Tattershall Castle: The Rise of the Palatial Residence

By Samantha Ann Rose Brinded

MA Postgraduate


Located in the Lincolnshire village of Tattershall, stands the aptly named, Tattershall Castle, a 15th Century brick building currently under the care of the National Trust. Building upon the remains of a former stone keep, Lord Ralph Cromwell built his principal residence, with its impressive four-storey tower, rising from the flat Lincolnshire Fenlands. This remodelling began in 1434 and consisted of adding a second moat, along with the rebuilding of many residential structures already within the curtain wall. After centuries of neglect, all that remains intact today is the 120-foot red brick tower, largely thanks to the restoration efforts undertaken by Lord George Curzon in 1911. The tower-house now stands alone amongst the ruin of its former defences, a testament to the continued hard work that has gone into its upkeep. It is this very tower that highlights the importance of this particular castle, for its large windows, intricate brickwork and machicolations show that this keep was rebuilt at a unique point in the history. A time between the need for defence and the need for a comfortable, yet extravagant, home.

Comparatively, located less than twenty miles away from Tattershall, is the medieval fort of Lincoln Castle. Built by William the Conqueror to subdue the city and secure his new reign, this 11th-century stone-built fortress provides a striking contrast to the highly decorative Tattershall. Lincoln’s purpose lies in its practicality. Little to no time, or money, was spent on decorative features, it was a display of strength shown through its high-up location and defensive features such as bow-slit windows and crenellated battlements. Whilst Tattershall did have some defensive attributes, a double moat, crenellated parapets and covered fighting gallery with wooden machicolations, there are also clues to suggest that comfort was also a primary concern for its inhabitants.

One of Tattershall’s many windows

Large windows, which sit within decorative stonework, not only look aesthetically pleasing, adding interest to the building’s facade, they also allow light to flood inside, illuminating the large rooms and long corridors. Though beautiful, they would not be practical for a purely defensive keep, for the large windows would weaken its structural integrity and the expensive glass could be easily shattered, providing quick access inside the tower. Another consideration is the brick itself. Built from local Kimmeridge clay, Tattershall’s walls were built using a diaper pattern, created through the use of darker bricks (pictured below). Along with the stonework mentioned previously, this not only enhances the decorative element but hints at the amount of work taken in designing and creating the castle. The time and expense that went into using brick was great and would surely have been wasted on a keep which expected to be attacked. Thus, it not only shows a certain amount of confidence from the owner but also a different preoccupation than that of William when building Lincoln Castle some 400 years before.

An example of the intricate brickwork

Acknowledging that there was a transitional stage in castle design, raises questions surrounding the cause of this shift. Monarchs were increasingly looking abroad to fight their battles and thus, civil defence was not such a priority. Cromwell himself fought by Henry V of England at Agincourt and was present at the capture of Caen in 1417. From these victories, Cromwell gained a prominence that would ultimately lead him to become Lord Treasurer of England to Henry VI. With this position came wealth and power, something he wished reflected in his inherited castle of Tattershall

and the more impressive the tower, the more impressive the treasurer’s purse, as it were. Changes in warfare meant that Cromwell could channel his money into creating something that would inspire awe in others, whether visiting or simply passing by. Thus, Tattershall is representative of this unique step between the earlier, defensive donjon, to the comfortable palaces and stately homes that dot our land today.

The Treasurer’s purse, which decorates Tattershall’s large fireplaces

I once was lucky enough to be a volunteer and member of staff for the castle and thus, got to witness first-hand its continued importance to Lincolnshire life. Its life cycle continues through its role as a popular heritage site, hosting regular events throughout the year, as well as a romantic venue for weddings. Though Cromwell could not predict how the use of his keep would evolve, I think he would be pleased with its important place in history, along with the awe it continues to inspire.


Edited from an essay, written in 2017 for the module ‘Introduction to Visual and Material Culture’.

Thanks to Paul Robinson at Tattershall Castle for his initial help with the research (all that time ago!)

For more information on the castle, please visit their website at:


Books most helpful in my original research were:

John Goodall, The English Castle (Yale, 2001).

Richard Gurnham, A History of Lincoln (Chichester, 2009).

Francis Hill, Medieval Lincoln (Stamford, 1990).

Douglas Simpson, The Building Accounts of Tattershall Castle, 1434-1472 (London, 1960).

List of images:

Tattershall Castle, 07 July 2007. Photo: Tanya Dedyukhina via Wikimedia Commons (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:TATTERSHALL_CASTLE_-_panoramio.jpg)

Tattershall Castle and Moat, 17 August 2009. Photo: Mick Lobb via Wikimedia Commons (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Tattershall_Castle_and_moat_-_geograph.org.uk_-_1460637.jpg), accessed 20 January 2020.

Tattershall Castle Window, 6 May 2017. Photo: author’s own.

Tattershall Castle Diaper Brick Work, 6 May 2017. Photo: author’s own.

Lord Cromwell’s Purse Symbol, 19 September 2018. Photo: David Smith (https://www.geograph.org.uk/photo/5995316) accessed 20 January 2020.