Views of Middleham

Views of Middleham

Middleham Castle, located two miles south of Leyburn in North Yorkshire, was for years a stronghold of the Neville family and, especially, Richard duke of Gloucester, later Richard III. This site offers views of the castle and additional material.


A.J. Pollard

It is only in recent years that Middleham has taken on the mantle of the Ricardian point of pilgrimage. Once upon a time, before Kendall, it was just a remote northern town, known more for its racehorse training and Neville connections. It is the late twentieth-century rediscovery of Richard III’s northernness, allied to the grandeur of the castle ruins, which has really put it on the map. That and some cunning marketing by English Heritage and the town council led by its indefatigable mayor, Peter Hibbard. Perhaps the turning point was the summer of 1983 during which the people of the town mounted a highly successful festival to celebrate their most famous (adopted) son.

We ought to bear in mind therefore that Richard III’s Middleham is really a modern invention. Yes, Richard III did his bit for it; yes, he set up a collegiate church there; yes, he used its resources to recruit followers in the region. But then Richard did his bit for all sorts of places, south as well as north; once he was king he turned to York Minster for a far grander chantry chapel; and, if equivalent documentation had survived for elsewhere, the ‘Middleham Connection’ would not stand out as much. Besides which, he didn’t stay there that often: not at all in the year 1473-4 for which a bundle of estate documents has survived. He is to be found more frequently at Pontefract, and as often at Barnard Castle to the north upon which, literally, he left a more lasting mark.

But then nothing beats Middleham as a place to visit. Come over from Catterick garrison and the moors to the north. The view as you drop into Wensleydale is superb. Moreover, as you approach up the hill from the river, you get an unmistakable sense of a hill-town in south-western France. Until recently you would have been welcomed in the square by ‘Richards Butchers.’ No, not an indication of a Yorkshire sense of humor, but actually the surname of the butcher. Now it is the ‘Middleham Butchers,’ which is not as evocative. But the Black Swan next door is still as welcoming; there is no need to visit any other pub in the town. You must however visit the ‘Old School Arts Workshop’ up the hill where there will be an exhibition of local artists’ work on display, some books to buy, a cup of tea to be had, and, if you feel inclined, a lesson in sculpture from one of Henry Moore’s pupils. The church is disappointingly Victorian, but now displays a replica of the Jewel unearthed nearby in 1985 in addition to the sentimental glass window put up by the Richard III Society.

But of course it is the castle looming up behind the market square which is the high point of the visit. Remember that in the fifteenth century there were no buildings between it and the market place. Remember, too, as you go round the lawns cut every morning with nail scissors that this is not the interior aspect of the castle Richard III knew. At ground level it would have been cramped, dark and dingy — as it still can be on winter days. But this murky zone is where only the menials mingled; literally below stairs. To go with the lord of the castle and his entourage, you need to go up the great flight of steps on the side of the keep. There at the top lay the chapel on the left, the great hall on the right. And it might have been Richard who raised the roof to create the clerestory. And then the private and guest apartments were mainly in the curtain walls, linked by wooden passages that bridged the yard below. To get the sense of Middleham as it was lived in you have to be on the first floor, not down in the basements.

English Heritage has recently opened up access to the oratory off the main hall; you might like to imagine Richard himself, and his duchess, withdrawing there with their primers and books of hours: Richard himself seeking protection from all those enemies lurking in the crannies. And you must go up to the new viewpoint on the battlements of the keep. Here with Kendall’s Richard you might rediscover the native spirit of your soul as you contemplate the vast sweep of the landscape. And you never know: you might also catch the glint of gold glistening in a furrow recently turned by a farmer.

Middleham was other things than a residence in the fifteenth century. The north range, holding the auditor’s chamber, reminds us that it was the administrative centre of an extensive lordhip, and for most of the fifteenth century the de facto heart of the honor of Richmond which the lords of Middleham controlled. Councilors, lawyers and accountants met here to execute their lord’s business, often of a highly sensitive kind, such as agreeing to rise in rebellion against Henry VI in 1458. Even Henry VII, the earl of Richmond himself, continued to use it as an office block long after 1485.

