Bolton Castle

The land where the fortress of Castle Bolton was eventually built was originally held by Gillepatric before 1066 when it was worth 20s.  He held 6 other vills based on Spennithorne, including Middleham just 7 miles from Bolton.  By 1086 these lands had passed to Count Alan Rufus of Penthievre (d.1094), while Bolton itslef was held under him by his brother, Ribald Middleham (d.1121+).  His lands were based in Norfolk and North Yorkshire.  Ribald's second great grandson, Ralph Fitz Ranulf, died on 13 March 1270, still seised of West Bolton (which lay just a mile south-west of Bolton castle) amongst other places.  As Ralph left only daughters West Bolton was unequally divided amongst his sons in law, Robert Neville of Raby (d.1271) and Robert Tatteshall of Buckenham castle
(d.1298), while Little/Low Bolton (less than a mile south-east of the castle) passed to the king. 

Despite the tenurial history of the district, the area in which Bolton castle stands was obviously held by the Scrope family in the early thirteenth century.  At this time Simon Scrope of Flotmanby and Ingoliana his wife granted all the lands they held from Osbert Fitz Nigel (d.1234) in Wensley (4 miles south-east of Bolton castle) to their son and heir, Henry.  This Henry's son, William Scrope (d.1296), was recorded as holding lands in Wensleydale of Peter Savoy (d.1268), the earl of Richmond, before 1282.  He may also have been responsible for granting the church of Downholme to Coverham abbey before 1300.  By 1 February 1311, he was recorded as holding Kirkby Fleetham (Fletham), Great Fencote (Fencotes), East Bolton, Little/Low Bolton and Pathorn in Yorkshire when he was granted free warren in his demesne lands there.  Presumably East Bolton lay east of West Bolton and contained the site of Bolton castle.  Thus it can be seen that the Scropes had been in Wensleydale since before 1234.  Despite this, in the 1370s it was thought that they had only gained Wensley in 1317.  Possibly this was related to the death of Roger Ingoldsby in 1313.  He was the grandson of Osbert Fitz Nigel (d.1234) and therefore the Scrope's overlord.  It is possible that it was his son in law, Ralph Paris, who sold the lordship of Wensley to Henry Scrope soon after 1313.  Henry Scrope (d.1336) certainly seemed in possession on 10 March 1315 when he exchanged land in Newsham upon Tees in County Durham with the abbot of Rievaulx for land in East Bolton in Wensleydale.  It seems relatively clear from this that there was no castle at Bolton at this point.  Five years later on 20 November 1320, Henry was granted free warren in his demesne lands of West Bolton, Wensleydale and Sledmore in Yorkshire.

Despite the Scropes apparently being in Wensleydale since the thirteenth century, the castle's known history begins during the Hundred Year's War (1337-1453) with the lord of the district being Richard Scrope (d.1403).  Scrope had fought under the Black Prince at Crecy in 1346 and became treasurer and keeper of the Great Seal in 1371.  In 1378 he became Lord Chancellor, but resigned in 1380 with the collapse of Richard II's government due to defeats in France.  He resumed the office in 1381 after the Peasant's Revolt had seen the beheading of his successor, but was deprived of it again by Richard II (1377-99) in 1382.  Despite this, his eldest son, William Scrope (d.1399), was a prominent supporter of Richard II and attempted to defend his kingdom from Henry Bolingbroke in the summer of 1399.  As a consequence he was executed without trail by Henry IV on 28 July 1399 in Bristol castle.  Regardless, King Henry soon declared that Scrope's lands and titles would not be forfeit due to the actions of his son.  Consequently, on Richard Scrope's death (30 May 1403), these passed to his second son and heir, Roger Scrope (d.1403).

It was during these times that Bolton castle was apparently founded.  It seems clear that Bolton castle existed before a contract was drawn up between Lord Scrope and Mason John Lewyn of Durham.  Lewyn's career is briefly discussed under Warkworth.  The original document is dated 14 September 1378, and would appear to be an order for the continuation of work that had already begun.  It would therefore seem that the west side and the bulk of the north and south sides of the fortress were already standing when Lewyn was ordered to build the east range.  This document, written in French, contracts for a 'tower for a kitchen' (evidently the north-east tower), to be vaulted and embattled.  This was to be 50' high below the battlements, 30' long and 24' wide.  The outer walls were to be 6' thick.  Between this Kitchen Tower and the gatetower a house (meson) was to be built, vaulted and embattled, standing 40' high beneath its battlements.  This was to have above its vault 3 rooms, one above the other, each being 36' long and 16½' wide.  Again the outer walls were to be 6' thick, though this time the inner walls were ordered to be only 4' thick.  The gatetower was to consist of an embattled tower, 50' high below the battlements.  It was to contain a vaulted gateway and above the gateway 3 rooms, one above the other, each 31½' long and 16½' wide.  The same tower, to the south of the gateway, was to have a vaulted room, and above that 3 more rooms, one above the other, each 39' long and 21' wide, with the walls being the same thickness as the house.  On the west side of the tower, Scrope wanted a vaulted and embattled room 40' high below the battlements, with a second vaulted building over it and another room above this again, each being 30' long, inclusive of the entrance passage, and 16½' wide, with the walls the same thickness as before.  All these buildings and rooms were to be provided with entrances, fireplaces, doorways (huyses), windows, garderobes and all other necessaries.  There were also to be 3 vices, one in the kitchen and 2 for the gatetower.  All the internal partition walls were to be either 3' or 4' thick.

