Peak or Peveril

As ever with castle history, much of Peak castle's history is based on guesswork and hearsay.  Once again this is an attempt to cut through the guesswork, back to the basic facts as the only solid foundation there is to build a logical history upon.  The first fact to be considered is that the castle does not seem to have been called Peveril during the middle ages, it and its associated vill, were always Peak or later High Peak.  Secondly there is no solid evidence that Peak was ever the caput of the Peverel honour of Nottingham which ended in 1155.  Thirdly there is no evidence that William Peverel (d.1114) founded the castle and there is certainly none that he was ever thought of as a bastard son of William the Conqueror until centuries after his lifetime.  These statements, so glaringly at odds with current perception, should be sufficient to start a discussion of the castle's history.

There is an implication that Peak's known history began in 1068.  That year there was a revolt in the north and west of England against William the Conqueror (1066-87) which led him to fortify suitable points against his new enemies.  One new fortress was Nottingham castle.  This castle was then given to William Peveril (d.1114).  At some point before 1086 he also received the custody of many lands in the joint counties of Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire (henceforth Notts&Derbys), one of which was Peak.  It seems likely that this occurred in 1071 when earls Edwin and Morcar were stripped of their lands.

At Domesday in 1086 the nearest recorded settlement to Peak was the royal vill of Hope, which lies just over a mile east of Peak.  In 1086 the vill of Hope was recorded as a major population centre which seems to have covered an area 12¼ miles by 6 miles, including Tideswell to the south-west, Eyam to the south-east and possibly Edale to the north-west.  As such its spread would easily cover Castleton church and Peak castle.  In 1066 the ‘3 vills' that made up the 1086 manor of Hope had rendered £30, but this had since been reduced to £10 6s.  The reasons for this massive reduction are not known.  However, within Hope vill a church was recorded with a priest holding a carucate of land.  It has been assumed that this was Hope church, but this structure shows no sign of antiquity.  Indeed, even the Saxon cross in the churchyard was only brought there in 1858.  Therefore it seems more likely that the church in question was Castleton church - a church which shows signs of great antiquity.  Presumably the carucate of land that went with it became the borough of Castleton which is first mentioned as the borough of High Peak in 1196.  Hope in 1086 was recorded as being royal land in the custody of William Peverel (d.1114).

That something existed at Peak before 1066 is suggested by the find of some stycas of Aethelred II (978-1016) with coin dies in 1814/29, 'amongst the earth that slipped down the hill at Castleton upon which the castle stands'.  Such a find suggests some high status site on this hilltop in the Saxon era, so too do the alleged remnants of Roman cut stones and tiles found built up within the ruins.  There is also the fact that writing in the 1130s Henry Huntingdon (d.c.1157) was aware of Peak Cavern and described it as the foremost of the 4 wonders of the British Isles, ahead of Stonehenge, Cheddar Hole (Wookey Hole) and finally the rain that gathers around the hills before dropping on the plains.

... the wind comes out from caverns/crevices in the earth in a mountain called Peak (Pec) with such vigour that clothing thrown in to it is driven back and thrown high up into the air.

Added to this is the fact that the initial walls around the castle were built in herringbone style.  This is often claimed to be a sign of Norman workmanship, but in most cases it seems to be older.

It was above these caverns or crevices of Peak's Arse that William Peverel had a castle, though whether this was built by him, his son, or an unknown predecessor from the time of Aethelred II (978-1016) is unknown.  According to the Domesday Book, Gernebern and Hundinc used to hold their lands from the castle of William Peverel.  Above this the lands are recorded in a different hand as being in Pechesers.  This is the only occurrence of Peak castle in Domesday and it has been noted that the spelling is pretty obviously Anglo-Saxon for a phonetic Peak's Arse - a name today used less than the Devil's Arse for Peak Cavern.  The name Pekysars or Pekeserse was still in use in 1520 and 1544 for the stream running from the cavern beside Castleton.  That 2 Saxons held the land may indicate that this was before William Peverel arrived, in which case a castle, by implication, existed before this time.  Certainly the style of the castle is unique for an early Norman structure.

In 1086, the land of the castle was described as 2 geldable carucates, land for 2 ploughs, 4 ploughs in demesne and 3 villeins with 1 plough and 8 acres of meadow.  In the time of King Edward (d.1066) it was worth £2 and now (1086) £2 10s.  Quite clearly the estate was extensive and had not been improved much in the 20 years since 1066.  For comparison with the value of the vill of Peak's Arse, the value of William's entire estate at Domesday was some £248.

