History, tourist information, and nearby accommodation
HERITAGE HIGHLIGHTS: Birthplace of Richard III, Mary, Queen of Scots was executed here
Edmund Langley's son Edward founded a college of priests at the castle to say prayers for the House of York. Around 1415 the college was moved east and attached to an old Norman church. The church was rebuilt in Perpendicular style, and the nave set aside for use by the villagers. The college was dissolved in the Reformation, and the nave of the collegiate church forms the current parish church.
In 1586 Mary, Queen of Scots was brought to Fotheringhay from Chartley in Staffordshire to stand trial for treason. Why Fotheringhay? Because the castle was set in a marshy landscape, where access was difficult, especially during the winter months. It was felt by the authorities that the unfortunate Scottish queen would be more secure at Fotheringhay, and the location would discourage any rash attempt to free her by force. Mary was tried at the castle on 14 and 15 October 1587 in a show trial and predictably found guilty on 25 October - a foregone conclusion. She was not executed immediately, for Elizabeth I was reluctant to sign the death warrant, but finally on 8 February 1588 Mary was executed in the great hall. She carefully dressed for the occasion in black with a scarlet bodice and petticoat; colours chosen because they represented martyrdom.
After Mary's execution the castle was allowed to decay completely. It was eventually sold, and local people began to rob the site of building stone. The castle was finally dismantled completely in 1628, and stone used to build an inn in Oundle. The great hall was purchased by Sir Richard Cotton, who had the interior stripped and the furnishings transferred to Connington, in Huntingdonshire. Tradition, probably inaccurately, suggests that James VI of Scotland, Mary's son, ordered the castle destroyed after he took the throne of England as James I. The more plausible explanation is that it was simply falling apart anyway. Bits of the castle were incorporated into nearby Castle Farm, and sections of the moat were filled in during the 19th century.
The castle today consists of a low mound, flattened on top, surrounded by a ditch, with an outer bailey earthwork. Close to the river is a small section of masonry wall protected by an iron railing. There are three commemorative plaques on the railing; the first simply says that this section of masonry is from the castle keep, the second was set up by the Stuart History Society and commemorates the death of Mary, Queen of Scots, and the third plaque was set up by the Riichard III Society and commemorates the birth of Richard at Fotheringhay Castle. Three plaques for one bit of masonry seems a bit over the top, but in truth there's little enough of the castle remaining otherwise.
For a place that witnessed historical drama, the birth of kings and the death of queens, Fotheringhay offers pretty sparse remains to enjoy. So its the association of the castle with royalty that will bring visitors here, not any great standing walls or dank and dismal dungeons. The mound is easy to climb and even easier to enjoy as a good example of a motte and bailey site, but aside from that there's not much to see! A stone carving of a lion thought to have been made during renovations by Catherine of Aragon can be seen inside the church porch, and the tombs of Richard, 1st Duke of York, and his son Edward, Earl of Rutland, stand on either side of the altar.
On the main road through the village is Garden Farm, once called New Inn, built by Edward IV to house overflow guests of Fotheringhay Castle. Over the entry are heraldic shields bearing traditional Yorkist symbols.
The castle site is open access, and a footpath runs directly past the northern edge of the mound. You can also get good views from the bridge across the River Nene.
About Fotheringhay Castle
Address: Fotheringhay, Northamptonshire, England, PE8 5HZ
Attraction Type: Castle
Location: No dedicated parking area; park on the main Fotheringhay road. The castle is on a footpath beside Castle Farm, off the main road. The village is 4 miles north of Oundle. off the A605. Open access site.
Photo Credit: David Ross and Britain Express
Heritage Rated from 1- 5 (low-exceptional) on historic interest
Fotheringhay, St Mary & All Saints Church - 0.1 miles (Historic Church)
Elton Hall - 1.7 miles (Historic House)
Nassington, St Mary & All Saints Church - 1.9 miles (Historic Church)
Prebendal Manor - 1.9 miles (Historic House)
Southwick Hall - 2.7 miles (Historic House)
Blatherwycke, Holy Trinity Church - 5.8 miles (Historic Church)
Lyveden New Bield - 6.8 miles (Historic House)
Deene Park House - 6.9 miles (Historic House)
Nearest Accommodation to Fotheringhay:
Nearest Self Catering Cottages
Nearest Bed and Breakfasts
Visitor Information Centre
9 Bridge Street
Tel: 01733 452 336
Closed Sundays and Bank Holidays