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Yorkshire's Castles: Richmond Castle

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Richmond Castle.

Richmond Castle is a uniquely-shaped triangular castle north of a steep cliff above the river Swale. It is one of the oldest stone castles in the country, and contains England's oldest Great Hall. It stands on a defendable triangle of land above steep cliffs on two sides known as the Riche Mount1, a name which soon became Richmond.

The castle is shaped as a rough equilateral triangle with a south wall above the river, an eastern and western walls meeting at the keep at the northernmost point. Around the keep just outside the triangle lies the remains of the barbican which protected the keep and the gatehouse into the castle.

The Barbican

In order to gain entrance to the castle the visitor would first travel through the barbican, a defended walled area outside the castle, which defended the castle's gatehouse. Although little of the barbican survives, it originally consisted of a walled enclosure defended by three turrets around the keep on the north side of the castle. Entrance to the barbican was over bridge over a dry moat that separated the castle from the town of Richmond, and through the barbican's gatehouse, which had its own portcullis. The barbican was first recorded in 1171.

The Curtain Wall

The western wall of the castle is relatively bare. Although it survives to almost its original height in the most part, there is little to see. At its southern corner there remains a small corner tower. There is a postern gate a quarter of the way along this side where a chapel once stood. There is also a 33 metre part of the wall which no longer exists. Schemes in 1538 to build two new towers on this side of the castle were never carried out, leaving it undefended. Little also remains of the southern side.

The eastern side of the castle is by far the most complete. Just east of the keep, and inside the ring formed by the barbican, is a modern reconstruction of the castle's 12th century gateway, which originally was protected by a gatehouse tower and portcullis.

There are three towers on the eastern wall, each 6.5 metres square. The middle one had frail foundations and collapsed after 1538. The tower nearest the keep on the eastern side is known as the 'Robin Hood' tower. Like the other two towers on the eastern wall, it was originally built to the height of the wall - having two stories and battlements above - but was later increased in height by a further two stories around 1300. These are now ruined, but were originally used as bedchambers. The ground floor room was St. Nicholas's Chapel which contained an altar and stone benches.

Gold Hole Tower And Scolland's Hall

On the south-east corner lies the Gold Hole tower which is attached to Scolland's Hall. The tower defends a gateway out to a walled garden on the eastern side of the castle known as the Cockpit. This walled garden once even had its own gateway and tower, which no longer exists. The Gold Hole tower also served as the latrine for the hall.

Scolland's Hall itself is the oldest great hall in England. It was named after the first constable of the castle who died in 1150 after nearly sixty years' service. The hall has two stories, the upper consisting of a great hall and solar, or withdrawing chamber, the lower floor used for storage. The hall was originally battlemented, yet only the walls survive leaving the hall open to the sky. Entrance to the great hall was originally up a flight of stairs and through a grand archway.

Nearest the Gold Hole Tower was the solar, over the gateway to the Cockpit garden. This was the Lord of the Castle's private chamber, where he would sleep away from those in the great hall. The section of hall next to the solar was the high end of the hall, where the head of the castle ate at the high table on a dais over the rest of the hall. At the low end of the hall were the doors to the adjacent kitchen, buttery and pantry. In 1300 the hall was damaged by fire and rebuilt in places.

The Keep

At first glance Richmond Castle's keep looks like a standard tower keep, yet this is misleading. The tower was originally built as the castle's gatehouse and still contains the original archway on the inside of the castle. In the mid 12th Century, under Duke Conan2, the gatehouse was converted into the lofty 100ft high keep that exists today. The tower was built with more than mere defence in mind - it is at the centre of the town of Richmond and originally contained a balcony over the town from which Conan could address the town.

Although the archway of the original gateway survives, it was not the principal entrance to the keep. This was through an outside staircase, now replaced by a Victorian block. The ground floor was also altered in the reign of Edward I, who built a pillar in the centre of the original entrance to strengthen the castle as well as an internal spiral stairway connecting the ground floor to the first floor.

The first floor contains a chamber with a high ceiling which originally held the castle's balcony, and two small rooms. On the second floor there lies a lobby and a large chamber with the castle's roof above. This would have been a great hall with a dais for the lord near the windows at the far end of the keep. Above this lies the parapet and four small corner towers.