For this John Lewyn was to execute at his own cost all the works appertaining to the masonry and to provide all the stone and lime, while Scrope was to find wood for burning the lime and for centres and scaffolds, as well as paying for the carriage for all the stone, sand and lime. John Lewyn was to be paid 100s for each perch (a perch varied between 18', 20', 22' and 24') of masonry, the perch to be 20 superficial feet long and 3' thick.  To this end arches and vaults were to count the same as wall masonry.  The sill of the gateway was to be taken as the datum, or point from which the height of the walls were to be measured.  Lewyn was to receive over and above his perch payments a further 50m (£33 6s 8d).

Nearly a year after this contract was drawn up Chancellor Richard Scrope was granted licence to crenellate his manor of Bolton in Wencelowedale or a place within it with a wall of stone and lime on 4 July 1379.  This ran:

Know that we give licence for our Chancellor Richard Le Scrope that his manor of Bolton in Wensleydale, or within the same manor, a wall of stone and lime he may fortify (firmare) and crenellate or strengthen and crenellate to hold by himself or his heirs etc.

It was claimed 150 years later that the building work took 18 years and cost £12,000 as is discussed below.  This has often led to the statement that the work finished in 1396.  Obviously there is no logic to this date 18 years after it is known that building work was actually taking place, without any idea of when it actually began.  The idea that work may have continued until the chapel was dedicated in 1399 is even more unlikely as the chapel was already in use in 1393.

The 1378 contract implies, but does not prove that a major part of the castle already stood.  This might also be suggested in the licence to crenellate.  If this suggestion is correct it is possible that the north range of the castle was part of an original manor house and that this was expanded into the rectangular castle by adding the east and south ranges as well as possibly the west range.  As the French contract stands there must have been more contracts made, though whether with Lewyn or not is another matter.  It is also odd that the towers stand nearer 60' high under the battlements, rather than the 50' as ordered and, as has already been mentioned, nothing is said of the bulk of the north and west ranges.  The castle was obviously complete by 8 February 1393 when Scrope had licence to endow a chantry in his chapel (on the third floor of the south range) in Bolton castle which by the terms was obviously already extant and in use.

The castle seems to have seen no action during the Wars of the Roses, but on 15 May 1533, John Scrope (d.1549) was in residence at the castle when he wrote a letter to Thomas Cromwell.  Three years later at the start of the Pilgrimage of Grace, John Scrope (d.1549) was among those ordered by Henry VIII (1509-47) to support Arthur Darcy (d.1561), the son of Thomas Darcy (d.1537) in suppressing the Northern rebellion on 13 October 1536.  Apparently Scrope was willing to do this and a letter from him to Earl Henry Clifford of Cumberland (d.1542) was sent on 13 October from Richard Tempest (d.1537) to Thomas Darcy (d.1537) stating that he was ready to ride against the rebels.  However, by 17 October, he was recorded as having been sworn to the rebels.  The same day it was reported from Yorkshire that many gentlemen had been surprised in their own houses and sworn to the rebels on pain of death.  Despite this, Clifford, allegedly with Scrope, had managed to reach Skipton castle and safety.  This most surely must have been wrong for on 23 October it was reported by the duke of Norfolk that he was expecting lords Dacre and Scrope to join him with their troops as well as Henry Clifford and Richard Tempest and that the rebels would in any case not attack him, although Pontefract, a far stronger place than that Norfolk was defending, had surrendered, he had no doubt that he would hold.  Also Scrope had been with the rebels since 17 October and was with them at Pontefract and then Doncaster after his swearing.  On 31 October, Lord Darcy reported that Lord Scrope with Charles Danby and William Mallory were again at Pontefract with the ‘rear ward' of the rebel army which consisted of some 20,000 men, although it was claimed there were 30,000 there and that they were dispersing.  During this period, on 21 and 30 November 1536, John Scrope of Bolton was given a safe conduct with other rebels like John Latimer, John Lumley and Thomas Darcy, to come to Doncaster to treat with the duke of Norfolk and others of the king's council.  This resulted in a brief pacification of the North until Francis Bigod rebelled on 16 January 1537.  As a result many leaders of the previous Pilgrimage of Grace rebellion were arrested by a vengeful Henry VIII.