Its massive walls and secure gate fitted the castle for another purpose. Edward IV was twice a guest of Warwick the Kingmaker: on the second occasion, for two months in 1469, unwillingly. The unfortunate Anne, Countess of Warwick, spent ten years of her life staying as her son-in-law’s guest; and her nephew, George Neville, the degraded son of John Neville, also enjoyed a grace and favor apartment there; on the other hand, the widowed countess of Oxford seems to have preferred to transfer her estates to Richard of Gloucester, rather than spend a winter holiday in Wensleydale in 1473, an offer she did refuse.

Not all of Richard III’s contemporaries appreciated Middleham in the same way as we do today. To us in the twentieth century Middleham is a romantic spot in unspoilt countryside; a vestige of Merrie England, and all that was good before 22 August 1485. Then it was a residence, an office block, and a prison, the headquarters of a a mighty lord and a grim reminder of the immense power wielded by him over the inhabitants of the district.

About the Author: A. J. Pollard, professor of history at the University of Teesside, is the author of The Middleham Connection, North-Eastern England During the Wars of the Roses, and Richard III and the Princes in the Tower, and is widely regarded as the leading authority on the history of the region during the Yorkist era. This article is reprinted from the Winter 1994 issue of the Ricardian Register.

A Short History of Middleham Castle

The town of Middleham is part of Hang West Wapentake in that part of the North Riding of Yorkshire known as Richmondshire. It is located in Wensleydale between the Ure & Cover rivers, which join just beyond Middleham parish. According to the Victoria County History of the North Riding:

The valley of the Ure is not more than 325 ft above ordnance datum, but the town stands at a height varying from 400 ft. to 500 ft., and the hills rise to 850 ft. in the south-western corner of the parish. There are modern alluvial terraces and gravel deposits in the valley, but the subsoil, though intersected here and there by sandstone with plate, is chiefly limestone. There is a vein of lead in the north-west, and the Braithwaite lead mine stands just within the southern border of the parish. Coal is found near the Cover. Both lime and stone are worked. Middleham contains about 2,155 acres of land, which is for the most part permanent pasture, not quite 145 acres arable, and only 28 are wood. [Statistics are from the Board of Agriculture, 1905]

Described in modern guidebooks as “the smallest town in Yorkshire,” Middleham is now known as a center for training race-horses, and of course for Middleham Castle, whose ruins stand on the south side of the town.

From the time the first castle was built, in the late eleventh century, until the late fifteenth century, Middleham Castle served as an important locus of local and regional power, and — despite no longer being occupied by powerful local lords — continued as an administrative center through the sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries. Although the castle never had to withstand a siege and was directly involved in actual civil war in only a limited fashion, it was in the center of national affairs during the Wars of the Roses as the headquarters of the powerful Neville earls of Salisbury and Warwick and of Richard, Duke of Gloucester, later King Richard III.

The chronology that follows traces the development of the castle and provides some information on its owners. Dates are drawn principally from the English Heritage guidebook prepared by John Weaver.

Pre-Conquest (to 1066) The lands around Middleham were owned by Gilpatrick.

1069-1086 (Old Site) Lands granted to Alan the Red, one of the chief supporters of William the Conqueror and son of Count Eudo of Penthièvre in Brittany. Alan’s castle at Middleham was probably secondary in importance to him, with precedence going to the castle he built at Richmond. The castle at Middleham controlled the upper reaches of Wensleydale and the road from Richmond through Coverdalte to Skipton. The original castle, a motte-and-bailey design, was built on Williams Hill in Sunskew Park, to the southwest of the present castle. The site can be seen from the observation platform at the level of the battlements.

1086-1270 (old and new sites) Some time before 1086, Alan the Red granted the castle to his brother Ribald. The castle remained in this family until the death of Ralph FitzRanulph without a male heir in 1270.

Keep built c1170-1180 The great stone keep was probably built in 1170-1180, according to its architectural similarity to other castles whose building can be more accurately dated. If this hypothesis is correct, the keep was built during the time of Robert FitzRanulph, grandson of Ribald. At the time the keep was built, it was probably surrounded by a wooden palisade.