The first William Peverel seems to have died on 25 February 1114 passing his lands, including Peak castle, on to his son and heir, another William Peverel (d.1155+).  Unlike other barons Peverel stayed loyal to King Stephen (1135-54) in the civil war of 1136-54.  During this time the royalist Peverel found himself squeezed between Earl Ranulf's bases of Chester and Lancaster and the earl's desired conquest of Lincoln.  As such his loyalties must have been tested as Ranulf joined and left the royalist cause in pursuing his territorial objectives.  Between January and April 1153, Duke Henry of Normandy (d.1189) confirmed to Earl Ranulf of Chester many lands.  Included in these were Nottingham castle and borough together with all the fee of William Peverel apart from Higham (Hecham).  This clearly included Peak castle and was a part of the treaty obviously aimed against the arch-royalist, William Peverel, who for so long had solidly opposed the Angevins from his bases in Notts&Derbys.  Certainly later in the summer Duke Henry (d.1189), with Earl Ranulf in support, sacked Stamford and Nottingham, the latter presumably being held by Peverel in his position as constable and supporter of King Stephen.  According to chronicles, which tend to be confused about this era, it was in 1153 that Earl Ranulf of Chester died.  This is possibly an error for 17 December 1154 as it was in 1155, before the spring campaign against Earl Roger of Hereford (d.1155) and Hugh Mortimer of Wigmore (d.1181), that it was recorded that William Peverel of Nottingham had caused the poisoning of Earl Ranulf of Chester through giving him a drink, so he was disinherited.  Another source, written a generation or 2 later, states that early in 1155 King Henry II (1154-89) went to York:

William Peverel, having a bad conscience over the death of Earl Ranulf, fearing the magnanimity of the new king approaching thither, fled into a monastery forsaking all of his power, being shorn and hooded...  the king, who during February left York, and advanced into the province of Nottingham, where the aforesaid hooded one lay hidden, the same William secretly evaded him and fled voluntarily relinquishing to the king all his garrisons crammed to abundance.

William's subsequent fate is unknown, although his lands were definitely confiscated by the Crown.

In September 1156 Sheriff Randolf Fitz Engelram of Notts&Derby accounted for the lands of William Peverel which were obviously now in royal hands.  By September 1157, £10 16d had been spent on food for the king at Peak (Pech) by Nigel Broc and a further £37 12s 3d had been spent on food for the king of Scotland at Nottingham and Peak as well as 72s on wine at Peak alone.  It was therefore probably at Peak that July that King Malcolm of Scotland (d.1165) was persuaded to abandon his claims to many lands and castles in what became the north of England.  The same year the first full account of the operations of the Peverel of Nottingham barony was given by Sheriff Randolf Fitz Engelram.  The sheriff paid £160 19s into the treasury of the £175 he owed for farming the lands of William Peverel.   Of the outstanding amount he had given £6 5s to 8 foresters and a warden as well as £4 10s to 2 watchmen and a porter at Peak.  It is presumed that at least the watchmen and the porter were stationed at Peak castle, although this is nowhere stated here or in any later account.

During 1158 King Henry II again came to Peak when £36 5s was spent on foodstuff.  Once again the sheriff acknowledged the farm of the lands of William and listed a profit of £102 15s before listing his expenses in land granted to others and the £6 5s given to the 8 foresters and warden, as well as £4 10s given to 2 watchmen and the porter at Peak.  Although this indicates that the forest was being administered from the Peverel honour, it is not categoric proof that the castle was used to administer the lordship and forest, although this does appear logical.  During 1163 the sheriff's expenditure topped £100, with much land being given away and £7 being spent on carrying the king's meat from London to Nottingham and the Peak, where the king would appeared to have stayed again.  The next year, 1164, the sheriff only had a surplus of £30 10s 10d from William's lands.  Amongst his expenses were £10 of lead for the king's works (unfortunately where is not said) and £8 7s 2d for the king's provisions at Peak.  This probably indicates another royal stay.  On one of these occasions in 1163 or 1164, Henry made a confirmation to the canons of Radford [Worksop priory] apud castell del Pech.

With the unrest caused by the Young King's Rebellion (1173-74) the Crown garrisoned its Notts&Derby castles of Nottingham, Bolsover and Peak.  The garrisoning of Peak castle included 20 loads of grain at a cost of £10 10s 6d, 20 bacons at £1 19s and 20 knights at £20 serving for 20 days at the writ of Richard Lucy.  Later a further £20 was spent on pay for the knights and serjeants of Bolsover and Peak.  Under the honour of Peverel it was noted that Reginald Lucy had spent £2 on works at the king's castles of Bolsover and Peak as well as that Reginald had received and spent an additional £48 10s on these works.  Of the new farm, which was worth £109 10s for a half year, nothing had been paid and after the normal allowances for half a year, it was recorded that Reginald Lucy had had £46 10s for his works at Bolsover and Peak castles.  The income for the second half of the year had also been swallowed up on castle works at Bolsover and Peak which had cost £41 10s 3d by the king's writ and by the view of Robert Avenel, Robert Hope, Serlon Pleseley and Gerard Avenel.  Further, the knights and serjeants of Nottingham, Bolsover and Peak had received £135.  Quite clearly the county castles had been heavily garrisoned during the disturbances, but not much had been spent on the fabric of either Bolsover or Peak, with only some £150 being spent on the 2 castles this year.  To put this in perspective over £1,000 was spent on building Orford castle in just 3 years, 1165-1167, and over £500 was spent in the next few years to bring that castle up to full operational status.  Therefore the tenth of this amount spent in just a year at 2 castles was likely mainly for repairs and making the castles defensible with hoardings and the like, rather than for major building operations.

