Yorkshire's Castles: Middleham Castle
Created | Updated Jul 9, 2013
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Middleham Castle is undoubtedly one of the finest castles in Yorkshire, with one of the largest keeps in Britain. The castle is a perfect example of a hall-keep castle and is dominated by the keep which measures 110 feet by 80 feet. It was in this keep that the infamous King Richard III spent his childhood and where his son, Prince Edward, was born and later died.
The Outer Walls
The castle is square, with each of its walls matching the points of the compass. Other than the eastern side of the castle - the side facing the original position of the town of Middleham which the castle was built alongside - the walls housed lavish chambers and rooms. The compact nature of the castle meant that no part of the castle was far from any other and the castle had more of the feel of a luxurious palace than a pure fortification.
The Gatehouse (Formerly North-East Tower)
Entry to the castle today is over the castle's wide moat and through the still-impressive gatehouse at the north-east corner of the castle over the 25-feet-wide ditch. This gatehouse was not the original main entrance to the castle, but was converted into its present state in the 15th Century. The passage was cut into the curtain wall with the north-east tower strengthened. The tower was heightened to its present three storeys, with a great gate and portcullis barring entry. On the east side of the entrance passage lay a guardroom complete with fireplace, as well as lodgings on the uppermost stories.
The gatehouse originally had tall, projecting turrets at each corner with machicolated battlements enabling defenders to drop stones and boiling oil onto those passing below. There is even a small gun loop in the north-east turret. It is also believed that there were stone statues decorating the gateway.
Opposite the gatehouse on the other side of the moat there was originally a barbican, known as the 'littil towre' which protected the bridge. Sadly, this no longer exists.
The North Range
The wall on the north side of the castle between the gatehouse and the North-West Tower mainly dates from the middle of 15th Century. The wall was more than a mere walkway, incorporating luxurious rooms, with three rooms on both the ground and first floors. After the room nearest the gatehouse, originally known as the 'Auditors Chambre,' lay a small central cross-wall tower containing a staircase, latrines and small chambers. The room west of the tower was called the 'Auditors Kitchen'. Sadly all the rooms in this range are open to the sky, with barely enough of the walls remaining to give an idea of the range's original luxury.
The North-West Tower
The bottom two floors of the north-west tower date from around 1300, although the third storey was built a century later and the top floor was built around 1450. The tower originally measured ten metres by seven, but the width was later expanded to nine metres in order for the towers to house a latrine block. Each of the tower's floors contained its own fireplace as well as latrine.
The West Range
The west range - like the north range - had a number of chambers built into the fabric of the outer wall, which were used as lodgings. In the middle of the range, as in the north range, was a central tower. This three-floored tower not only housed a staircase, but also eight latrines in a very carefully planned arrangement. Two latrines served the top of the tower, with two on the first floor, two on the ground floor and two for the courtyard. These still survive today. On either side of the central tower halfway between it and the two corner towers lay two buttresses, each containing a latrine.
The ground floor of the range housed numerous lodgings, with the first floor split into four self-contained lodgings for the more important residents and visitors. A survey of the castle carried out in 1538 describes a wooden bridge from the central tower of the west range to the keep, although no other surviving evidence remains. The southern chamber of the west range was later converted into a bakehouse, which was vaulted over and had four ovens built into its northern wall. The chambers above were later converted into a nursery.
The South-West (Prince's) Tower
The south-west Tower, known as the Prince's Tower, is believed to be the birthplace of Richard III's only son Edward, Prince of Wales, who was born in 1473. Unlike the other three corner towers, the Prince's Tower is semi-circular, or D-shaped. It too dates back to 1300, and was originally the height of the wall-walk, though two floors were added in the 15th Century. It now comprises four floors - the ground floor is used as a basement, with three chambers complete with en-suite latrines and fireplaces above. There is a spiral staircase in its north-west corner from the ground to each chamber. The first floor chamber is next to the nursery in the west range. It is perhaps the best preserved tower in the castle, standing almost to its original height.
The South Range
Like the north and east ranges, the south range is a two-storeyed range of buildings. It was converted in the 15th Century out of a single-storeyed building that stood against the wall which, with the rest of the castle, was heightened and strengthened. Halfway along the wall lay a central tower which contained latrines on the first floor.
The ground floor was separated into service rooms, which included the bakehouse and brewhouse, and a room converted into a horse-powered mill in the 16th Century. Above, on the first floor, were four spacious chambers. The one on the west end was known as the 'Lady Chamber', and had a wooden 'gallery' bridge over the courtyard to the keep's presence chamber.