1270-1367: Early Nevills. Through Ralph FitzRanulph’s daughter, Mary, who marriedRobert de Nevill, the castle passed into Nevill ownership. Their son Ralph, first Lord Nevill of Raby (d. 1331) also inherited castles and estates in Raby, Brancepeth, and Sheriff Hutton. He is thought to have replaced wooden palisades around the keep with a stone curtain wall and corner towers, and to have added the chapel on the east side of the Keep. The entrance to the castle was from the east; both the castle and the eastern complex (outer courtyard and forebuildings) were protected by surrounding ditches.  Curtain wall and corner towers, chapel complex probably built early to mid 14th century.

Ralph’s son, also Ralph, served Edward III at the sieges of Dunbar and Tournai, and at the battle of Neville’s Cross in 1346. 1367-1388: John third Lord Nevill.

Ralph’s son John, third lord Nevill, was active in Edward III’s service in several campaigns in France with John of Gaunt. His administrative abilities are reflected in various appointments:

  • Steward of the royal household (Edward II)
  • Seneschal of Gascony (Richard II)
  • Warden of the East March

Most of his building projects were concentrated on other castles, principally Raby and Sheriff Hutton.

1388-1425:Ralph, fourth Lord Nevill and first Earl of Westmoreland, work on south & west ranges ca 1410. Active in Border affairs for most of his life, Ralph, first Earl of Westmoreland was a significant political presence in the North, making a successful transition from a supporter of Richard II to one of the Lancastrian regime, and serving both Henry IV and Henry V. In the year of his inheritance, he obtained a grant for Middleham to hold a weekly market and an annual fair on November 5, St. Alkelda’s Day.

No records survive, but it is theorized based on architectural evidence that Ralph began a building program that would transform the castle into a principal residence and center of a large estate, apparently to provide for his son, Richard Neville, Earl of Salisbury. The improvements included:

  • Rebuilding the south and west ranges, increasing the height of the buildings from one storey to two and raising the curtain walls
  • Linking the new chambers and lodgings to the keep by means of timber bridges, possibly roofed, at the first storey level
  • Additions to the southwest (“Prince’s”) and northwest towers
  • Conversion of the northeast tower into the present gatehouse

The fact that Henry IV visited Raby Castle in 1405 and Middleham Castle in 1410 suggests that the building program was complete by this latter date.

Ralph married twice. He had nine children by his first wife. By his second wife, Joan Beaufort, he had fourteen. He took great pains to secure Middleham for Richard Neville, his eldest son from his second marriage, rather than to his heirs from his first marriage. Rivalry between the “senior” and “junior” branches of the Nevill family thus created contributed to the political turmoil in the north of England preceding and during the Wars of the Roses. Ralph died in 1425 and is buried with his two wives at St. Mary’s Church, Staindrop (in County Durham).

1425-1461: Richard Nevill, Earl of Salisbury. Work on north range, chapel complex and staircase tower in the keep addition of window to Great Chamber.

Richard Neville, born about 1400, married Alice Montacute, heiress of Thomas, Earl of Salisbury, and was granted the title Earl of Salisbury in 1429. He inherited Middleham Castle from his mother, Joan Beaufort, on her death in 1440 and made it his chief residence.

Improvements during his tenure are believed to have included:

  • Building the north range, raising the northwest tower to its present height, remodeling the upper part of the gatehouse
  • Rebuilding the upper part of the chapel block
  • Raising the staircase tower of the keep
  • Adding the large new window to the Great Chamber on the western side of the keep

With his son Richard, Earl of Warwick (‘Kingmaker’). Salisbury was a Yorkist partisan and used Middleham Castle as a base for recruiting supporters. He was captured at the Battle of Wakefield and (December 30 1460) and executed a few days later at Pontefract.

1461-1485″ Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick; Richard Duke of Gloucester, later Richard III. This Richard Neville was granted the title Earl of Warwick in right of his wife, Anne Beauchamp. His support of Edward IV gave him the name of “Kingmaker” and his shift in allegiance from Edward IV to Henry VI in the late 1460s opened the second phase of the Wars of the Roses. He was killed at the Battle of Barnet in 1471. On his death Middleham was awarded to Edward IV’s younger brother, Richard duke of Gloucester, who later married Anne Nevill, Warwick’s younger daughter.