The Young King's War continued into 1174 and the Middlesex account included payments of £45 8s for the 20 knights and 60 foot serjeants resident in the king's castles of Nottingham, Peak and Bolsover by the writ of Richard Lucy.  Under its own county, works were recorded at Nottingham and Bolsover castles, but not Peak.  However, Nottingham was again munitioned, while Reginald Lucy received £25 for 20 knights and 60 foot serjeants resident at the royal castles of Nottingham, Bolsover and Peak by the writ of Richard Lucy.  From the income of the Peverel barony £24 was spent by the king's writ on works at the castles of Peak and Bolsover by the view of Robert Avenel and Serlon Pleseley.  Some minor work continued at Peak castle during 1175 when £4 17s was accounted for the building of a treasury or inner chamber in the fortress (in operat' i thalami in cast' de Pech') by the view of Robert Avenel and Serlon Pleseley.  This is an interesting entry as the building of treasuries in castles are not commonly recorded.  Usually treasuries were made in the safest part of the castle, the keep, viz Ludlow castle.  The implication of this might be that the keep was already standing and the next year's work consisted of modifications to the tower.  Alternatively this chamber may have been in one of the other buildings that once populated the interior of the castle inner ward.

It was only in 1176 that £135 was accounted for the work of the Peak castle tower (in operatione turris in castro de Pech).  This was carried out by the view of Robert Hope, Warin Fitz Robert, William Avenel, Gervase Avenel and Robert Harthill.  Castle work continued the next year, 1177, with the modest sum of £49 being spent on the work of Peak castle by the king's writ and the view of Gervase Avenel, Warin Fitz Robert and Robert Hope.  To put this in comparison £210 was spent the same year on Clipston palace.  The same year, 1177, also saw the first mention in the pipe rolls of the ‘honour of Peak'.  After this the honour of William Peverel of Nottingham was recorded as normal and this continued until the end of the reign in 1189 and then through the reigns of Henry's successors.  Again it appears that both honours are synonymous.

In 1184 the sums of £1 13s 4d and £3 15s was spent on repairing the bridge and gaol of Peak.  Presumably the bridge was that which joined the outer ward to the inner and the gaol was within the latter.  As it was repaired this year it would suggest that the goal was not in the keep, on which some £135+ had been spent in the last few years.  In 1187 it was recorded that a further £25 10s had been spent at the king's writ on the works of Peak.  Whether this was work was on the castle or in the town is unknown.

With the new reign of King Richard I (1189-99) the counties of Nottingham and Derby, the honours of Tickhill, Wallingford and Eye, with the castles of Nottingham, Lancaster, Marlborough, Ludgerhsall, Peak and Bolsover were all turned over to Prince John (d.1216) on 29 August 1189, together with the honour of William Peverel.  The agreement, however, specified that the king should retain control of the major castles of Nottingham, Tickhill and Gloucester.  Despite this, the next year, 1190, a record was made under the expenses of the archbishop of York for 20m (£13 6s 8d) paid to William Aubigny (d.1236) for the custody of Peak castle (castelli de Pec) at the chancellor's writ.  This payment shows that Prince John had accepted that royal constables could be placed in his castles.  Despite this, in 1191, Prince John seized both Tickhill and Nottingham castles much to the annoyance of his mother and the regency council although Peak and his other castles retained royal garrisons.  Peak castle remained under royal control and in 1192 William Aubigny was granted £20 for its custody of under Yorkshire.  The same year it was also recorded under Lincolnshire that Richard Peak had received 25m (£16 13s 4d) for the custody of Bolsover castle and William Aubigny 20m (£13 6s 8d) for the custody of Peak castle.  The differences in money expended may suggest the relative military importance of the 2 castles.  In 1192 under Leicestershire it was further recorded that William Aubigny owed £16 10s for the Welsh scutage, but that the king had pardoned this amount for his holding the custody of Peak castle.  In 1193 under Lincolnshire, Warwickshire and Leicestershire, William was again allowed 20m (£13 6s 8d) for the custody of Peak castle from each county.  At some point during the year Prince John seems to have managed to take control of Peak castle, for around the beginning of May 1193 he made a truce with the government by which he surrendered to the Queen Mother, Eleanor of Aquitaine (d.1204), the castles of Windsor (which was besieged until 17 May which is presumably when the truce kicked in), Wallingford and Peak, on the condition that if King Richard (d.1199) should not return from captivity in Germany they would be returned to him.  There is no evidence that John had anything further to do with Peak castle, until he assumed the throne in 1199, the castle meantime being held by King Richard and his appointees.