The South-East Tower
The south-east tower also dates from 1300 and was originally two storeys high, although whether it was heightened when the other three were is not known for certain. Both floors contained rooms, each with a latrine and fireplace. There were separate entrances to each of the rooms and access to the upper storey was through an external wooden staircase from the courtyard below.
The East Wall
Unlike the other three walls, the east wall did not contain a range of buildings and sadly most of it no longer exists. The eastern side, along with the northern side, retains the moat and the foundation remains of the original gatehouse.
In the centre of the east wall lay the original entrance to the castle - the gatehouse which contained the drawbridge over the moat. The eastern wall was originally attached to the keep through the now ruined three-storeyed chapel building.
The Outer Court
There is evidence that shows that the castle's outer courtyard lay east of the castle and was an area defended by ditch and wooden wall and contained many of the castle's buildings, such as stables, workshops and smithy. Many of the buildings were built of stone, yet nothing of this outer part of the castle survives.
Middleham Castle's crowning glory is the remains of its massive hall keep, which is one of the largest in Britain. Despite the luxurious chambers in the ranges around the castle, it was the keep which contained the rooms of the lord of Middleham.
The entrance to the keep - as is the case with many entrances to keeps of the period - was on the first floor. The stairway was originally well-defended by a tall, enclosed wall with a wall-walk above, and anyone approaching would be vulnerable to attack from those on the battlemented keep above. A gate at the bottom of the staircase allowed access to the stairs. Halfway up the stairs was a defended gatehouse with a small guardroom, with another gatehouse at the top, giving entrance to an ante-room outside the keep's main rooms.
The keep's ground floor was originally only accessible by the spiral staircase in the keep's south-east corner tower. The ground floor is separated into two large chambers by the supporting wall that runs along the centre of the keep lengthways and rises the full height of the keep. The east chamber is larger, and its roof was originally supported by five round central pillars. It was originally the cellar, and shared fireplace with the western chamber, which was the keep's kitchen.
On the first floor near the keep's entrance lay the Great Hall which was entered after walking from the ante-room through a round-headed doorway. The great hall occupied most of the eastern half of the first floor, with a small pantry and servery at the south end. On the west side of the first floor were two rooms divided by a wooden partition. The larger of the two was the great chamber. This was accessible via the north side of the great hall, which contained a fireplace and a latrine in the small projecting tower that stood halfway along the keep's western side. Also accessible via the great chamber was the privy chamber. This was smaller, and the privy chamber was lord of Middleham's personal, or private, chamber. It too contained a fireplace and en-suite latrine in the western tower. The chamber also adjoined the presence chamber which was built into the south-west tower's first floor. From here it was possible to cross to the south range's lady chamber via the wooden gallery bridge.
It is believed that the castle was later heightened with a second floor put above the first, but little evidence exists to confirm this. The keep not only had four corner towers but also a tower halfway along the western and southern sides. Each of the corner towers was solid on the ground floor with the exception of the south-east corner tower which contained the keep's wide spiral staircase that led from the cellar to the battlements. The north-east tower contained a chapel with altar on the first floor, and the north-west tower, like the south-west tower, contained a chamber. Both the west and southern towers were fitted with latrines, although the western tower is believed to have been later modified to house a covered bridge over to the western range.
On the eastern side of the keep linking it to the eastern wall was a large three-storey building called the chapel, which is now largely ruins. The chapel had a spiral staircase in its south-west corner, whereas the first two floors consisted of living quarters and the chapel itself was on the third floor. It was built to replace the smaller chapel in the keep, and could be entered via the keep's ante-room.
After the Norman Conquest, the land around Middleham was given to Alan Rufus in 1069, Count of Penthievre in Brittany and nephew of William the Conqueror. He built his principal castle at Richmond, but built a wooden motte-and-bailey castle 500 yards to the south-west of the present castle on a site known as William's Hill. By the Domesday Book in 1086 Middleham had been granted to Alan The Red's brother Ribald.
The castle was inherited by Ribald's son Ralph FitzRanulph, who died in 1168, and then by Ralph's son Robert FitzRanulph, who died in 1184. The massive stone keep in the centre of the castle is believed to have been built around 1170, and it is not known whether it was Ralph or Robert who began work on it. The keep is unusually large for a castle belonging to a minor branch of the family and was surprisingly comfortable for the period.