Addition of second storey chamber or clerestory over the Great Hall. During this period, Middleham was both the center of power for the North of England, under both the Kingmaker and the duke of Gloucester, and a frequent focus for national affairs. The young Richard spent time in Middleham in the tutelage of the Earl of Warwick in the 1460s, and was regularly in residence in the 1470s and early 1480s. Richard’s only legitimate son, Edward, was born here in the mid 1470s and died here in April 1484.

Richard may have been responsible for the second storey addition to the keep, which offered abundant light and commanding views of the Wensleydale countryside.

Richard also founded a college of priests at the Church of St. Mary and St. Alkelda in 1478. Although the college itself was disbanded in the sixteenth century, deans were still appointed until the nineteenth century.

Sixteenth century and later. Addition of horse mill and brew house; alterations to chapel complex (16th century). After Richard III was killed at the Battle of Bosworth Field, the castle and its estates were seized by Henry VII. Although not used as a royal residence, it continued to serve as an administrative center for the north. The castle remained under royal ownership until 1604, when it was granted to Sir Henry Linley.

Additional owners included:

  • Edward, Viscount Loftus (married Jane Linley), 1613
  • Edward Wood and subsequent members of the Wood family, 1662-1889
  • Samuel Cunliffe-Lister (later first Lord Masham) 1889-1906
  • The second Lord Masham, 1906-1925 (repairs made under his ownership under supervision of the architect Walter Brierley of York)
  • Office of Works, 1925-1984 (more repairs)
  • English Heritage, 1984-present

Sources for this abbreviated history:

  • William Page, Victoria History of the County of Yorkshire, North Riding, London: Dawsons of Pall Mall, 1968. (Reprinted from the original edition of 1914 under the auspices of the Institute for Historical Research, University of London.)
  • John Weaver, Middleham Castle. English Heritage, 1993.

For additional reading on the North of England during the later fifteenth century, see:

  • A. J. Pollard, “The Richmondshire Community of Gentry during the Wars of the Roses,” in C. D. Ross (ed.), Patronage, Pedigree and Power in Later Medieval England. Gloucester: Alan Sutton Publishing, 1979.
  • A. J. Pollard, The Middleham Connection, Hawes: The Wensleydale Press, 1983.
  • Rosemary Horrox, ed., Richard III and the North, Studies in Regional and Local History No. 6, University of Hull, 1986.
  • A. J. Pollard, North-eastern England during the Wars of the Roses: Lay Society, War, and Politics 1450-1500, Oxford University Press, 1990.
  • A. J. Pollard, ed. The North of England in the Age of Richard III, Stroud: Alan Sutton Publishing, 1996.


Fast Facts about the Castle

Original Castle (before 1170)

  • History: Little known of its history or construction, although it seems certain that it was built in the late eleventh or early twelfth century, and that it was all of wood
  • Site: on the west end a ridge southwest of the present castle, called “William’s Hill”
  • Motte: a mound about 40 feet high, surrounded by a ditch 20 feet wide
  • Bailey: kidney-shaped enclosure to the east of the motte, also surrounded by a ditch
  • Other defenses: series of banks and ditches, running north to south, cut across ridge to the east of the castle.