After Francis Bigod's rebellion, which ended on 10 February 1537, Abbot Sedbar of Jervaulx was examined in the Tower of London on 25 April 1537, concerning his part in the recent Pilgrimage of Grace.  He claimed that after being forced to join the rebels, who had nearly killed him, he fled them in early January 1537, going:

to Bolton castle to Lord Scrope and remained there till he heard they [the rebels] were sparpled and broken at Richmond when he returned home.  He intended if they had kept together to have remained in the castle with Lord Scrope, with whom he had arranged before, and who had asked him boldly to come to him with such servants as he could trust and he would defend them, for he knew of a thousand that would die with him in that quarrel.  Since then he had heard nothing of that matter.

It would seem that the commissioners of Henry VIII (1509-47), pursuing Sedbar as a rebel, reached Bolton castle early in the Spring of 1537 and found the house undefended as Scrope had gone south to his father in law, Earl Henry Clifford of Cumberland (d.1542) at Skipton castle.  Meanwhile Sedbar himself had fled Bolton castle before the commissioners' coming.  He was captured on 12 May and executed at Tyburn on 2 June 1537.  Meanwhile, the commissioners, finding their prey gone, had fired Bolton castle to make sure it was not held against Henry VIII.  This presumably happened in March or early April, considering as early as 27 January 1537, Scrope had written from Bolton to the duke of Norfolk telling him how the country was stirred up by various writings, but how honest men were willing to abide by the order of parliament despite the lewd bills being posted about.  The same summer of 1537, the main rebel leader, Robert Aske, when interviewed by the men of Henry VIII, claimed that at the siege of Pontefract castle the previous year [19 October 1536] the fortress was surrendered by Lord Darcy [20 October 1536] and that the lords Neville, Latimer and Lumley then led the host to Doncaster where the third division of the rebel army was led by Lord Scrope, who was later with the rebel host at Pontefract again.  Aske also asserted that Lord Scrope with others were deputised to take a letter demanding the surrender of Pontefract castle to its garrison, but that they did not go.  It was near Doncaster on 26 October 1536, that Aske and his 40,000 men had met Duke Charles Brandon of Suffolk with the royal army of 6,000 and agreed to disband his forces as the king had instructed that the rebellion should be ended by negotiation if possible.  This resulted in a general discussion with the king's council and an issue of a general pardon on 3 December 1536, with the remaining rebels dispersing and returning to their homes.  By January the king's inaction and the fact that he had not called a parliament to discuss the issues raised by the rebels led to some rebelling again in Yorkshire, Lancashire, Cumberland and Westmorland under Francis Bigod.  This time the king moved fast and had over a hundred of the rebels summarily hanged, drawn and quartered.  Aske was hanged in chains outside Clifford's Tower, York, where he was allowed to die of exposure and starvation.

After the rebellion, another traitor, George Lumley, reported that he had also spent a day at Bolton castle in the company of Scrope.  Against this, William Stapleton in his confession mentioned that on Saturday 21 October 1536, an element of the rebel army moved from Pontefract thorough Wensleydale to Craven with the intention of taking the earl of Cumberland and Lord Scrope.  Scrope's own letter of 12 October 1536 somewhat confirms this when Lord Scrope wrote to his father in law, the earl of Cumberland, that the rebels had taken Mashamshire and Netherdale, had occupied Coverham abbey and Middleham and were now burning beacons in the night and marching on him in Bolton castle this very day.  He had learned their intention was to either make him swear allegiance to them or take him prisoner.  He had therefore left his house and his wife (bedfellow, ie Cumberland's daughter) and was staying away until he was sure of the rebel's purpose.  He asked Cumberland's advice by this letter which was brought to him by his bedfellow.  Scrope had reached Skipton and this led to a brief siege of the fortress, before Scrope under duress, was forced to take the oath which read:

Ye shall not enter to this our pilgrimage of Grace for the common wealth, but only for the maintenance of God's Faith and Church militant, preservation of the king's person and issue and purifying the nobility of all villains' blood and evil counsellors, to the restitution of Christ's Church and suppression of heretics' opinions, by the holy contents of this book.

