Revised, edited, revamped and completely rewritten on August 28, 2009
Middleham Castle sits in the heart of North Yorkshire near Leyburn, at Wensleydale, Middleham’s village. Its neighbors include Bolton Castle (which looks down on Middleham it is such a short distance away), Richmond Castle, a little further north and Skipton Castle to the south on the other side of Wharedale. All of them sit in Yorkshire Dales National Park, mostly a farming landscape full of steep-sided valleys and high moorlands.
The castle is an impressive two story structure, with three storied towers, but the origin of the castle, the predecessor, started on William’s Hill and was built by Alan the Red who also built Richmond Castle. The ringwork that is left was built on higher ground southwest of the present site. That early Norman establishment brought Ribald Fitz Ranulf to the area and he built Middleham Castle’s original rectangular keep during the 1170s. This 100 ft long hall-keep was divided lengthways by a crosswall with a solar standing over undercrofts, however, much is in ruin. A stone staircase which once led to a first floor doorway is gone and there is no forebuilding which may also have been removed. A large fireplace in the crosswall remains and appears to have been part of a kitchen in the undercroft. A new solar was built during the occupation of the Nevilles, one hundred years later, along with a moat and more buildings in the 15th century.
Ralph Neville started enlarging the castle by 1300 adding the quadrangular curtain wall around the keep, a` la King Edward- which means the curtain stood closely to the enlarged keep. That original curtain was lower than it is now but the towers were oblong and did not project outside the curtain. Only the southwest corner was given a rounded flanking tower. Eventually the Earl of Warwick came into possession of the castle and from 1461 to 1471 it was a political and social powerhouse.
When Middleham became Richard’s home through marriage to the Earl of Warwick’s daughter, he was appointed Viceroy of the North after a succession of Ralphs and Richards. They had a son but he died at the mere age of ten. Much building went on with new lodging added against the curtain on three sides, a northeast corner tower was made into a gate tower and the curtain wall was heightened considerably. Most of the work has been attributed to Ralph Neville, Earl of Westmorland, however. When Richard took possession it was considered the strongest fortress of the north and it was his favorite residence, as well. He became King during the War of the Roses which was a bitter power struggle between the split factions of the royal family- namely the houses of York and Lancaster. He was appointed King upon the death of his brother Edward IV and he ruled from 1483 to 1485.
Many people feel that they know the story of Richard III well, thanks to the works of Shakespeare and Sir Thomas More, who painted him as a villain and immortalized him as the worst kind of scoundrel but current trends of thought have proven otherwise.
His crime was thought to have been putting his brother’s two young sons in the White Tower, imprisoning them after Edward’s death and murdering them. All that was known at the time was that they disappeared without a trace. No ill reputation has been more undeserved. Much of what was written about him is totally false, including the final insult of being accused, by the media of his day, of murdering Edward IV’s two sons, his nephews. He was never officially charged and everyone should be reminded that there were no less than eleven other people alive who had better claims under the law of primogeniture than himself.
A good book to read on this subject is Thomas B. Costain’s "The Last Plantagenets" paying particular attention to Chapter 9 in Part Two: The Red and The White and all of Part Three: The Great Mystery. I feel that the viewpoints and the logic surrounding the actual information available is worth reading to see how the intrigue didn’t fit the man.
The primary claimant, Edward of Warwick, who Richard originally appointed as his successor was immediately locked up in the White Tower (where they claim to have found the skeletal remains of two children in 1674 and then later recanted and said they were found the the Bloody Tower!) after Richard III was killed on Bosworth Field in 1485. Some historians claim that Henry VII had Richard III’s crown placed on his head immediately after skewering Richard III in battle. This, however, would have been totally out of line and just not done.
Other claimants were treated rather badly such as Princess Margaret (Edward of Warwick’s sister) who was beheaded by Henry VIII for apparently still being alive and an illegitmate son of Richard III was also executed meanly when he tried to leave the country. One reminds oneself that it was the severe policy of the Tudors to rid themselves of all rivals to the throne. This isn’t to say the Plantagenets didn’t have such a severe policy themselves!
After Richard III’s death, by 1600 the castle was essentially abandoned and many of the stones were carried off and used in construction of other buildings. Henry VII supposedly seized Middleham after Richard’s death and it remained a royal castle until the 17th century but no royal visits are recorded. Interestingly, it was garrisoned during the Civil War, but Middleham was never besieged. It is currently under the protection of English Heritage who has kept the basic look it had since the 19th century. However, the ruins still awe visitors and the view of the countryside from the keep is breathtaking. It is regularly visited by tourists today.
The Castle Lady bringing you much love always!
To see more photos of Middleham and North Yorkshire see the large photo album in PHOTOS.