Castle of the Week 46 – Raby Castle

Raby Castle is another from the north-east of England. It was built by the Nevills (the most powerful family in the north) in the 14th century on land that held been held by their ancestor, King Canute, in the early 11th century.

They built the castle as a fortified manor house in 1360 and fortifications were added after John Nevill received a licence to add crenellations. It comprised eight huge towers connected by a curtain wall with a central keep in a small courtyard. It was built only one entrance, a fortified gateway which was reached by a narrow path across a moat. Its appearance was of soaring towers and impregnable walls.

The Nevills held the castle until 1569 when it went to the crown as punishment for their supporting the failed Rising of the North in support of Mary Queen of Scots and the Catholic faith. They had decided against a rebellion when Charles Nevill’s wife stormed into the hall and accused them of being cowards, so they fought Queen Elizabeth’s men and lost. He fled firstly to Scotland and then to Holland. His ghost is the first of the three said to haunt Raby where he can be seen pacing the Baron’s Hall.

In 1626 Sir Henry Vane, Treasurer to Charles I, bought Raby from the crown and it still belongs to his descendants. Sir Henry didn’t think much of the castle itself and was more interested in the land although he did entertain the king twice. He fell from favour and supported Parliament in the Civil War, the castle being attacked and besieged five times.

When the Stuarts returned, he was imprisoned and executed after a trumped up treason charge. He wasn’t allowed to speak at his execution and trumpeters played loudly to drown his voice. His ghost is the third said to haunt the castle. He sits writing in the library with his separated head on the desk, lips moving, still trying to be heard.

Sir Henry’s grandson caused more damage than the Civil War did. He was so annoyed at his son’s marriage that he started to demolish the castle so it couldn’t be inherited. He pulled up the floors, stripped the lead from the roof and sold most of the furniture. His wife, the first Lady Barnard, is the second ghost and is said to stalk round the castle with wild glowing eyes, knitting with white-hot needles. Gilbert (their son) had to take him to court to stop him damaging it further although, while the court case was going on, Henry still managed to kill all the deer and cut down most of the trees in the park. Gilbert succeeded eventually in 1723 and set about repairing his father’s damage. However it was his son, the 1st Earl of Darlington, who repaired the castle, transforming the interior into comfortable rooms for living in.

In the 1840s more interior alterations were made including an octagonal drawing room. The south front was faced with masonry which looked strange against the medieval stones. They tried to dye it unsuccessfully until, in the 1870s, an old mason suggested bullock’s blood which worked.

Raby Castle is open to the public, furnished in a mixture of 18th and 19th century styles. The oldest parts that can still be seen are the kitchens which date back to 1360 and the medieval baron’s hall with the original minstrels’ gallery. It is surrounded by a 200 acre deer park together with walled gardens and 18th century stables, now converted to a tea room.

Write-up provided by GillB. Pictures courtesy of Jayhawk.