Uncovering the history of Middleham Castle with Dr Emma Wells

in Middleham

11 miles south of Richmond perches the historic market town of Middleham, located within the Wensleydale valley of North Yorkshire, and famed for its dominating 12th-century castle ruins of which only a few serrated shapes punctuate the sky. Yet this stunning backdrop was once one of the largest castles in England and is often given the moniker ‘The Windsor of the North’.

Though this was the second castle constructed in the town—the earthworks of the first motte and bailey are situated on a rise nearby—the current ruined fortification began life as a residence for the powerful Neville family, who held the castle until the late 15th century. Constructed on a quadrangular plan, its great keep forming the core which still stands to its full height, there also survives part of the incorporated hall and Great Chamber, both of which were originally reached only by an external stair.

When Edward IV ascended to the throne in 1461, his younger brother, Richard, was made Duke of Gloucester. He later acquired the Neville land in the area, then married Richard Neville, 16th Earl of Warwick’s (‘the Kingmaker’) daughter, Anne.

In 1483, Richard became king, using Middleham Castle as a northern bolthole throughout his reign. Upon Richard’s death at the Battle of Bosworth in 1485, the castle reverted to the Crown, and was subsequently left to deteriorate over the next few centuries. Nevertheless, antiquary John Leland described it as ‘the fairest castel of Richemontshire next Bolton’.

Leased as a farmyard then used as a prison, it would not be until 1930 that Middleham was gifted to the state. It is now under the protective wing of English Heritage.

In the 1980s, a metal detectorist discovered on a nearby bridle path a remarkable 15th-century jewelled lozenge pendant. Known as the ‘Middleham Jewel’, it may have been owned by a relation of Richard III, possibly his wife, and is now housed in the Yorkshire Museum, though a replica can be found on display near the castle.

The Middleham Jewel © York Museums Trust/Yorkshire Museum

Books by Dr Emma Wells

1 thought on “Uncovering the history of Middleham Castle with Dr Emma Wells”

  1. The motte and Bailey castle referred to is not ‘to the east’ of the present English Heritage castle, but on a rise to the south west, as it would seem to anyone who has actually visited the site to be obvious.
    The replica Middleham jewel is not in the castle, but in the church.


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