In 1194 Notts&Derbys reappeared in the pipe rolls as the joint county had been formerly reclaimed from Prince John.  The honour of Peak appears to have been reclaimed for the Crown by Earl William Ferrers (d.1247), the great grandson of William Peverel (d.1155+), who accounted this year for holding the honour for just 7 weeks.  Within his accounts are suggestions that some hard fighting had taken place for among the earl's expenses were 45s for the wages of Master Roger the carpenter and his associates, 13s for Albert and John, king's clerks and their machines and other necessities including 1 stone thrower (petraria) and 1 mangonel as well as for army costs for 66 knights at Derby for 15 days and 67 knights at Nottingham as well as for 3 horses lost.  This all suggests that the activities around Peak castle this year were not all benign.  In 1195 it was noted that the sheriff had spent the small amount of 10m (£6 13s 4d) on the king's houses in Peak and the goal of Chesterfield.  For the final time in the reign the account of the honour of William Peverel of Nottingham was made up and included the repairing the king's houses of Peak at a cost of £6 15d at the view of William Fitz Baldwin and William Fitz Ralph.

In 1196 Peak was first referred to as High Peak (Alto Pech) when the land of Robert Fretel was mentioned under the account of the honour of Peverel.  That this was the same as Peak, where the 2 watchmen and porter were recorded as normal, is confirmed by other pipe roll entries and later inquests post mortem.  The 2 names of Peak and High Peak seem from 1196 to have been used interchangeably.  The next year, 1197, the name Peak is replaced in Notts&Derbs by High Peak (Alto Pech), the soke of which was recorded as owing and paying £9 11s tax into the treasury.  Quite clearly the honour of Peverel was now associated with Peak or High Peak castle which appeared as its caput.  None of this explains when Castleton borough and church were founded, merely that they certainly existed by this date.  In King Richard's last financial year which ended in September 1198, more work was done to the king's castle and houses of Peak at a cost of £5 2s 3d.

During the reign of King John (1199-1216) maintenance was regularly carried out at Peak castle with £3 1s being paid out for repairs by September 1199.  This compared with the £18 7s 11d paid for repairs at Nottingham, £14 4s 6d at Clipston and £4 16s at Bolsover.  In 1200 £5 worth of work was undertaken at Peak castle by the view of Richard Fitz William and Colin Peak, as well as repairs being done to the nearby castles of Horsley, Bolsover and Nottingham.  In 1202 further work was carried out on the castles of Notts&Derbys with repairs being done to Nottingham and Bolsover and £12 9s 1d worth of work being undertaken at Peak castle.  This was also the first time Peak was mentioned as a functioning prison when 10d was spent in transporting prisoners there from Chesterfield.  Presumably the captives were then kept in the castle gaol.  On 4 February 1203 the castle became a royal prison for Ernald Maleschaus and Peter St Maura.  These were probably Frenchmen taken in the fighting against Prince Arthur in France.

In 1203 improvements were carried out at Nottingham and Tickhill castles and £1 16s 6d was spent similarly at Peak castle.  During 1204 Nottingham castle was repaired as were the castle and houses of Bolsover, while the houses of Peak and the fish pond were repaired for £1 7s.  As the fish pond could not have been up with the castle, but was no doubt in the town on the Peakshole Water, it leaves the question as to whether the king's houses were in the castle or the borough later known as Castleton.  In 1205 works were undertaken at Peak castle for a cost of £24 5s 7d by the view of Elias Thornhill and Ralph Heriz.

At September 1207 further works at Peak castle had cost £21 6s 10d under the view of Ralph Heriz and Robert Ragged.  Finally, the last payment was recorded to the porters and watchman of Peak for years 7, 8 and 9 of King John (1205-07) at a cost of £16.  No castle works were undertaken at Peak castle during 1208, but in 1209 £5 was spent.  In 1209 a tax was raised in the royal vills of Notts&Derbs in which 45s was raised from Peak vill, but only 7s in Hope.  Quite obviously the future Castleton had way outstripped Hope.

In 1211 King John began some relatively major works at Peak castle spending £43 5s 4d on the castle and houses under the view of Hugh Coterell and William Fitz Pain.  In 1212 he spent a further £24 4s 8d on the work of the castle and houses.  It would seem likely that the exertion of the French campaigns for the next few years halted all mention of and work at Peak castle.  With John's defeat in France the war was taken to England which dissolved into civil war.  On 21 June 1216, all the men of the castlery of Peak were ordered to be intendant upon Earl William Ferrers (d.1247) as the king had placed the castle under his custody.  The same day Constable Brian Lisle was informed of this and ordered to pass custody of the fortress over to the earl.  Brian obviously wasn't impressed by this and on 13 August he was again ordered to hand the castle over to the custody of Earl William, similarly Gerard Furnival was ordered to turn Bolsover castle over to the earl as well.  The order was repeated in fuller form to both castle governors the next day.  Regardless of these orders and his disobedience of them, Brian seems to have remained loyal to the king and in September 1216 drew up the last year's account for the land of the honour of Peverel, but paid nothing into the treasury and was accounted quit.  Within the accounts though are records for improvements made to the castles of Bolsover, Horsley and Peak, £2 10s being spent on each of these and similar amounts on the king's houses in Peak.

