Middleham Castle

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Middleham Castle

North Riding

Middleham Castle
Grid reference: SE126876
Location: 54°17’3"N, 1°48’25"W
Owned by: English Heritage
Website: Middleham Castle

Middleham Castle stands in splendid ruin in Wensleydale, in the North Riding of Yorkshire. It was built by Robert Fitzrandolph, 3rd Lord of Middleham and Spennithorne, from 1190, near the site of an earlier motte and bailey castle. In 1270 it came into the hands of the Neville family, the most notable member of which was Richard Neville, 16th Earl of Warwick, known to history as "the Kingmaker", a leading figure in the Wars of the Roses.

Following the death of Richard, Duke of York, at the Battle of Wakefield in December 1460, his younger sons, George, Duke of Clarence, and Richard, Duke of Gloucester (later Richard III), came into Warwick's care, and both lived at Middleham with Warwick's own family; Richard was later to marry the Kingmaker's sister, Anne Neville. Their elder brother, King Edward IV, was imprisoned at Middleham for a short time, having been captured by Warwick in 1469. After Warwick died at the Battle of Barnet in 1471 and Edward was restored to the throne, Richard married Anne Neville and they made Middleham their main home. Their son Edward Prince of Wales, known as Edward of Middleham, Prince was born at the castle and later died there.

After Richard seized the throne he spent little or no time at Middleham in his two-year reign. After his death at Bosworth in 1485, the castle remained in royal hands until the reign of James I, when it was sold. It fell into disuse and disrepair during the 17th century. It was garrisoned during the Civil War, but saw no action. The ruins are now in the care of English Heritage.


The gatehouse of Middleham Castle

The castle is a compact, massive structure, and though ruinous, most of the walls are intact. A simple rectangle in plan, the castle consists of a massive Norman keep surrounded by a later curtain wall, to which were then added extensive, palatial residential ranges.

The keep is similar to other large square keeps, but had only two stories. It is divided on both levels by an internal wall, and there are turrets at each corner and midway along each wall. The ground floor has two large, originally vaulted, chambers, and above are two grand halls surrounded by high windows. The entrance is by staircase to the first floor—as was common—and a later chapel outbuilding defends that approach. A repaired spiral staircase leads up to the top of the south-east corner tower, affording views of the surrounding town and countryside, including the original castle motte to the south-west.

The 13th century curtain wall surrounds the keep concentrically, making the castle into a compact and effective defensive structure, though it was built more for comfort than security. In the 15th century the Nevilles constructed an impressive range of halls and outbuildings against these walls, turning the castle into a truly magnificent residence, fit for nobles of their stature. Bridges at first-floor level were built to connect these to the keep, and the ceiling above the great hall was also raised, either to provide a clerestory or space for another chamber.

The entrance to the castle is through a tower in the north-east corner, though this was also a 15th-century modification. Only foundations remain of the original gatehouse, facing east into the now-vanished outer ward. Apart from this east wall, however, the circuit of the walls is fairly complete, though the walls of the residential buildings are gone. Some restoration was done on the castle in modern times, but there is extensive damage to the lower faces of the keep. Windows and doorways have crumbled away, floors have fallen in, and none of the battlements remain.

Still, the castle is an impressive ruin, and the sense of its original strength and grandeur remains.

Outside links

("Wikimedia Commons" has material
about Middleham Castle)