Middleham castle is best known as the home of Richard III. However it is also a fascinating castle in its own right. As so much has been written about Richard III and his tenure there, I’m going to focus on the earlier years of the castle.
The first castle on this site wasn’t actually exactly where the present day castle stands. It would have been a typical motte and bailey Norman castle, built of earth and timber, and would have stood on the high ground just to the south west of where Middleham stands to today. The castle was constructed in c. 1086 and was in the hands of Ribald who was the brother of Aland Lord of Richmond who was probably responsible for the nearby Richmond castle. The motte is believed to have stood at about 12 meters high and to be been surrounded by a ditch 6 m wide. You can still see the remains of the motte and ditch today (the final photo above).
At some point early in the 12th century the original castle was abandoned and the castle you can see today was begun in stone. It is unknown which descendant of Ribald built the stone keep, which is the middle of today’s Middleham, but it probably dates to sometime between 1170 and 1180. This would mean that it was most likely built by his grandson Robert FitzRanulph. The great keep was very modern for its time with a great hall, great chamber, privy chamber, chapel, two small chambers up the top and a large basement, which would have included a kitchen. Middleham’s keep is different to other contemporary keeps as it houses several functions that would have usually been housed in outer buildings in the bailey of the castle.
Middleham passed out of the FitzRanulph family in 1270 when the heiress married Robert Neville. Through Robert Neville Middleham passed ultimately to Richard Neville Earl of Warwick, known as the King maker and a key player in the War of the Roses. The War of the Roses were an intense and complex conlfiict, but this is not the place to explain in detail. After Richard Neville’s death in at the Battle of Barnet in 1471 the castle came to Richard Duke of Gloucester, who became Richard III.
Site visit 2012
English Heritage Middleham Castle Guidebook: 9781850744092
For Richard III and Middleham http://richardiii-ipup.org.uk/riii/44
The photos are all mine