The History Of The Castle

The history of Richmond Castle is linked with that of the Honour of Richmond, a vast estate of land that stretched across eight counties and even included the Duchy of Brittany in France. Due to this, he who held the Honour of Richmond held allegiance to both the kings of England and France, an impossible task when for most of the last millennium the two have been at war.

In 1071 Edwin, the Earl of Mercia, died and his lands in Yorkshire were granted to Alan the Red, Count of Penthievre, in Brittany and nephew of William the Conqueror. Although a 12th century poem states that William himself built the castle in 1068, it is more likely that Count Alan built the castle in the early 1070s. The Domesday book of 1086 mentions the "castlery of Richmond" although it does not describe the castle itself. The castle is believed to have been almost complete by the time of Alan's death in 1089. Unusually for a castle of this period, the castle was built in stone from the beginning. Richmond is therefore the castle with the most 11th Century stonework in Great Britain.

After the death of Alan the Red, the castle passed first to his brother Alan Niger, and then to his younger brother Stephen. In 1136 the castle was inherited by Stephen's son Alan, the first Earl of Richmond. He married Bertha, daughter and heiress of the Duke of Brittany. Alan's son, Duke Conan, therefore became both Duke of Brittany and Earl of Richmond, owning vast amounts of land in both Britain and France. Duke Conan built the barbican and expanded the original gatehouse, transforming it into the magnificent keep that still stands today.

In 1145 the town of Richmond became a borough.

Conan And Constance

Duke Conan was considered to be too wealthy and a potential threat to the monarch. King Henry II therefore persuaded Conan to resign Brittany to him in 1166, betrothing his only daughter Constance to Henry's eldest son Geoffrey. On Duke Conan's death in 1171 Henry II claimed the Honour of Richmond and remained so until Constance married Geoffrey in 1181. In 1174 William the Lion, King of Scotland, was imprisoned in the castle after his capture at Alnwick before his removal to York.

Geoffrey and Constance had two children, Arthur, Duke of Brittany and Eleanor. Geoffrey died in 1186, three years before his older brother Richard the Lion Heart became King and nineteen years before his younger brother, John, claimed the throne. For a time Constance's second husband, Ranulf de Blundeville, Earl of Chester, held the Honour of Richmond until the marriage was annulled in 1197.

Constance then held the honour of Richmond until her death in 1201 when it was held by her third husband.

Richmond During The Reigns Of King John And King Henry III

On the death of King Richard in 1199, Constance and Prince Geoffrey's oldest son Arthur, was direct heir to the throne. This was because he was the son of Richard's brother Geoffrey and was older than John. John claimed the throne, and captured Arthur in 1203, killing him in 1204. John not only was an extremely incompetent king, he was also unpopular, especially with the inhabitants of Richmond Castle. In 1207 Roald, the castle's constable, refused to state the castle's contents when John wished to have them taxed. Roald was then stripped of his post and forced to buy it back for over 200 marks. In 1215 Richmond Castle supported the northern revolt against John. John besieged the castle and imprisoned Roald until 1216, yet little evidence survives of the siege.

In 1218 Peter de Braine, who had married Constance's oldest daughter by her third marriage, obtained part of the Honour of Richmond and became Duke of Brittany. When de Braine sided with the King of France against King Henry III in 1240, it was held by Peter of Savoy until he held Richmond Castle against Henry III during the Montfort rebellion of 1265. Peter de Braine's son John then held the Honour of Richmond and had married Henry III's daughter Beatrice in 1260. John, Duke of Brittany, supported the King of France against King Henry III in 1294 and lost the Honour of Richmond until he was re-instated in 1298.

Before The Tudors

In the following two centuries although the title of Richmond was constantly changing, the castle itself was little touched. On the death of Duke John in 1341 Edward III made his fourth son, John of Gaunt 3, Earl of Richmond. He surrendered the Earldom when he became King of Castile and gained the castle at Knaresborough.