Once again, but this time after King John's death on 19 October, Earl William Ferrers (d.1247) was granted Peak castle with the homages and purtenances that went with it on 30 October 1216.  Simultaneously Gerard Furnival was granted Bolsover castle.  Despite this, on 18 November the royalist Brian Lisle (d.1234) was obviously still holding the castle against the earl, the Earl Marshall again ordering him to turn Peak castle over to Earl William.  Ferrers, it should be noted, was the great grandson of William Peverel (d.1155) via his daughter, Margaret (d.c.1158).  Once again on 1 December 1216, the Earl Marshall had to repeat his command to Brian in yet stronger terms.  Brian seems to have avoided complying with this demand by passing the castle over to his possible brother, Richard Lisle.  Certainly on 24 December 1216, the Earl Marshall was forced to write to Richard ordering him to turn the castle over to Earl William.  The final result was that Earl William seems to have taken Peak castle by force as it was recorded in a contemporary chronicle that: ‘Truly the Earl Ferrers took by arms the castles of Bolsover and Peak.  That William managed to obtain the lordship is confirmed by a royal charter of Henry III (d.1272) recognising that Earl William had granted in frank almoin all the tithes of essarts in the forest of High Peak.

Five years later on 26 June 1222, the king ordered Earl William Ferrers (d.1247) to turn Peak and Bolsover castles over to William Rughedun.  From then on the fortress was run by royal appointees at the king's pleasure.  On 7 June 1226, it was recorded that Constable Robert Lexington was maintaining serjeants within the town of Peak in the land of William Fitz Richard who was described as of Peak.  Lexington was still holding the honour on 15 July 1227 when the king granted him 50m (£33 6s 8d) to help with his expenses in organising eyres.  From the 1220s onwards more and more records appear in the close rolls for the hunting of deer in Peak forest.

King Henry III (1216-72) paid his only visit to the castle on 10-11 September 1235 and for this the bailiff of the forest, Robert Ashbourne, provided 4 wild boar and 42 geese at 16s 3½d for their meal.  In 1236 the north wall and the bridge were repaired and a horse mill erected.  Further repairs were carried out to the keep and other buildings.  The same year on 26 May the king told his good men of Peak that:

by the common counsel of his lieges, he has taken into his hands all his manors and demesnes, to stock them and make his profit from them and he requests them to give him such an aid of their oxen, cows and sheep to stock the said manor as Constable John Gobaud of Peak will tell them....

That same October of 1236 the king granted his men of Peak and all dwelling within the forest of Peak that they should hold their lands by the customs and services before the date of his charter just like they always had, saving to the king his tallages, aids, pleas and amercements.

Constable John Grey (d.1266) was involved in repairing the king's castle of Peak on 20 May 1244 when King Henry authorised him to sell up to 20m (£13 6s 8d) of dead wood from Peak forest and spend the proceeds to repair the tower and king's houses in the king's castle there by the view of testament of good men.  On 12 July 1244, the king again authorised the spending of up to 20m (£13 6s 8d) on the repair of the king's tower and buildings of Peak castle.  Presumably this was the same order as the one in May, although this only appeared in the pipe rolls in the aftermath of the Welsh war at September 1247 when time could be spent in bringing the accounts into order.  It was also recorded that year that £15 had been spent on the castle chapel.

On 10/12 January 1248, Seneschal John Lexington was assigned in perpetuity all his hereditary lands in the town of Peak for a pair of gilded spurs or 6d rendered to the custodian of Peak castle for all services.  John had held this land as a serjeant of the king for performing the duty of larderer in Peak castle.  In the aftermath of the Welsh war of 1244-47, on 4 February 1248, Constable John Grey of the Peak was ordered to make a limekiln at Peak castle to repair the castle walls where necessary.  The castle continued to be maintained with the walls being worked upon for £7 10s in 1249, while between 1250 and 1252, 17 oaks were brought in from the forest and £60 was authorised to be spent on making necessary repairs and improvements to:

the great tower in the king's castle of Peak as well as the garret between the 2 gates in the same castle and cover them all with lead, as well as the walls of the same castle and the bakery and the gates of the said castle and the upper storey in the great tower as well as the new tower and the porch of the old king's hall there.

Eighteen months after this the district passed out of royal control, when on 14 February 1254, Peak castle was granted to the young Prince Edward (d.1307), together with many other fortresses and lands as well as the unconnected lands of the underage Earl Robert Ferrers on 14 April.