New Castle

  • Site: A less-defensible site on lower ground just northeast of the original castle.
  • Overall Dimensions: Curtain walls approximately 180 x 240 feet, enclosing roughly one acre for the existing castle complex. A 1538 survey refers to a wall 100 yards long enclosing one side of an outer courtyard to the east of the castle.
  • Entrance: Originally from the east, by the Chapel; additional entrance with gatehouse and guard Tower constructed in the North Range. Outer courtyard and forebuildings (stables, slaughterhouses, pottery, smithy, etc.) to east of Castle.
  • Keep: probably built ca. 1170-80.
    Dimensions: 105 feet, north-south; 78 feet, east-west, 66 feet to top of main parapet. Kitchen and cellars on ground floor; Great Hall, small oratory (chapel), great chamber and privy or presence chamber on first floor.
    Thick stone walls (12 feet thick at one point on south wall)
    Second story room or clerestory above Great Hall built some time in 15th century
  • Chapel Complex: Connected to east wall of keep, probably built ca. 1300; upper part rebuilt in fifteenth century. Three stories. Ground floor, first floor chambers probably living quarters for clerical staff; large chapel on second storey.
  • Curtain Walls and Corner Towers: Originally built ca. 1300, probably heightened in 15th century when ranges (buildings just inside the curtain walls) were added.
  • Southeast Tower: Two storeys, built ca 1300, survive. There is no remaining evidence to tell whether an additional storey was added in the fifteenth-century expansion. Contains one chamber with fireplace and latrine access per floor. Latrines added in 15th century; structure that may be a brewing vat added in ground floor chamber, 16th century.
  • South Range: Ground floor built ca. 1300; first floor ca 1400-25. Ground floor, east to west; small chamber; chamber with ovens; horsemill; two chambers. Ovens and horsemill added 16th century. First floor: four chambers. The two on the west were en-suite and connected to the presence chamber in the keep by a wooden gallery. Suite is identified in 1538 survey as “privy or lady chamber.”
  • Southwest (“Prince’s”) Tower: Tradition says that Richard III’s only legitimate child was born here. First two storeys built ca 1300; two more storeys added ca. 15th century. Basement and three chambers with fireplaces and separate latrines.
  • West Range: Two storeys; four high-quality chambers with fireplaces and latrines on upper storey; four lesser-quality chambers on ground floor. A central (“garderobe”) tower provided eight latrines as well as two small chambers. At the southern end, the upper storey chamber is identified as “Nursee” (nursery) in the 1538 survey; the ground-floor chamber contains bake-ovens, a later addition.
  • Northwest Tower:The first two storeys were built ca. 1300; the third probably 1400-1425; the top storey and latrine block 1425-1461. The tower contained a basement and three chambers, each with fireplace and latrines.
  • North Range: Lower part of curtain wall built ca 1300; remaining construction probably 1425-1462. Two chambers to the west and one to the east of a central tower on each of two storeys; central tower with latrines and two small chambers. The chambers in this range were used by administrative staff in the sixteenth century and may have served a similar purpose in the fifteenth.
  • Gatehouse and Northeast Tower: Entrance is through the eastern end of the North Range through a vaulted passageway. The gatehouse is three storeys high. The gatehouse included a guardroom at ground level with additional chambers above, probably the residence of an officer of the household. Lower storeys built ca. 1300; upper storeys and passageway a later addition.



Middleham and its environs have held a special fascination for the supporters of Richard III for well over a century. Richard’s Victorian biographer, Caroline Halsted, went on to marry the rector of the church at Middleham. A list of the Richard III Society’s accomplishments begins with a Middleham memorial–a stained glass window in the Church of St. Mary and St. Alkelda in the town of Middleham.

In the left light is displayed St. Richard of Chichester, with his emblem of an ox; the right light shows St. Anne teaching the Virgin to read. At the base can be seen the kneeling figures of Prince Edward, King Richard, and Queen Anne. The background panes of diamond quarries bear numerous badges of York and Neville. The window was unveiled in 1934 by Marjorie Bowen, the first of many memorials dedicated to the King.

The “Elder Fellowship,” as the Society’s first historian George Awdry describes the original group of organized Ricardians, also gave the church a replica of Richard’s Great Seal. “This had now been stolen, to great local indignation,” wrote Awdry about the “Reconstituted Fellowship’s” activities in 1959, “and we set about replacing it.”

As most Ricardians know, the “Elder Fellowship” became inactive with the approach of World War II, enjoying a rebirth in the 1950s. Middleham became an early focus of the Society’s attentions.

In fact, the very first sentence of the very first issue of The Ricardian (October 1961) was about Middleham. Introducing the issue, the editors wrote, “When we roughed out this page, we were in the Windsor of the North, Middleham, Richard’s home for so many years. It seemed peculiarly significant to us that we should be carrying out a part of this new idea just where Richard put so many of his into practice…. If you would like us to do so, we will devote a future issue to Yorkshire in general and Middleham in particular.” This offer was apparently received with some enthusiasm, and the second issue of The Ricardian(January 1962 carried a three-article section on Yorkshire Ricardian sites, Middleham, and the church at Middleham, along with advice for Ricardian tourists to the region.

