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Yorkshire's Castles: Bolton Castle

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Yorkshire's Castles
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Bolton Castle may not have the most fascinating history of any Yorkshire castle, but it is certainly one of the best preserved, giving a perfect picture of life in a medieval castle. Bolton Castle is a courtyard castle - a castle whose central point is not a keep or gatehouse, but rather a courtyard.

The Courtyard

The castle has a simple design, being almost square. At each corner stood a five-storey donjonesque tower, similar to the traditional Tower Keep tower.

Between each tower lay a three-storey range of apartments and rooms, with a central courtyard 26 metres long by 15 metres wide. This area is almost always in the shadows caused by the massive towers and ranges, and was used to house livestock especially during times of siege.

From the courtyard are five identical doorways, designed to confuse attackers by not revealing what is behind each door. Two doors are by the two towers on the North range, two doors next to the two towers on the South range, with an additional door halfway along the East range near the entrance. Each door was protected by a portcullis and thick wooden barred door, with machicolations above the corner tower entrance ways from which oil and stones could be dropped onto attackers.

The Towers

The ranges are between 8-11 metres wide with 2-metre-thick outside walls. The longer North and South ranges had smaller turrets riding up halfway between the corner towers offering extra protection. Three of the corner towers have survived, the northeast tower having collapsed after damage caused during the Civil War. Each tower had four corner turrets rising above it. The northeast tower was originally longer along its north-south axis, whilst the other towers have their long axis running east-west.

Other than the thickness of the walls and height of its towers, the castle had nothing else to defend it. It had no moat nor outer curtain, and many have considered Bolton Castle to be a large fortified house rather than a castle.

The East Range

Entrance to the castle was originally through a passageway through the East range of the castle next to the Southeast tower. This was protected by two heavy portcullises, one on the outside and one on the inside of the passageway. The portcullises were operated from a room in the first floor above, which also contained murder holes from which anything from boiling oil to stones could be dropped onto those below. There was also a set of heavy wooden doors on the outside of the passage.

On the first floor lay guards' accommodation chambers next to the main entrance's portcullis winches. This ensured that even when the guards were sleeping they would be able to respond to any danger quickly. On the second floor lay more accommodation chambers.

The Southeast Tower

Next to the entrance way, accessible through the Porter's Lodge in the south range, at the base of the Southeast Tower, was the castle's guardroom. Like the Porter's Lodge, it originally contained a fireplace. After the Civil War siege, the tower was slighted, and the guardroom is now open to the sky. Above the guardroom was the Guard's Mess Hall, accessible up a spiral staircase in the south range. Above this lay accommodation chambers.

The South Range

Porter's Lodge

Just south on the inside of the entrance way, in the south range, lay the porter's lodge. From this small room lay a perfect view of those approaching the castle. It also was placed next to the guardroom in the Southeast tower ensuring it would remain well-protected.

The Ground Floor

With the exception of the Porter's Lodge, the South Range's ground floor was dedicated to providing food for the castle's garrison. Adjacent to the porter's lodge lay the Kneading, Proving and Kitchen Preparation room, which served both the Bakehouse and the Mess Kitchen. Along the south range lay the Meal house where flour and meal were stored. Next to this lay the bakehouse where the castle's bread was baked throughout the day.

By the bakehouse, we'd find the brew house, where the castle's beer was brewed. Fresh water was considered to be unhealthy during the medieval period and so beer was seen to be almost as essential as bread.

The First Floor

On the first floor, above the Porter's Lodge and Kneading Room, lay the Mess Kitchen. Here, in the two stone fireplaces, food for the guards was cooked, to be served in the Mess Hall in the Southeast tower next door. Although this is now ruined, it is believed that the hall would have had a trapdoor to allow heavy carcasses to be winched up to it so they would not have to traverse the narrow spiral staircase.

At the west end of the south range lay the Malting House and Granary, where malt, an essential ingredient in both bread and beer, was made. Grain was soaked and turned, and when prepared, would be sent down a chute to the bakehouse and brewhouse below.

The Second Floor

On the second floor, above the Mess Kitchen, lay the Auditor's Chambers. The Auditor was one of the most important members of the castle's household as he controlled the castle's finances. The Auditor's Chamber contains a hidden safe strongroom accessible only from a trapdoor in the Auditor's Chambers where the castle's gold was stored.

The other half of the South Range, on its west end, was the castle's chapel. This, though now open to the sky, was dedicated to St Anne. The chapel was begun in 1378 but not finished until 1395. The chapel was accessed by a stairway in the Southwest tower and also accessible from the tower's Solar. The chapel's piscina - Holy Water font - has survived, as has the remains of the Lord's private pew. From the chapel lay three priest cells, each equipped with fireplace, lavatory and bed, where the priests would have lived. Sir Richard Scrope in 1399 granted money to Easby Abbey, Richmond, to allow six priests to stay at Bolton Abbey.