During the Barons' War of 1263-66, Earl Robert Ferrers (d.1280) marched with an army reputed to be 20,000 strong into Cheshire in April 1264 and forced its royalist defenders, William La Zouche (d.1272), Dafydd ap Gruffydd (d.1283) and James Audley (d.1272) to flee.  Possibly Robert obtained Peak castle at the same time, as, during the peace deliberations after Lewes, Peak castle, together with the earldom of Chester and Newcastle under Lyme, was surrendered to Earl Simon Montfort soon after 1 November 1264.  Subsequently an official order for Earl Robert Ferrers to surrender the castle to Earl Simon was issued on 24 December 1264 with the order for Chester having been confirmed by the king on 20 December.  That Earl Robert was holding the fortress suggests that he had seized it as the heir of William Peverel (d.1155+) being as he was, William's third great grandson.  Robert obviously disobeyed the order until January 1265 when he was arrested for ‘divers trespasses' at the parliament where the king was demanding his death.

On 20 March 1265, Earl Simon's control of Chester, Peak and Newcastle was confirmed and enhanced when the king allowed him the right to claim back anything which should belong to these places, but had been alienated.  As has been noted, many places had been alienated in the honour of Peverel by various kings since Henry II seized the barony in 1155.  On 4 August 1265, Earl Simon was killed at the battle of Evesham and Peak reverted to the control of Prince Edward before 18 January 1266, while Earl Robert remained imprisoned in the Tower of London.  The same day it was recorded that Prince Edward had had Peak castle returned to him by Gilbert Fraunceys and that Gilbert had been forgiven the injuries, molestations and damages that he had carried out while he held the castle.  Earl Robert Ferrers secured his freedom before 15 May 1266 by which time he was campaigning in Derbyshire from his base of Duffield castle, some 28 miles south-south-east of Peak castle.  However, on 15 May 1266, he was defeated and captured at the battle of Chesterfield, 15 miles south-east from Peak castle, thus ending his association permanently with the fortress, although some of his men remained as outlaws in Peak forest until 1269.  On 10 January 1270, Prince Edward made a foundation charter to Vale Royal abbey which included manors of Dernhall and Over, the churches of Ashbourne (Esseburn) and Peak castle in Derbyshire, as well as Frodsham and Weaverham in Cheshire with their chapels.  It is noticeable that it was only in 1540/1 that this was called Castylton in le Peke.

Early in King Edward I's reign (1272-1307) Peak castle with the honour was passed to Queen Eleanor in 1272 for the nominal rent of £100pa.  This was much less than the £200+ that the castle honour had been farmed out for during the reign of Henry II (1154-89).  Despite the grant there is no evidence that the castle ever served as a royal residence, instead Edward and presumably his queen, stayed at the no doubt more convenient Nottingham castle.  During September 1275 an account for £40 11s 4½d was recorded for repairs to the great tower and gate of Peak castle since 1272.  On 25 May 1288, Bailiff John le Fleming was given 12 oaks fit for timber to repair the houses within Peak castle.  Repair works costing £151 18s on the castle walls and buildings were subsequently accounted for in September 1289.

The castle passed briefly to the insatiable Piers Gaveston, between 7 June 1308 and 5 August 1309, when it was recorded as High Peak.  In 1331 the honour of High Peak was valued at £291 13s 4d when it passed to Queen Philippa.  On Queen Philippa's death in 1369 the castle and manor of High Peak passed to her son Duke John Gaunt of Lancaster on 25 June 1372.  John was obviously not much impressed with ‘nostre chastel de Castelton en la Peek', for he ordered Robert atte More, his receiver of Tutbury, to strip the lead from the fortress and take it to Pontefract castle.  A few years later the hall and other buildings were dismantled and their materials used elsewhere.  So ended the royal castle of Peak.

The semi-derelict castle later returned to royal possession when Henry IV (d.1413) seized the throne in 1399.  The fortress had lost all defensive function by now, but in 1480 it was recorded as repairable although greatly decayed.  As late as 1561 the keep was still in use as a court house, but the bailey's only purpose was that of a stray cattle pound although this saved it from total demolition which was considered at the time.  It was certainly derelict by the time of the English Civil War in 1642.  The castle formed a backdrop in Sir Walter Scott's novel "Peveril of the Peak" which has apparently given the fortress it its modern and totally anachronistic name of Peveril castle.

The castle stands to the north-west of the top of the limestone Cavedale crag 600' south of the edge of the modern town of Castleton, with the shear cliff of the crag, between 30' and 60' high, forming the south-eastern front of the castle.  The Peak Cavern gorge, or Peak's Arse, divides the castle baileys from one another making them both individually defensible.  Thus to the north-east of the gorge lies the triangular inner bailey, while to the west lies another triangular outer bailey.

The Inner Bailey
The main castle ward forms a triangle, measuring roughly 280' from east to west by 160' north to south and is surrounded by an irregular 6' thick curtain wall of varying dates.  The original defence seems to have consisted of a curtain built in herringbone fashion of which traces can still be seen in the north and west walls.  This style of walling is always early and can be found at Roman and Anglo-Saxon sites and only 7 castles in the UK and 6 in France as well as 42 churches in England and Wales.  Whether the building style continued into the Norman era is a moot point.

