Montacute is a small village and civil parish in Somerset, England, west of Yeovil. The village has a population of 680 (2002 estimate). The name Montacute is thought by some to derive from the Latin "Mons Acutus", referring to the small but still quite acute hill dominating the village to the west.
The village is built almost entirely of the local hamstone. From the 15th century until the beginning of the 20th century it formed the heart of the estate of the Phelips family of Montacute House. The village has a fine medieval church, and a former Cluniac priory, the gatehouse of which is now a private house.
At the centre of the village is a large square known as the 'Borough' around which are grouped picturesque cottages and a public house, the Phelips Arms; there is a second public house and hotel situated in the village, called the King's Arms.
To the west of the village is the Iron Age hill fort of Ham Hill, a large tribal fort of the Durotriges. The fort was conquered by the Roman Legio II Augusta sometime around 45 AD. The Romans briefly occupied the fort, then moved to a more permanent garrison at nearby Ilchester (Lindinis), and constructed the Fosse Way Roman Road a few miles west of the village.
A Roman villa was excavated near Batemoor Barn early in the twentieth century and an extensive mosaic documented. However this was never adequately protected and has – probably – been damaged by deep ploughing in the last 20 years.
Variously called Logaresburgh by the Saxons, later Bishoptone or Biscepstone, the estate was owned by a Dane called Tofig who is said to have been Harold Godwinson's royal standard-bearer. Montacute is reputed to have been named by Robert, Count of Mortain, who built the motte-and-bailey Montacute Castle as his English seat in 1068 and founded the Cluniac priory. The site of the castle was a deliberate affront to the defeated English because a black flint cross (the "Holy Rood") was said to have been discovered atop the hill earlier in the eleventh century by the village blacksmith. This was supposedly placed in a wagon by Tofig, and he named a series of possible destinations owned by him. The oxen pulling the wagon (six red and six white in one version of the tale) refused to move until he said "Waltham". They then started, and continued non-stop until they reached Waltham. When they stopped, Tofig decided to build an abbey at the site – this became Waltham Abbey. This relic had become an object of veneration, pilgrimage and celebration. "Holy Cross" was the battle-cry of Harold's armies at the battles of Stamford Bridge and Hastings. The Holy Rood is said to have foretold Harold's defeat at Hastings: on the way there from the Battle of Stamford Bridge he stopped off at Waltham Abbey to pray, and the legend is that the cross "bowed down" off the wall as he did so. This was taken as a portent of doom.
Castle Montacute was besieged by English rebels from Somerset, Dorset and neighbouring areas in 1069 and its relief required the assembly of a considerable force, drawn chiefly from the Norman garrisons of London, Winchester and Salisbury. This army was led by the Norman bishop, Geoffrey of Coutances, whose large landholdings were also threatened. The rebels were taken by surprise and bloodily defeated, putting an end to the revolt. Joseph Bettey has suggested that "the devastation in the surrounding area which followed the English defeat may explain why so many manors in south Somerset are recorded in the Domesday Survey as having decreased in value". The English dead were buried in a mass grave to the West of the village in a sloping field now known as "Under Warren". Village tradition has it that two hilltop fortifications were built: first a wooden clamshell fort with motte & bailey, later replaced by a stone castle. However little evidence to prove the existence of the stone structure exists, except a note in the Parish records that two loads of stone were taken from the site by the neighbouring parish of Martock. A church or chapel dedicated to St Michael later replaced the castle. Excavations of the hilltop have been limited and inconclusive.
Considerable earthworks are built into St Michaels Hill, and the common belief is that these are the remains of an extensive Motte & Bailey, however a report by the Somerset County Archeologist unit favours their view that these are in fact wine-growing terraces.
Montacute is much visited by tourists who come to the area, attracted by the nearby Ham Hill Country Park, and Montacute House (now owned by the National Trust) which is one of the finest examples of an Elizabethan house in England, and several other mansions open to the public in the immediate vicinity.
In 2009 Montacute was identified as having England's longest life expectancy in a report compiled by Watson Wyatt Worldwide.