Middleham was also very much on the minds of those who attended the 1961 AGM in London. George Awdry writes: “Clearly, we should be doing something to help a church in which Richard had taken such an interest. But the problem was, just what to do. We had replaced the stolen replica of Richard’s Great Seal; we now thought of a box to contain it. Of a Visitor’s Book, perhaps a guide, and Joyce Melhuish set about writing this, and had all but finished when we learned that the Rector was writing his own. He had installed the seal copy appropriately and saw no need for a Visitors’ Book. But, like all incumbents, he had restoration problems…. [Ricardian editor Christal Cook] came back with a list of the church’s needs, form which we could pick an item that seemed to us both suitable and within our reach in cost.”

The result was the Trinity Altar Frontal. “The tactical advantage of this,” Awdry continues, “is that it hangs on the altar for more than half the year, particularly from just after Whitsunday to the beginning of Advent, throughout the traditional tourist season, in fact. So Isolde [Wigram] sketched a proposal for this, and we took it to the 1961 Annual General Meeting, which liked it too.”

The resulting design caused seven successive professional embroiderers and makers of church vestments to decline the commission or to offer astronomically high bids. “All pronounced that our design called for much gold thread; that this was expensive, slow and difficult to work with; that the charges on the two coats of arms were vastly complicated, in one case running into seven separate quarterings, which in their turn were sub-divided; and that they could not possibly do the work for anything approaching the sum our small society could raise from its members,” explained Joyce Melhuish in the May 1963 issue ofThe Ricardian.

Materials for the frontal proved difficult to locate–the green fabric is silk damask hand-woven with a “St. Nicholas” pattern of palmettes and arabesques. A trip to the firm that produces the Queen’s Garter robes produced satin of the right colors but the wrong weight for the appliqués. The amount of gold in the final design was so considerable that embroidery was rejected in favor of appliqués of gold lamé. To make it work, Melhuish and the embroideress found themselves inventing an entirely new appliqué technique–“minor history in the embroidery world.” Melhuish’s description of the frontal follows:

The super-frontal (the flap which runs across the top edge) is finished with heavy gold lurex braid and fringe. It carries the words “REX REGUM ET DOMINUS DOMINANTUM” (“King of Kings and Lord of Lords”) which beyond their obvious meaning, refer to the royal connection with Middleham, and the patronage of its church by so many generations of Neville lords.

Our frontal itself has a central cross treflé in gold. On a slightly lower plane, and flanking the cross on either side, are two coats of arms, surmounted by crowns of the type shown in the Rous Roll–on the right (facing outwards), the arms of England, and on the left the Neville coat of seven quarters for Newburgh, Beauchamp, Montague, Monthermer, Neville, Clare and Despencer. These are the arms borne by Warwick the King Maker; and placed above the figure of Queen Anne Nevill in the Rous Roll. They also appear, impaled with England, on her memorial, erected by the Society in Westminster Abbey.

The Trinity Altar Frontal was installed in the Collegiate Church of St. Mary and St. Alkelda, Middleham, on Trinity Sunday, June 8, 1963. Editors Heather Bennett and Christal Cook wrote in the October 1963 Ricardian: “The frontal itself is very beautiful; we feel it is a gift after King Richard’s heart, and we hope it will serve those who use this church as well as Richard served his people, both as Lord of the North and as King of England.”

The next Middleham project undertaken by the Society concerns the Swine Cross. This cross is thought to commemorate the grant obtained for Middleham in 1479 of a fair and market twice yearly, in Whitsun Week and at the feast of St. Simon and St. Jude, by Richard as Duke of Gloucester. The heraldic animal on the cross may be Richard’s own cognizance of the White Boar, or the emblem of the Nevilles.

As Awdry explains, “[In 1964] the Swine Cross at Middleham was in urgent need of restoration; local resources could not cover the cost. We agreed to help. We learned next that the Ministry of Public Building and Works…was meeting half the cost. With this backing, and what the Parish Council succeeded in getting from other concerned local authorities, the cost not covered was small enough for us to meet half of it.”

In his career as Lord of the North, Richard Duke of Gloucester showed his good lordship to the people and the church at Middleham. As Ricardians we can be proud of the Society’s contributions at this important Ricardian site.