The short east wall of the inner ward contains a small gatehouse which allowed easier access from the town.  This left the north front, some 270' long, as the most vulnerable to assault.  It was approached up a 25 degree slope which reached some 30 degrees right under the castle wall.  Due to this slope there was no attempt to ditch this front as would have been normal.  Instead a simple herringbone curtain wall was built straight across the slope making the triangular enclosure of the inner bailey.  It seems likely that the much rebuilt western wall was a part of this construction built at the same time.  There appears to have been no attempt to wall the south front along the Cavedale, even though the cliff here is in places over 60' high and quite unclimbable, although the 1990 EH guidebook states categorically that the earliest herringbone curtain ‘ran along both the north and south sides of the castle'.  The weak points of this defence are definitely at either end of this front where the gatehouse and keep now stand.

Both the north and west walls have been heavily altered and rebuilt.  Possibly when this first happened a new entrance gate was constructed on the short east wall against the cliff to allow easier access to the town.  This consists of an internally projecting turret only 20' across and 10' deep.  The northern side of this is down to its foundations, but to the south portions of its Romanesque arch still remain.  This has been claimed to have once sported a zigzag moulding similar to the chancel arch in Castleton church although the current remains do not support this.  The external face of the castle gatehouse once had 2 pilaster buttresses to the south-east.  Presumably there were 2 more to the north-east on the northern side of the arch.  The official guidebook states that the Romanesque gate arch and pilaster buttress ‘confirms that it was built in the mid to late twelfth century'.  As there is no evidence to prove when pilaster buttresses were first and last used, while Romanesque gateways have been around for 2 millennia and more, such statements are demonstrably false.  What is true is that pilaster buttresses seem a feature of Western Europe and were most common in military structures in England, which few examples appearing in most western France.  There are 57 recorded instances of military pilaster buttresses in the British Isles with the bulk of these being in England.  In France most are in the Loire region although there is another strong cluster in Normandy.  Such a spread might indicate that this style is French, beginning in the 10th or 11th century in and around the Loire valley and spreading from the Pyrenees to the North Sea by the 1160s.

Within the Peak castle gate passageway is a drawbar slot, the only defence apparently being a stout door, there being no provision for drawbridge nor portcullis.  Again this is an early feature not expected in the work of the militarily competent Henry II (1154-89).  The age of the gatehouse, considering its style, would therefore seem to be early Norman and is unlikely to be the building work of Henry II or his successors - work which only seems to have begun after 1174 and never seems to have amounted to very much in the way costs.  Similar, but more powerful internal gate turrets may have existed at Arundel, Farnham, Leeds, Lewes, Norham, Richards Castle and Tintagel, but none exactly match this gate either in Britain or apparently abroad.

The south-east side of the enceinte above Cavedale does not appear to have been walled initially, judging by the lack of a junction to the gateturret although in 1990 it was asserted that both sides of the crag were walled.  As the rest of the enceinte had no original flanking at all it is presumably early, as too is the non-projecting gateturret, which itself appears to be of a similar date to the north turret added to the enceinte.  This curious, solid structure is 24' long and projects just 7' beyond the curtain.  It also has 3 pilaster buttresses on its exposed north face and appears to have just been a fighting platform at curtain wallwalk level.  As such it's function seems to have been to cover the approach to the new east gate.  Consequently their style and purpose makes it appear that both are contemporaneous and associated with the new approach from the vill.

The triangular area inside the enceinte is most irregular and slopes north at about degrees 15 degrees and east at about 10 degrees.  Inside the north wall is a flat area some 50' across.  Probably this was built up when the curtain was constructed.  Certainly the west wall changes direction where the platform ends and this might suggest an original construction feature.  This makes the interior ground level some 6' higher than the exterior.  Excavation has shown that the fill consists of a brown clay which appears foreign to the castle site.

Inside, at the top of  the ward, are the jumbled foundations of what are thought to have been the old hall, a chapel and other probably domestic buildings.  These are of at least 2 phases and were built on a 20 degree slope running down to the north.  The building said to be the old hall only has its north wall remaining.  To the southern, interior side it has a fine ashlar facing and a chamfered, single course plinth at the base.  As such this should be an external wall and certainly the flat platform south of this wall is only about 10' across, in other words too narrow to house a Norman hall.  This ashlar looks similar to that of the keep, which suggests the 2 buildings may be contemporary.  East of the ‘old hall' is a north-south aligned building which has herringbone built walls.  As such this may be as old as the original castle walls.  East of these buildings is another rectangular structure interpreted as the castle chapel.  This apparently had a new wall built within the older confines in a very unusual arrangement.