The Early Nevilles
In 1270 Ralph FitzRanulph, the last of the FitzRanulph line, died. Middleham was inherited by his daughter Mary, who married Robert de Neville of Raby Castle. They added the chapel building to the keep. Their son, Ralph Neville, the First Lord Neville of Raby, inherited not only Middleham Castle, but also the Neville estates including Raby Castle and Brancepeth in Durham and Sheriff Hutton Castle in East Yorkshire. In 1300 he began work on the outer curtain wall and its corner towers. He died in 1331, when the castle was inherited by his son Ralph.
Ralph Neville distinguished himself in Edward III's campaigns. He fought in the siege of Dunbar in 1337, the siege of Tournai in 1340 and, with his son John, in the Battle of Neville's Cross near Durham in 1346. It was at this battle that King David II of Scotland was taken prisoner. As a reward Edward III appointed Ralph Warden of the Marches - the Scottish borderlands.
His son John succeeded him, and campaigned in France under John of Gaunt, Earl of Lancaster, Edward III's second son and founder of the House of Lancaster. In 1378 he was appointed Seneschal of Gascony by Richard II and as later Warden of the East March. He had amassed a considerable fortune, which he spent on his castles at Raby and Sheriff Hutton as well as Durham Cathedral, where he is buried in its south aisle.
Ralph Neville, Earl of Westmorland
John's son Ralph, the 4th Lord Neville, inherited the castle in 1388. He not only fought in France but was appointed Joint Keeper of the Town and Castle of Carlisle and Joint Warden of the West March. In 1396 he married his second wife Joan Beaufort, illegitimate daughter of John of Gaunt by his third wife and former mistress Kathrine Swynford. In 1397 was made Earl of Westmorland and was granted the Honour of Penrith by Richard II.
In 1399 he supported John of Gaunt's oldest son Henry of Lancaster's bid for the throne, which succeeded with Henry becoming King Henry IV. As a reward he was made Marshall of England and granted the Honour of Richmond. In 1405 the Neville family's rivals in the North, the Percy family, rebelled against Henry IV, and, on their failure, Ralph gained more power in the north.
Ralph had 23 children - nine by his first wife and 14 by Joan. It is believed that the conversion of the walls of Middleham Castle into wards and chambers supplementing those in the keep were his work, as was the completion of Sheriff Hutton Castle into a courtyard castle. In 1410 Henry IV stayed at Middleham Castle. On Ralph Neville's death his oldest son by his first marriage, Ralph Neville, became Earl of Westmorland and inherited Raby and Brancepath Castles. Middleham and Sheriff Hutton Castles were inherited by his oldest son by his second marriage, Richard Neville.
Richard Neville, Earl of Salisbury
Richard Neville was born in 1400 and was appointed Warden of the West March in 1420. In 1425 he married Alice Montacute, heiress and only child of Thomas Earl of Salisbury. In 1429 he inherited the title Earl of Salisbury. In 1431 and 1436 he fought with Henry VI in France. Richard's mother Joan Beaufort lived in Middleham Castle until her death in 1440, upon which Middleham became Richard Neville's chief residence. He improved the castle, heightening the north-west tower and creating the gatehouse out of the north-east tower.
Richard Neville was a leading figure in the early battles of the Wars of the Roses, supporting Richard, Duke of York against Henry VI. Richard, Duke of York, was Salisbury's brother-in-law, having married his sister Cecily in 14291. This fact was not neglected by Shakespeare who features Salisbury in Henry VI: Part Two, including this speech from Act 5 Scene 5.
Now, by my sword, well hast thou fought today;
By th' mass, so did we all. I thank you, Richard.
God knows how long it is I have to live,
And it hath pleased him that three times today
You have defended me from imminent death.
In 1454 Salisbury imprisoned the son of the Earl of Northumberland, Lord Egremont, in Middleham Castle after a skirmish between the Nevilles and the Percys. Salisbury also scattered the royal army at Blore Heath. However, he was captured at the Battle of Wakefield on 30 December, 1460 and executed soon after at Pontefract Castle.
Richard Neville, Earl Of Warwick - 'The Kingmaker'
Richard Neville, Earl of Salisbury's oldest son, Richard, was born in 1428. In 1434 Richard Neville married Anne2, daughter of Richard Beauchamp, Earl of Warwick, and later inherited the title Earl of Warwick. By the time he was 20 Warwick was the third richest man in the country, after the king and Richard, Duke of York.
With his father Salisbury, Warwick sided with Richard, Duke of York in the Wars of the Roses. His support is described by Shakespeare in Henry VI: Part Two in Act 2 Scene 2 as follows:
What plain proceedings is more plain than this?
