Monday, 8 April 2013

Middleham Castle

Nestling in the quite countryside of the magnificent Yorkshire Dales is Middleham Castle, the childhood home of King Richard III. Middleham is a perfect example of a castle designed for luxurious living rather than defence. Although it still retained features found in the defensive castles of old: high, impenetrable walls, crenulations and, of course, a drawbridge across a wide moat, it really was a palatial home, with all the stare-of-the-art amenities required in a fifteenth-century des-res.

In Richard’s time, the main entrance was the East Gatehouse, accessed via a drawbridge. Today visitors enter the castle through the gatehouse on the north side. This still contains
the remains of stone benches and a portcullis, while faces watch from the shadows above.

The castle complex was massive; the twelfth-century keep alone measured 32 by 24 metres; a second floor was added to it at some point during the fifteenth century. The living area on the first floor was reached by a well-guarded, exposed wooden staircase with a porter’s lodge situated half-way up. The staircase opened onto a small ante room, which led into an impressive Great Hall in the eastern side of the keep.

The Great Hall was the business centre of the castle. The Lord of Middleham would sit on a raised area at the end of the Hall as he receive his guests, heard petitions and conducted his business. One of the most noticeable features of the Hall is the large windows. These allowed the soft light to flood in, which reflected off the plastered and whitewashed walls, lending a sunny and airy feel to the room. The starkness of the d├ęcor was diffused by tapestries and colourful painted features, while its fireplace and open hearth ensured that it was warm and welcoming. There are two doorways at the northern end of the Great Hall, one leading to a small private chapel, the other to the Great Chamber. Servants bearing food and drink from the kitchen used a spiral staircase that was built into a tower at the south-east corner of the keep.

On the upper level of the west side of the keep was the Great Chamber. With its large fireplace, latrine, cupboards and wash-room complete with drain, this room was both comfortable and functional. Separated from it by a partition in the southern wall was another, smaller inner chamber, the Privy Chamber. This also had its own latrine, cupboards and large fireplace, and it was here that the lord of Middleham spent his private moments.

The ground floor of the keep was taken up by the kitchen on the west side and a cellar on the east. The windows of the kitchen were small and set high into the walls. Four large recesses held cupboards, wells sunk into the floor provided water and drains took away waste. The circular containers built into the floor are believed to have been fish tanks. Food was cooked on the large hearth, which was set into the dividing wall between the kitchen and the cellar.

The buildings along the outer ranges date mainly from the 12th or 13th centuries.  The north range features the auditor’s chamber and kitchen, which another set of chambers following on.

The highlight of the west range is the Garderobe Tower, a latrine block which was accessed at ground level from the courtyard or from the first floor of the inner chamber opposite via across a bridge. Beyond the Garderobe Tower is the Bakehouse and Nursery tower, where the remains of ovens can still be seen.

The Princes Tower on the south-western corner of the outer buildings is traditionally held to be where Richard’s son, Edward of Middleham, was born. Certainly, it is well-appointed, with three chambers, all of which are furnished with fireplaces and latrines. Steps can still be seen leading to chambers on the upper level of the tower.

To the right of the Princes Tower is the Privy Chamber, with the Lady Chamber above; this was accessed via the chamber below or across another bridge leading from the southwest corner of the keep. Next to the Privy and Lady Chambers are service buildings. These include a horse mill and a set of ovens dating to the Tudor period.

Facing the Southeast Tower is a small block, the second floor of which contains the ruins of a chapel. This chapel was much larger than the one off the Great Hall, and it was probably used for masses held for the household and servants. The building comprised three storeys, the lower two probably serving as a basement, vestries and, perhaps, priest’s lodgings. The second floor, the chapel itself, was reached from the stair head, but this is so badly ruined that all that can be said of it is that it had tall traceried windows on the north and south sides and a stone vaulted roof. The rooms below were also vaulted and had small, round-headed windows.

Lastly, almost touching the chapel block is the eastern curtain wall, now badly damaged, although the remains of the supports for the drawbridge can still be discerned.

All this goes to make Middleham Castle one of the finest and most interesting castles to explore.


  1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  2. Dear Pasi-Heikki Vaaranmaa - Please could you re-post your comment, as I have accidently deleted it. I'm really not very good with technology!

  3. This comment has been removed by the author.

  4. Dear Pasi-Heikki Vaaranmaa,

    Thank you very much for your kind comments on my book, and I am glad you enjoyed it.