Along the northern half of the west curtain were a series of 3 long buildings, the middle one of which was later fitted with a garderobe overhanging the gorge.  The north corner of the northernmost building, where it joined the north curtain, was later replaced, probably due to subsidence on the platform that had been raised here.  A large new window was inserted in the new wall overlooking the town.  East of this a new hall, some 55' by 38' internally, with a kitchen at its east end was built inside the old curtain, forming an awkward junction to it at both ends.  There is a similar layout at Bothwell castle in Scotland, leaving an odd space between curtain and hall, but there the hall appears older than the curtain.  The hall fireplace at Peak was at the opposite end to the kitchen, which would therefore have meant that both ends of the hall were heated.  The rectangular bases of 2 round columns survive astride the fireplace hearth.  These would have supported the hood, while their round shape would suggest an affinity to the pillars on the corners of the keep.  The decorate fireplace would suggest that this was a ground floor hall, while the narrowness of the walls indicate that it was probably only ever of one storey.  The kitchen was apparently vaulted, while the hall overlay the foundations of the inner wall of the northern building along the west wall and so obviously post dates it.  Probably this is the ‘new hall' of 1251, and so was probably built for King John (1199-1216).  That king also added a new hall at St Briavels castle.

At some point the south-eastern face of the fortress, running above Cavedale was fortified in stone.  This curtain seems to have run from the southern side of the east gatehouse along the cliff top and through the east end of the chapel.  Just south of the chapel was a round tower with an internal diameter of about 11'.  Its southern portion either overhung the Cavedale cliff or has fallen away in a collapse.  The stones used in the tower construction are small and cut into regular shapes in a manner unseen at the rest of the site.  Fragments of crushed tile have also been found in some surviving render on the walls.  It is therefore suggested that both the tile and the stones came from the nearby site of the Roman fort of Navio.  Consequently it is stated that the tower was built in the thirteenth century and it certainly does bear comparison with the wall and towers that once surrounded the bailey at Richards Castle.  However all that can be said of this Peak tower with certainty is that it was probably built after the Roman invasion of Britain and before 1300.

Underlying this tower is the corner of an earlier straight wall that apparently followed the cliff to this point when it struck northwards at approximately 115 degrees.  Again, how this layout could possibly have co-existed with the chapel is impossible to state.  The D shaped tower, set in an apparent awkward junction with the postulated curtain on either side, had a second shallowly projecting D shaped tower some 45' south-west of the keep corner.  From here the curtain continued to the south-west until it made a 75 degree turn to make a right-angled junction with keep wall, slightly south-west of the entrance doorway.  Possibly this section of walling was instrumental in the approach to the keep doorway.

The Keep
The keep occupies the highest point of the castle and stands almost to its original height of 60'.  It is roughly 40' square, having internal rooms roughly 21'x19' surrounded by walls 8' thick, although the south-west wall is thicker.  Traditionally the gritstone ashlar was stripped off to repair Castleton church.  Alternatively it is claimed that a local functionary used the ashlar to build himself a new house in Castleton.  A sketch of 20 August 1785 shows that the fine ashlar was still most present on the currently stripped sides of the tower.  The ashlar facing of the tower was decorated with pilaster buttresses centrally and at the 4 corners, although for some reason the south-east face of the tower had no central buttress.  The corners of the keep were also highly decorated with ¾ columns known as nook shafts.  The top of the keep columns were said to be decorated with scalloped capitals as shown in a nineteenth century sketch.  The base is a simple roundel and the shaft segmented, unlike those on the church chancel arch which are made in one piece and have simple Romanesque capitals.

The first floor main entrance to the keep is on the south-east side some 9' above current ground level.  It has an unusual double arch, the upper one being pure late Romanesque with heavily decayed decorative figurehead stops, while the lower one is more flattened.  Possibly the lower arch is a later insertion, certainly the whole looks unusual at best.  The nearly 5' wide doorway was only protected by a stout door locked with a drawbar and leads into a small hall nearly 20' square.  In the thickness of the south-east wall is a passageway that leads to a projecting garderobe overhanging the gorge.  Similar examples to this (in rubble, not ashlar) exist on the round keeps at Skenfrith (largely destroyed) and Longtown in the Welsh Marches another can be seen at Tonquedec in Brittany. 

In the north-east wall of Peak keep is another passage that leads into a mural chamber with 2 small windows.  The tower floors were linked by a spiral stair in the east corner.  The internal roof line of the first floor hall above is well picked out in the ashlar showing the strongly pitched roof well below battlement height.  To the west is a deeply set embrasure with a narrow Romanesque window.  This was reached via a doorway from the spiral stair at this level.

Peak is one of the smallest keeps in the country and its purpose appears unmilitary, it being unequipped with crossbow loops, drawbridge or portcullis.  Despite modern claims that the money spent by Henry II on ‘the works of the tower of Peak castle' must refer to the building of this keep there are many questions that need answering before such an assertion can be accepted as likely, let alone proved.  For instance, why does the style and decoration of this work bear no resemblance to Henry's other great keeps, viz Dover and Orford, although similar clasping pillars do exist at Scarborough keep?  Was some £135 really sufficient to build a high quality ashlar tower from scratch?  Why, if the tower was built in war time, was it so unmilitary in outlook?  Just compare Peak keep with the Avranches tower at Dover.  Such questions leave a heavy element of doubt as to the keep's construction date and more importantly, its purpose.


Copyright©2021 Paul Martin Remfry