Henry doth claim the crown from John of Gaunt,
The fourth son; York claims it from the third.
Till Lionel's issue fails, John's should not reign.
In 1460 Salisbury died at the Battle of Wakefield, along with Richard, Duke of York. Warwick then lost the Second Battle of St Albans in February 1461.
Despite this, his cousin Edward - son of Richard, Duke of York and 14 years younger than Warwick - advanced on London and was proclaimed King Edward IV. In 1461 Edward IV stayed at Middleham castle. In 1462, prisoners from the Battle of Hexham were imprisoned in Middleham Castle. Between 1465 and 1468 Edward IV's younger brother Richard, later Richard III, stayed at the castle.
Although Warwick and Edward had been close when younger, it was Warwick who, being older, had dominated their friendship. With Edward now king, despite being granted vast amounts of land as a reward, Warwick wished to remain the dominant figure in England. In 1464 the Seneschal of Abbeville wrote to Louis XI of France 'They tell me they have two rulers in England - Monsieur de Warwick and another, whose name I have forgotten.'
It was in 1464 that the tension between Edward and Warwick came to a head when Warwick had began arrangements for Edward to marry the daughter of the King of France. Edward announced in Reading Abbey that he had already secretly married.
Warwick was incensed and in 1469 imprisoned Edward IV in Middleham Castle following his capture by Warwick's brother the Archbishop of York, and reigned in his name. Warwick later released Edward; however, he changed sides a year later when he attempted to restore Henry VI to the throne. Warwick was killed in the Battle of Barnet in 1471.
Richard III, Duke of Gloucester
After Warwick died in the Battle of Barnet he left two daughters as co-heiresses. The younger, Isabel, was married to Edward IV's brother George Duke of Clarence3. The elder, Anne, had been married to Henry VI's stepson (ie, Queen Catherine's son) Edward, Prince of Wales. Edward was killed at the Battle of Tewkesbury in 1471. On 12 July, 1472 at the age of just 15, Anne married Richard, Duke of Gloucester (Edward IV's youngest brother, later Richard III). Middleham Castle had passed to Richard, who had lived in it during his childhood.
In Richard III William Shakespeare describes Richard's proposal of marriage to Anne over the coffin of Henry VI very dramatically in Act 1 Scene 2:
Was ever woman in this humour wooed?
Was ever woman in this humour won?
I'll have her, but I will not keep her long.
What, I that killed her husband and his father,
To take her in her heart's extremest hate,
With curses in her mouth, tears in her eyes...
And yet to win, all the world to nothing? Ha!
Richard, Duke of Gloucester, now had a vast amount of land in his possession and dominated the north of England. Despite this, his favourite castle was Middleham. It was at Middleham castle that Edward - his son and later Prince of Wales - was born in 1473. Not only did Richard and Anne live at Middleham, but Richard insisted that the penniless and disinherited Countess of Warwick, Anne's mother, stay in Middleham Castle as if it were her home.
Richard and Anne would have known each other closely when Richard stayed at Middleham between 1465 - 1468, yet during their marriage Anne and their son were never entirely well. Edward, Prince of Wales, died at the age of ten in Middleham Castle on 9 April, 1484, one year to the day after the death of King Edward IV. Anne died soon after from tuberculosis on 16 March, 1485 aged 28, although rumours of poisoning circulated.
On 6 July, 1483 Richard was crowned Richard III. After this he spent less time at Middleham, but stayed there from 1 - 10 May, 1484. He was killed at the Battle of Bosworth on 22 August, 1485.
After Richard III
After the Battle of Bosworth Henry VII became king, and Middleham Castle became his. Under the Tudors the castle was ignored and left in disrepair, despite a survey in 1538. In 1604 James I granted the castle to Sir Henry Linley, who made some repairs and lived in the castle until his death there in 1610. It was inherited by his daughter Jane and in 1613 Jane Linley married Edward, 2nd Viscount Loftus, who occupied it until 1644. During the Civil War it was garrisoned but not besieged, and its main function was to be used as a prison.
Despite this, in 1646 Parliament ordered the east range wall to be destroyed along with most of the wall-walks, leaving the castle essentially the shell it is today.
In 1662 the castle was sold to Edward Wood, and the Wood family owned the castle until 1889. The castle was then sold to Samuel Cunliffe-Lister, 1st Lord Masham, and in 1906 the second Lord Masham inherited the castle. In 1925 the castle was acquired by the Office of Works, later to become English Heritage, and is now open to the public.