Also from the chapel lay a small chamber from which the Chapel Bell, housed in the Southwest Tower, could be rung to call the castle's garrison to worship.

The Southwest Tower

Of the castle's four towers, only the Southwest tower remains fully intact. It was undamaged when the rest of the castle was slighted. It had been damaged by the fire in 1536, but this damage had been repaired in the 16th Century.

The largest room in the tower's ground floor, next to the bakehouse, was the threshing floor and horse mill. Here grain was threshed by hand and ground by the horse mill in order to be baked into bread next door.

The first floor of the tower now contains the castle's giftshop, and was probably used as private chambers. The staircase in the tower, unlike most in medieval castles, spirals anti-clockwise. This meant that anyone ascending the stairs would have the advantage of being able to freely wield their sword without being hampered by the staircase's centre. The reason for this is unknown. However, the staircase does have 'trip steps', steps that are different sizes to the others which were designed to trip anyone running up the staircase who did not know they were there.

The second floor of the tower is taken up by the Solar - one of the principal private apartments of the Lords of Bolton Castle, the Scrope family. This was one of the warmest rooms in the castle as it was best placed to catch the sun and was used as the Scrope's private sitting room, complete with garderobe. When Mary, Queen of Scots, was imprisoned at Bolton Castle this was one of the main rooms she stayed in.

The tower's third floor was the Lady Scrope's private bed-chamber, which had a fireplace and en-suite garderobe. Above, on the fourth floor, was the Lord Scrope's bed-chamber which was similar to the Lady's bed-chamber below. It was in this room that Mary, Queen of Scots, is believed to have slept during her stay between 1568-1569.

Up the spiral staircase above the bedchamber is the tower's battlements, from which a fine view over Wensleydale can be seen, including on a clear day Middleham Castle to the southeast.

The West Range

The ground floor of the West Range of the castle was mainly taken up by the stables, which housed up to ten horses. Next to the stables is the Provender Room, where wooden feed bins would have stored the oats used to feed the horses. Also on the bottom floor was the Forge and Armourer's workshop, where the castle's metalwork from weaponry to horseshoes would have been made. The forge also contained a privy.

The first floor of the west range was the Guest Hall, now used as a tea-room. This was the main reception room for visitors.

On the second floor, on the south side next to the Solar was the nursery. This room contains the only original roof in the castle, most of which was replaced after the fire in 1536. Next to this was the Great Chamber which was a fairly bare room where the Scrope family would have eaten meals.

The Northwest Tower

The Northwest Tower, now an empty shell, was originally used as guest chambers. The chambers on the first and second floor were used by visitors and were only accessible through the North Range's Great Hall. Those on the third and the fourth floors were accessible from the Great Chamber in the East Range.

The North Range

The North Range's ground floor was dominated by store rooms, a wine cellar, and the well chamber. This was built before the castle and served the manor house which was on the site of the castle before it.

Also in the North Range, in the supporting central buttress tower, lay an underground dungeon or oubliette, four metres long by three wide. Although no records survive to tell who was imprisoned here the remains of a human arm still chained to the wall have been found.

On the first floor lay the two-storey Great Hall. This was served by butteries at the east end of the range which were next to the Great Kitchen in the Northeast tower. The butteries were also used as stores. Over the butteries lay a minstrel gallery.

The Northeast Tower

The Northeast tower collapsed in 1761 and very little remains of it. However it used to house the castle's Great Kitchen which served the Great Hall in the North Range.


In comparison with other Yorkshire castles Bolton Castle has had a short history.

Sir Richard Scrope

In 1378 Sir Richard, first Baron Scrope, who had been MP for York, became Lord Chancellor of England - a position of considerable wealth and influence. To celebrate he ordered mason John Lewyn to begin the southern range of the castle in September 1378, when it was believed that work on the North and West ranges had already begun but no evidence to suggest when remains. In July 1370, he received his licence to crenellate from the boy king Richard II. By 1399, at a cost of £12,000 the castle was completed.

In 1393, Sir Richard's oldest son, Sir William Scrope, bought the kingdom of the Isle of Man and was also made Earl of Wiltshire. In 1398 Sir William was appointed Treasurer of England under Richard II, yet in 1399 Richard II was deposed and murdered by his cousin Henry IV who also ordered the execution of William Scrope in Bristol. His father, Richard Scrope, died in 1403 aged 76 with his second son, Sir Roger, 2nd Lord Scrope, inheriting the castle. Yet Roger only lived seven months after his father's death and his son, also called Richard, the 3rd Lord Scrope, inherited.

The Scropes And The Nevilles

Sir Richard Scrope also had a successful career, fighting at Agincourt and marrying very well to Margaret Neville of the powerful Neville family.1 In 1420 on Sir Richard's death his son, Sir Henry, fourth Baron Scrope, inherited. He supported his brother-in-law Richard, Duke of York, against Margaret of Anjou, wife of Henry VI, in the Wars of the Roses. On his death in 1459 his son Sir John Scrope continued supporting the Yorkist cause. Under Richard III, King of England 1483-14852, he was made Captain and Governor of the fleet. After Richard III's death in 1485 he continued to support the Yorkist cause.