Richmond was then returned to the Duke of Brittany, and remained so until 1384 when the Honour of Richmond was granted by Richard II to his wife Anne of Bohemia, who died in 1394. In 1399 Henry IV granted Richmond to Ralph Neville, Earl of Westmorland and Lord of Middleham Castle. In 1425 Henry VI's uncle John, Duke of Bedford, brother of Henry V and third son of Henry IV, held the earldom until his death in 1435.

The Tudors

After the death of Henry V in 1422 his French wife, Catherine of Valois, daughter of King Charles VI of France and mother of Henry VI, secretly married a Welsh squire Owen Tudor in 1428 and had four children. The eldest son, Edmund Tudor, was later father to Henry Tudor who became Henry VII. The fact that the Queen had married Owen Tudor was only discovered on her death in 1437, much to the surprise of her son Henry VI. Fortunately Henry VI was delighted to discover he had step-brothers and made Edmund Earl of Richmond in 1453. He was less pleased with his stepfather Owen, whom he twice had arrested, and in 1428 an Act was passed making it illegal for any man to marry a Queen-dowager without the King's permission4.

In 1456 Edmund Tudor died. His son Henry Tudor, later Henry VII, used the title Earl of Richmond although Richmond Castle was itself held by the three sons of Richard of York, Edward IV, George, Duke of Clarence and Richard Duke of Gloucester, later Richard III. Indeed, it is as "Richmond" that Henry VII is known in both Shakespeare's Richard III and also in Henry VI: Part III, where he is described in Act 4 Scene 7 thus:


My liege, it is young Henry, Earl of Richmond.
King Henry:
Come hither, England's hope. If secret powers
Suggest but truth to my divining thoughts,
This pretty lad will prove our country's bliss.
His looks are full of peaceful majesty,
His head by nature framed to wear a crown,
His hand to wield a sceptre, and himself
Likely in time to bless a regal throne.

Despite the prestige that went with the Honour of Richmond, the castle itself remained out-dated. The castle itself, although well defended, was not in a strategic location. Not only was it far from London and the King and court, it was not even within easy travelling distance from York or on a major trade route.

In 1525 Henry VIII made his illegitimate son Henry Fitzroy Duke of Richmond. After his death in 1538, aged just 17, a survey was carried out on the castle which recommended the construction of two towers on the western side of the castle, and one on the north of the Cockpit, yet nothing came of this. The castle was allowed to decay.

The Castle From 1600 To 2000

In 1623 James I made Ludovic Stuart Duke of Richmond. In 1641 Charles I made James Stuart, Earl of Lennox, the Duke of Richmond. Five dukes inherited this title before their line died out in 1672. Charles II then made Charles Lennox, one of his illegitimate sons, Duke of Richmond in 1675. Although some work was done to repair the keep and battlements in the 1760s, little was done to the castle. It was a popular subject with painters, and was even painted by Turner in 1799.

In 1854 the latest Duke of Richmond leased the castle to the North York Militia, and it was used as their headquarters. In 1855 a barrack block was built against the west wall and a storage block built next to the main gate. In 1908 the castle became the headquarters of the Northern Territorial Army and was commanded by Robert Baden-Powell5 until 1910.

The Richmond Sixteen

During the Great War the castle was occupied by the Northern Non-Combatant Corps. This was a uniformed branch of the army which conscientious objectors were forced to enter. Those who refused to help the war effort in any way or even wear a uniform were imprisoned in the storage block next to the gateway.

The army, determined to make an example of these men, forced sixteen men from the castle on the 29th May 1916, taking them to Boulogne. There they were put before a tribunal charged with disobedience to orders in the face of the enemy, a crime punishable by execution by firing squad. After being sentenced to death a public campaign forced the army to rethink, and the sixteen were sentenced to ten years' hard labour.

The barrack block was demolished in 1931, and the castle played no part in the Second World War. The castle is now in the care of English Heritage.

1'Riche Mount' means 'Strong Hill'.2Not to be confused with the fictional Conan The Barbarian.3The future founder of the House of Lancaster.4This Act which has since been expanded to include all the immediate members of the Royal Family and still applies today.5Founder of the famous Boy Scout movement.

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