotissimos nonnullos adhibita violentia sibi subjugare; si qui resistebant, furto, et rapina, igne et gladio infatigabiliter vexare; pecuniosos, quibuscumque occurrerat, vinculis, et cruciatibus immisericorditer exponere; et haec quidem agens, regnum pacis, et quietis, jubili, et exultationis, in discordiam, et rebellium, in fletum, et ejulatum commutare.
Quae tandem ubi regi notificata fuere, suis secum fautoribus in grandem exercitum conspiratis, ad reprimendam Willelmi ferocitatem festinato itinere tetendit. Cumque ante ipsum castelli constitisset ingressum, insuperabilem loci contuens munitionem, hinc, marino gurgite alluente, inaccessam, inde turribus, et muris, vallo et propugnaculis fortissime firmatam, de obsidione ingerenda ex toto desperavit, acceptoque saniori consilio, in ipso hostium conspectu castellum obfirmavit, unde et eos gravius arceret, et circumjacentem provinciam securius possideret. Praecepit quoque Henrico de Traceio, viro militari, et in multis bellorum eventibus saepius probato, quatinus vices suas agens, quoniam ad alia vocabatur, promptissime et constanter adversus hostes insurgeret. Et Henricus quidem, rege absente. ex Bardestapula, civitate sua, et ex regia sibi promissione indulta, strenue adversaries, et virilissime impugnavit: adeo ut non solum solitos eorum per regionem discursus, effrenesque praedantium inhiberet raptus, sed etiam centum et quatuor uno in tempore milites in equestri ex eis caperet congressione. Ipsumque Willelmum in tantum humilem reddidit, et depressum, ut et eum ulterius impugnare desisteret, et patriam pacatiorem, suaeque inquietudinis omnino immunem relinqueret. (Sewell edition of Gesta Stephani )

But when lie halted before the entrance of the Castle, and saw the impregnable defences of the place, inaccessible on one side where it was washed by the sea, and very strongly fortified on the other by towers and walls, by a ditch and outworks, he altogether despaired of pressing on the siege, and taking wiser counsel he surrounded the Castle in full sight of the enemy so that he might the better restrain them and occupy the neighbouring country in security, He also gave orders to Henry de Tracy, a man skilled in war and approved in the events of many different fights, that acting in his stead, as he himself was summoned to other business, he should with all speed and vigour bestir himself against the enemy. Henry therefore in the King's absence sallied forth from Barnstaple his own town, and by the King's special license made vigorous and valiant attacks on his adversaries, so that he not only restrained their wonted incursions and plundering raids in the neighbourhood, but also captured a hundred and four horsemen in a single encounter. (Lyte 1880 translation of Gesta Stephani )

Gatehouse does not read in the Gesta Stephani any reference to the construction of siege works. Indeed it seems quite clear that Tracy's method of attack was to induce the garrison to ride out from the castle, by attacking the surround territory, and attack it in the open. This strategy is one of open warfare although Tracy would have needed night-time camps. The Gesta seems to suggest he used his home base at Barnstaple, although there are several Iron Age hill forts in the area of Dunster that could also have been used. However the comment the king initially surrounded the castle might suggest some fieldworks and, certainly, by analogue with other sieges of the time some small 'ringwork' enclosures might be expected. If there were some siege works then the most likely site would have been on the north west side of the castle (where the town of Dunster is) and/or the south east (where Gallox Bridge is) as the east and south sides of the castle were sea at the time.
Site lost. Given map reference for Dunster Castle.
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This record last updated 26/07/2017 09:21:53

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