In 1487 he supported Lambert Simnel's rebellion against Henry VII. Lambert Simnel claimed to be Edward Neville, son of Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick.3 This rebellion was defeated at the Battle of Stoke, with Simnel sentenced to serving in the King's kitchen, turning the spit, until his death in 1534. Sir John Scrope was pardoned for his involvement on the condition that he lived within 22 miles of London, where Henry VII could monitor his actions.

The Pilgrimage Of Grace

The first major event to take place at Bolton Castle itself took place during the lordship of Sir John Scrope, 8th Baron Scrope. In 1536 Sir John Scrope not only supported the rebellion but allowed Adam Sedbar, Abbot of Jervaulx, sanctuary in the castle. As a punishment in 1538 Henry VIII ordered the castle to be torched, and the destruction in the Southwest tower was extensive. Despite this the damage was repaired by the end of the decade, and Sir John was allowed to serve Parliament until 1552.

Mary Queen Of Scots

The most famous event to have taken place in the castle's history was the stay by Mary, Queen of Scots. After her defeat in Scotland at the Battle of Langside in 1537 she abdicated and fled to England.

This was of great inconvenience to Queen Elizabeth as many English Catholics felt that the Catholic Mary was the legitimate ruler of England, not the Protestant Elizabeth. Although Mary was initially held in Carlisle under the watch of Henry the 9th Lord Scrope, Warden of the Western Marshes and Elizabeth's cousin Sir Francis Knollys, Carlisle proved unsuitable. In July 1568 Mary was moved to Henry Scrope's home, Bolton Castle. Mary was given Henry Scrope's own apartments in the Southwest tower. Of her retinue of 51 knights, servants and ladies-in-waiting only 30 of her men and six ladies-in-waiting were able to stay in the castle, the rest taking lodgings nearby. Her retinue included cooks, grooms, hairdresser, embroiderer, apothecary, physician and surgeon.

Bolton Castle was not initially suitable for housing a Queen, and tapestries, rugs and furniture were borrowed from local houses and nearby Barnard Castle in County Durham. Queen Elizabeth herself loaned some pewter vessels as well as a copper kettle. Mary was allowed to wander the surrounding lands and often went hunting. Her prime occupation while at the castle was having her hair done. But Sir Francis Knollys, whom Mary nicknamed 'Schoolmaster', taught her English, as she only spoke French and Latin. She even met with local Catholics, something for which Knollys and Scrope were severely reprimanded.

In September 1568, Lord Scrope's wife, Lady Scrope, was ordered not to stay at Bolton Castle and lived two miles away as her brother the Duke of Norfolk was believed to be one of those seeking to put Mary on the throne. In January 1569 Mary left Bolton Castle for the last time, being taken to Tutbury in Staffordshire where she spent 18 years before her execution in 1587.

The Civil War

In 1630 the last Baron Scrope, Sir Emmanuel Scrope, 11th Baron and 1st Earl of Sunderland and Lord President of the King's Council in the North, died without any legitimate heirs. Bolton Castle was inherited by his illegitimate son John who, like much of Yorkshire, declared for the King during the English Civil War.

From Autumn 1644 until November 1645 Bolton Castle was besieged by Parliamentary forces, with the Northwest tower suffering the brunt of their bombardment. Sir John surrendering only after the last of the horses and all other animals are eaten, with the garrison inside starving.

As punishment the castle was ordered to be slighted with much of it pulled down, and John Scrope fined £7,000. This was never paid in his lifetime as, after being weakened by the siege, John Scrope died of the plague in 1646 aged only 23.

After The Civil War

Bolton Castle was then inherited by John's sister Mary, whose second husband Charles Powlett, the 6th Marquis of Winchester, became the first Duke Bolton. Seeing the state of the old castle, Charles ordered the construction of a new home for the family, Bolton Hall, and in 1675 the family moved out of Bolton Castle, which was left to decay. In 1761 the Northeast Tower collapsed after not being repaired since the damage during the Civil War.

In 1794 the 6th Duke of Bolton died. Jean Mary Powlett, illegitimate daughter of Charles Powlett, the 5th Duke, inherited. She married Thomas Orde who adopted the Powlett name, becoming the first Lord Bolton in 1797. His son, William Orde-Powlett inherited the castle in 1807. The castle is now owned by his descendant, the Honourable Harry Orde-Powlett.

1Margaret was sister of Cecily Neville, who had married Richard Duke of York and was the mother of the future Edward IV and Richard III. Margaret was also aunt to Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick, the Kingmaker.2In 1472 Richard married Anne Neville. Richard III was therefore Sir John Scrope's mother's great nephew-in-law.3The real Edward Neville was imprisoned in the Tower of London at the time.

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