Bolton Castle
Bolton Castle
A stark and imposing medieval fortress at the entrance to Wensleydale, begun by Richard le Scrope in 1378. Scrope was Lord Treasurer and Lord Chancellor to Richard II, and one of the most powerful men in late 14th century England. His new castle was intended to be a symbol of that power, and one look at the sturdy stone walls will tell you he succeeded.

Even today, driving along the minor road from Redmire, the outline of Bolton Castle seems to dominate the surrounding countryside like few other castles I've had the pleasure of visiting. To Scrope's contemporaries it must have been an intimidating sight indeed. Scrope may have presumed upon his royal position, for the license to crenellate was obtained in 1379, when the castle was likely complete. Scrope spared little expense building his new stronghold;  from 1379 until the structure was complete around 1399 he spent some 18,000 marks on Bolton Castle. He had enough spare change left over to buy the kingship of the Isle of Man for his son William, at a cost of 10,000 marks.
View from the battlements
View from the battlements
Bolton Castle is unusual in that we actually know the name of the man responsible for building it, not just the lord who paid for the building. In this case the architect was John Lewyn, a master mason. Lewyn designed a rectangular structure with sturdy square four-storey towers at each corner, enclosing an inner courtyard. The towers were joined by three-storey ranges, with turrets in the centre of both the north and south ranges.

The main entrance is through a gatehouse on the east side. Historians have argued over whether the castle was originally surrounded by a moat, but it seems most likely that it was not. Bolton is an almost perfect example of a rectangular castle; unlike many contemporary fortresses the living and working quarters were built into the ranges along each wall, rather than added as lean-to structures against a curtain wall. The corner towers are not truly flanking towers; they do not project very far beyond the range walls, and thus would not have offered much line of fire for archers aiming along the wall.

But there were other defenses; if an attacker managed to penetrate the long pasage through the gatehouse, with its iron portcullis, they would find themselves in a death-trap, for the inner court is overloked by four ranges, with narrow arrow slits in the walls for archers to pour down a rain of fire on the intruder. Only five doors join the ranges to the courtyard, and each doorway is defended with its own portcullis. Four of the doors are also protected by machicolations (slots for hurling missiles or pouring something unpleasant) overhanging each door.

The ruined chapel
The ruined chapel
The ground floor of each range has barrel-vaulted chambers for storage, stables, and all the neccessary workshops for a thriving castle community. First and second floor chambers were for living quarters. By the standards of 14th century England, the living quarters at Bolton Castle are large and comfortable, and what is more, they provided a remarkable amount of private living areas in an age where concepts of privacy were foreign to most people.
Bolton Castle's most famous moment in history came in 1568, when Mary, Queen of Scots was imprisoned here after her escape from Scotland. The range of chambers in the south-west tower where she is thought to have stayed have been arranged to reflect what they would have looked like during her imprisonment.

The great chamber at Bolton Castle
The great chamber
The end for Bolton Castle came in the Civil War, when John Scrope, only a teenager at the time, held the castle for the royalist cause. Parliament beseiged the castle for an entire year, and in Novermber 1645 Scrope was forced to surrender. Parliament intended to slight the castle to make it unusable in future, but the south-west tower and the west range survived almost completely intact and habitable.
Bolton Castle is still owned by a direct descendent of the 14th century Lord Scrope who built this impressive fortress. Below the castle walls is a recreation of a medieval garden. This has been extended to include a maze, rose garden, herb garden, vineyards, and a bowling green. There are regular special events and activities throughout the year, and Bolton is also a popular venue for filming and for weddings.
Visiting Bolton Castle
It was a dismal, drab day when I visited Bolton Castle. Not too surprisingly, there were few other visitors, but I was very impressed with what I saw. The living quarters have been set with 'tableau' illustrating periods in the castle's history, including the Civil War seige and, of course, Mary, Queen of Scots imprisonment. I'm not always a big fan of displays like this, but I must admit I was pleaantly surprised; it really helped bring the castle to life and make dry history much more interesting. I began to feel for Queen Mary, for a start, and I'm not always terribly sympathetic towards her! I enjoyed Bolton Castle enormously.

About Bolton Castle
Address: Castle Bolton, North Leyburn, Yorkshire, England, DL8 4ET
Attraction Type: Castle
Location: 5 miles west of Leyburn, off the A684. Open from Spring through November. Admission charge.
Website: Bolton Castle
Phone: 01969 623981
Historic Houses Association
Location map
OS: SE035 919
Photo Credit: David Ross and Britain Express


HeritageWe've 'tagged' this attraction information to help you find related historic attractions and learn more about major time periods mentioned.

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Find other attractions tagged with:

14th century (Time Period) - castle (Architecture) - Civil War (Architecture) - Mary, Queen of Scots (Person) - Medieval (Time Period) - moat (Historical Reference) - Queen Mary (Person) - Richard II (Person) - Royalist (Person) -


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