Castle of the Week 25 – Skipton Castle

The original Skipton Castle was built in 1090 to stop the rampaging Scots in their frequent incursions into northern England .. mostly unsuccessfully. It has been the centre of several battles during its history and still stands in the middle of the town, one of the most complete and well preserved medieval castles in England. The castle was built on top of a rocky bluff with rising ground to the front and a sheer 100 foot precipice down to a beck behind. The very first castle was a primitive palisaded wooden fort but this was soon replaced by a stone structure.

The earliest remains are from the beginning of the 1200s, namely a Norman archway and the inner gate-house. At this time there would have been a bigger moat and a drawbridge, and there are still traces of a portcullis in the gateway. Water came into the castle by means of wooden pipes, but when under siege there was a cistern which collected the rainwater dripping off the roof.

Skipton Castle was granted to the Clifford family by Edward II in 1310 and they remained lords of the castle until 1676. Robert de Clifford, first Lord of Skipton, started enlarging and rebuilding the castle in a concentric style as soon as it came into his possession. The outer gatehouse dates from this time. He was killed at Bannockburn in 1314 and, after the battle, the Scots over-ran the north of England, sacking the town of Skipton in 1318 although the castle was ignored.

In 1485 Henry, the 10th Lord of Skipton, rebuilt the living quarters in the Tudor Conduit Court and the Tudor entrance to the castle and in 1536 his son, a good friend of Henry VIII, built the Tudor wing in honour of his son’s marriage to the King’s niece. In the same year, the castle was besieged by a large army of rebels under the command of Robert Aske during the Pilgrimage of Grace.The lord remained loyal to the king and defended the castle after most other northern castles had surrendered.

During the Civil War, the castle, with a garrison of 300 men, was a Royalist stronghold (the only one left in the north) and was besieged for three years. Finally a surrender was negotiated in 1645 with immense damage having been done and Oliver Cromwell subsequently ordered the roof to be removed so it could not be used to garrison troops as he considered it one of the most serious obstacles to his northern campaign.

Lady Anne Clifford oversaw the extensive repairs following the war, with the proviso that it should no longer be defensible, and in 1659 she planted the yew tree in the central courtyard which is still there today to mark the end of repairs. There is also an inscription above the main entrance commemorating the restoration. She was the last Clifford to own the castle and when she died without an heir in 1676, it passed to the Earls of Thanet.

In 1956 it was acquired by the present owners and can be visited. The entrance is through a gatehouse between two huge drum towers with the motto of the Clifford family – Desormais (henceforth) above the entrance. The outer bailey is surrounded by a curtain wall and a moat on three sides. Inside are the residential buildings of the castle which are slightly raised and surrounded by a semi-circular curtain wall with six large round towers.

Write-up & some pictures provided by GillB . Other pictures are from the Skipton Castle site.


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