Middlham Castle

After the Norman Conquest, in 1069, the land around Middleham was given to Alan Rufus or ‘Alan the Red’, a nephew of William the Conqueror. Rufus built a wooden motte-and-bailey castle, 500 yards to the south-west of where the present castle stands, on a site known as William’s Hill. It was built to guard Coverdale and to protect the road from Richmond to Skipton. Alan Rufus was also the builder of nearby Richmond Castle. By the time of the Domesday Book in 1086 Middleham had been granted to Alan Rufus’s brother Ribald. This early castle was abandoned in the 12th century when a new castle was built centred around a massive stone keep. The construction of the present castle began around 1170 by Robert Fitzrandolph (grandson of Ribald) during the reign of Henry II when he built the keep and original bailey. The keep, one of the largest in England, had twelve foot thick walls and three floors; for its time, this would have provided palatial accommodation. It contained a great chamber, large kitchen, chapel, dovecot, cellars and the living rooms of the lord of Middleham.
At each end of the keep’s vaulted basement there were two wells (which can still be seen today). The thirteenth century curtain walls formed an enclosure around 250 feet on each side. In the fourteenth and fifteenth century the garrison quarters, stables and stores were housed within these walls.
Original entry was via a gatehouse on the East side of the castle across a wooden bridge (possibly having a drawbridge over a now dry moat). The huge wooden gates and probable portcullis must have presented an awesome first impression! The present day entrance to the castle is through the Northern gatehouse, known as the ‘Neville Gate’.
Middleham Castle became home to some of the most powerful lords of the 15th century, including Salisbury, Warwick and Richard, Duke of Gloucester, later King Richard III, he was particularly fond of Middleham, preferring it to any of his other castles. The round tower at the south-west corner of the curtain wall, traditionally known as the Prince’s Tower, is said to be where Richard’s son Prince Edward was born and died.
After Richard was killed at the Battle of Bosworth in 1485 Henry VII became king, and Middleham Castle became his. Under the Tudors the castle was left to fall into disrepair.
In 1604 James I granted the castle to Sir Henry Linley, who made some repairs and lived there until his death in 1610 when his daughter Jane Linley then inherited the castle. In 1613 Jane married Edward, 2nd Viscount Loftus, who occupied it until 1644. During the Civil War it was to be used as a prison.
In 1646 Parliament ordered the east range wall be destroyed along with most of the wall-walks, thus leaving the castle the shell it is today.
In 1662 it was sold to Edward Wood, his family owning the castle until 1889. It was then sold to Samuel Cunliffe-Lister, 1st Lord Masham, and was inherited by the second Lord Masham in 1906. In 1925 the Office of Works, later to become English Heritage, acquired the castle and it is now in their keeping and open to the public.