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Middleham Castle

Also known as, or recorded in historical documents as;
Midleham; Myllam; Middelham

In the civil parish of Middleham.
In the historic county of Yorkshire.
Modern Authority of North Yorkshire.
1974 county of North Yorkshire.
Medieval County of Yorkshire North Riding.

OS Map Grid Reference: SE12678762
Latitude 54.28406° Longitude -1.80688°

Middleham Castle has been described as a certain Masonry Castle, and also as a certain Palace.

There are major building remains.

This site is a scheduled monument protected by law.
This is a Grade 1 listed building protected by law*.


Middleham Castle is situated in the town of Middleham in Leyburn, North Yorkshire. The monument consists of a single area containing the impressive standing remains of the Norman keep, begun in the mid-twelfth century, the fourteenth century curtain wall and later domestic buildings, and the surrounding ditched enclosure. The keep is of the rarer type of tower keep, known as a hall keep. It is rectangular in plan, measuring 32m x 24m, with ashlar faced walls up to 3.7m thick. Originally entered at first floor level from a flight of stairs up the east side, it is divided longitudinally by a central wall. The floor at this level has gone, but the eastern half contained the great hall and the western half the lord's private chamber, or solar, and inner chamber. Below, the basement floor contained a vaulted cellar to the east and, to the west, the main kitchen and a smaller cellar. Garderobes (latrines) can be seen on the main floor to south and west, extending into turrets added in the fourteenth century when the walls of the keep were heightened by the addition of a clerestory, a row of windows set above the main storey to let in light. Of similar or later date is the great window looking out of the lord's solar over Wensleydale, created by knocking through the wall between two earlier, Norman windows. Built on to the east side of the keep is a thirteenth century chapel which originally had three storeys, the two lower serving as a vestry and possible priest's lodging. The upper storey contained the chapel itself and was entered from the hall. Adjoining the chapel building to the east is the base of a tower which contained a gateway to a bridge over the east ditch. An abutment on the outer bank of the east ditch shows where the bridge led to the outer ward of the castle. This eastern outer ward is now built over and does not form part of the scheduling. The ditch is visible on the north and east sides of the castle, and also 40m to the south, where it appears to have been modified at some stage to form a fishpond. The ditch is less than 10m wide and, currently, only c.5m deep; it therefore does not seem to have formed part of a formidable defensive system. Although the early keep must have had outer defences, the only standing remains at Middleham are of the curtain wall round the inner ward, which was first built in the early fourteenth century. The earliest sections consist of a 7.3m high wall with a parapet walk, extant on all four sides of the enclosure, and the bases of the main gatehouse and three corner towers. The walls and all but the south-east tower were heightened in the late fourteenth century and service rooms and lodgings were built against the curtain from the fourteenth century onwards, first along the south and west walls and later the north. The north-west tower, already heightened in the late fourteenth century, was enlarged and heightened again at the time these lodgings were constructed in order to provide garderobes for the new north range. This range contained six separate lodgings which, like those of the other ranges, were intended for retainers, guests and officials. Another garderobe tower was built midway along the west curtain. In the fifteenth or sixteenth centuries, a horse mill and large oven were added to the south range. The tower keep castle was begun in the mid-twelfth century by Ralph FitzRanulph and represents a shift from the site of the earlier Norman ringwork known as William's Hill, 300m to the south-west. Through marriage to Ralph's daughter Mary, the castle passed to the Nevilles of Raby until passing in 1460 to the 'Kingmaker', Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick. After his death in 1471, it was forfeited to the Crown. Edward IV then gave it to his brother Richard of Gloucester, later Richard III. Richard married Anne Neville, the Kingmaker's daughter, and their only son, Edward, was born at Middleham and also died there. After Richard's death, Middleham passed to Henry VII and remained Crown property until 1604 when it was given by James I to Sir Henry Lindley. Having passed through a number of hands since that time, it came into State care in 1930 and is also a Grade I Listed Building. (Scheduling Report)

Ruined castle. C12, C13, C14 and C15. Ashlar and rubble. Large rectangular keep of 1170s standing to its full height, divided to form Hall and Great Chamber on the first floor, formerly with an external staircase approach. Late C13 chapel annexe. Curtain wall of C12 and C13, with irregularly-shaped angle towers, including a round tower on south-west known as the Prince's Tower. C14 gatehouse to north-east with diagonal turrets, and machicolations above the segmental-arched opening, and inside a single- chamfered rib-vault. On 3 sides of curtain wall, living and service ranges were added in the C14 and C15. From 1270 the castle belonged to the Nevill family of Raby. Anne Nevill married Richard, Duke of Gloucester, later Richard III, in 1470, and in 1473 their only child, Edward, was born in Middleham Castle, according to tradition in the Prince's Tower. Later, Nevill property reverted to the Crown. (Listed Building Report)

The original form of the Princes Tower is now rather lost under later alterations but it was clearly different from the other corner towers of the castle. It is the most private part of the castle, furthest from the entry gates and on the opposite side of the castle from the town. It has excellent views over what were probably the castle gardens. In a radio essay broadcast in Jan 2015 Roberta Gilchirst discusses women's spaces in castles, mentions Middleham in context of the find of a gold pendant, which she suggests was a women's childbirth amulet, and, more generally, states women's spaces were in the most private parts of castles. Gatehouse would suggest the Princes Tower was not only used as women's quarters but that it unusual form was a deliberate decision to architectural mark this tower as female space. That is there was a deliberate decision to make this castle a place for high status women to give birth and raise infants.
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Sources of information, references and further reading
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This record last updated 26/07/2017 09:20:09

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