Totnes Castle stands on a 17.5 meter high manmade motte, which looms over the historic medieval town of Totnes. From its battlements, it commands a splendid and picturesque view across the town below as well as offering scenic views of wild and rugged Dartmoor. Totnes Castle is steeped in a rich and varied history and is the one of the best surviving examples of a Norman motte and bailey castle. Both ‘motte’ and ‘bailey’ are old-French words, ‘motte’ meaning ‘hill’ or ‘mound’ while ‘bailey’ meaning ‘low yard’. Due to Totnes’s strategic position and close proximity to the River Dart, Totnes was a logical place to build a motte and bailey castle.
Totnes was a well-known port town and had a reputation of being one the best places to harbour a boat; this was due to how far a ship could navigate inland. Evidence of this can be found in a book called “Historia Regum Britanniae” which was written in 1136 by Geoffrey of Monmouth. With a port, Totnes became a fairly wealthy town, as a result of this influx of prosperity, King Edward the Elder in 907 had the town fortified, this resulted in Totnes becoming one of the only fortified towns in the South West, which is evidence that Totnes started to become distinctly affluent. However later on in the town’s history, the mint in Totnes at the time of 1036 (thirty years before the Norman Conquest) had ceased minting, which was an indication that the importance of the town had started to dwindle. Totnes was accorded with a royal charter by King John in 1206, which transformed Totnes into a free town. This meant that Totnes was allowed to formulate its own laws. However Totnes grew to be once again a very prosperous town and in 1523 it was the second richest town in Devon and sixteenth richest town in the whole of England.