    You mention the sequel – I am still working on it, so I’m sorry to say it will be a while before it comes out. I ran into difficulties when I came write about what might have happened to the Princes - they seemed to swamp my work, so that it started to look like a book about them rather than Richard. I knew that whatever I said about their fate would influence the rest of my work and my perception of Richard, so it was imperative to get it right. I, therefore, decided to put Richard on hold while I researched the Princes in earnest, going over my old research and studying the original documents all over again to see what conclusions I should draw. When I’d finished, I found I had so much material that it justified a short book, a collection of essays about the Princes - I am completing this work as we speak, and the book is due to come out later this year. After I’ve finished with that, I will be able to return to volume 2 of my biography!

    About recent books you mention: The short answer is, no. My research is detailed, painstaking and in-depth, making full use of primary sources. I tend not to read work by other scholars until I have completed my own because I don’t want to be influenced by other people’s opinions and findings (unless it is necessary to comment on them or to provide alternative viewpoints for discussion). When I draw my own conclusions I find it much easier to expound and defend them, otherwise it’s like thinking with two heads!

    As to the discovery of Richard’s remains: As you might have seen in my blog ‘Richard III’s Burial Place’, my findings concerning the king’s final resting place proved to be correct. Also, while I missed the scoliosis diagnosis, I did state that Richard’s deformity must have been very slight, amounting to little more than one shoulder appearing to be slightly higher than the other. As we saw, he had no deformity to his left arm, although that was pretty much a foregone conclusion. The recent discovery, then won’t affect my writing too much, except that I will have to modify the final chapter of volume 2 to take into account recent developments – the material in the blog was drawn from research I had done and written-up back in 2006!

    PS - please delete your e-mail address from your message for your own security.

  5. Many thanks for the replies. I guess as a site administrator you have the means to delete whatever I have written, so you are welcome to do it.

    The mystery of the Princes - well, that is a mystery. I look forward to the short book as well, if you decide to publish it. I have myself always liked the circumstantial side of the matter. If you accept that Richard saw them as a threat to his reign and hence needed to have them killed, then why did he not do the same with George´s son? If he did have them killed, how was it possible for him to apparently reconcile with their mother afterwards - or was it just the way of things those days, when death came and went and people were more pragmatic? If it was common knowledge at the time that Richard had them killed, why did Henry VII fail to produce the bodies? Furthermore, why did he give an impression he was unsure as to whether the imposters threatening his reign might have been "the real thing"?

    I am sure there are other issues (and culprits) to consider, as various writers have in the past. For me the Duke of Buckingham appeared a plausible suspect, given Richard´s reaction at his rebellion. I mean, he must have been rather familiar with betrayals, even if his own motto put loyalty high up in the value chain. Start with his father-in-law, his brother George, Hastings etc., there was certainly enough evidence for Richard to view his contemporaries with a certain dose of suspicion, right - so why not Henry Duke of Buckingham. Richard´s anger would make more sense if there was an additional revulsion behind it, i.e. Buckingham operating behind his back vis-a-vis the royal bastards. I don´t know. It would be good to exhume the Westminster skeletons once more to have a confirmation at the very least that they are indeed the people we have supposed them to be. I mean, in the 1930s it was apparently not even possible to confirm with any certainty that they were male.

    But it was exactly the execution of Hastings that seems to offer an interesting additional glimpse into Richard´s psyche - because he acted very quickly and very decidedly upon receiving whatever information he received (from Morton/Catesby/who was it?). It seems almost a spur-of-a-moment kind of thing. I had felt that he was on previous occasions a person who would consider his actions and those of others very carefully, contrary to his perhaps more volatile elder brother..

    As I noted (and before you delete the e-mail address), there things would be interesting to continue discussing - as your time would allow - per e-mail, as I am not sure the blog discussion may be of much interest to the "common visitor" on the site.

  6. And I noticed I found the method of deleting the e-mail from the field (!) myself.

  7. Everything you mention here has been covered in both my books, 'The Princes in the Tower' and 'Richard III: King of England', from perspectives that are pertinent to the different approaches taken in each book. As these books are not yet published, it would be inappropriate for me to comment on my hypotheses. I hope you understand!

  8. Hello, I am doing my dissertation at York St. John University on Anne Boleyn at the moment. I'm trying to write it from her point of view, almost like journal entries. I'm choosing three events from her life to write about. I was just curious if you would have time to discuss a few things with me? Thanks so much, Dana

    1. I'm afraid that time and other commitments do not allow me to enter into lengthy discussions, but I am happy to try to answer specific questions, if that is any help.


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