Quite obviously Stapleton had got his dates wrong, for by 21 October Scrope had joined the rebels.  On 29 October 1537, John Scrope was again writing to Cromwell begging him for his favour and on 13 November it was noted by oyer and determiner that Lord Scrope amongst others had demeaned themselves in the recent disturbances. 

John Scrope was soon pardoned his enforced adherence to the rebels and was then allowed to repair Bolton castle, with various enlarged windows thought to date to this period of refurbishment.  Over the next few years John Leland (d.1552) wrote several times of the castle, but noted nothing of any recent damage to it.  Firstly he stated that:

At Bolton... the town is very rude, but the castle, as no great house, is all compacted into 4 or 5 towers.  There is a pretty park hard by it.

Next he noted that:

Bolton is a very fair castle in Swaledale standing on a balk and underneath is a little brook.  It is within a mile of the farther side of Ure Water and, as I learned, 4 miles from Swale.  It is the chiefest house of Lord Scrope.  There is no town hard by it.  Wensley little market is 2 miles east of it.

And finally that:

Bolton village and castle is 4 miles from Middleham.  The castle stands on a rock side and all the substance of the lodgings [in] it be included in 4 principal towers.  It was 18 years in building and the expenses of every year came to 1,000m (£666 13s 4d).  It was finished before King Richard II died (1400).  One thing I much noted in the hall of Bolton, how chimneys were conveyed by tunnels made on the sides of the walls between the lights in the hall and by this means and by no louvers is the smoke of the hearth in the hall wonder strangely conveyed.  Most part of the timber that was occupied in building of this castle was fetched out of the forest of Engleby in Cumberland and Lord Richard Scrope for conveyance of it had laid by the way divers draughts of oxen to carry it from place to place till it came to Bolton.  There is a park walled with stone at Bolton.

The castle's next mention of note came on 15 July 1568, when Queen Mary of Scots (d.1588) fled to England by boat after her defeat at the battle of Langside in May.  She arrived in England at Workington and made her way to Cockermouth castle where she was taken to Carlisle and then escorted by Henry Scrope, at Queen Elizabeth's order, to his castle of Bolton, arriving there on 15 July 1568 and being housed in the south-west tower.  She came to the castle one hour after sundown with Lord Scrope and a large retinue of servants including 51 knights.  The exiled queen then remained there for 6½ months with a large retinue of 30 men and 6 ladies in waiting in the castle itself, the rest having their own lodgings outside.  These servants included cooks, grooms, an embroiderer, apothecary, hairdresser, surgeon and physician.  To further make her stay more comfortable various tapestries, rugs and furniture were borrowed from surrounding houses as far away as Barnard Castle and Queen Elizabeth herself sent some pewter vessels and a copper kettle on loan.  Mary's clothes arrived from Lochleven castle 5 days after the queen, on 20 July 1568.  Her ‘imprisonment' was not that pressing for she was allowed to explore the surrounding lands and often went hunting.  She also spent much time with her hairdresser.  Meanwhile in Scotland, her surviving supporters fought on without her, enduring sieges at Edinburgh and Dumbarton.

Meantime a commission of enquiry was set up at York to investigate any involvement Mary might have had in the murder of her husband, Lord Henry Darnley (d.1567).  Also, while in the castle, Francis Knollys (d.1596) taught the queen to read and write in English as she only previously knew French, Latin and apparently Scottish.  Francis also preached to her his Protestant faith earning himself the nickname from Mary of ‘Schoolmaster'.  While at Bolton Francis wrote of it:

This house appears to be very strong, very fair and very stately after the old manner of building and is the highest walled house that I have seen and has but one entrance thereinto.

Despite his puritan leanings, Francis and Henry Scrope were found to have allowed Mary to consort with Papists, one of which was Lord Scrope's wife, Margaret Howard (d.1591), the sister of the Catholic Duke Thomas Howard of Norfolk (ex.1572).  Margaret was therefore ordered not come within the castle walls and therefore moved out to a house 2 miles from the fortress.

Eventually Mary was moved on towards her new place of containment at Tutbury castle on 26 January 1569.  Ten months later in November 1569, the northern earls of Westmorland and Cumberland rebelled with the intention of freeing Mary from Tutbury.  Henry Scrope remained loyal to Elizabeth I (1558-1603) and defended Carlisle against the earls, but no fighting took place as far south as Bolton, the fighting being restricted to Durham and Barnard Castle.

Bolton castle saw its only combat after the battle of Marston Moor in 1644, when only it, Pontefract, Sandal, Scarborough and Skipton castles remained for the king in Yorkshire.  In late 1644 John Wastell (d.1659) was commissioned colonel of a regiment of foot and besieged Bolton castle that winter, before he was ordered on to Pontefract.  At some point in the late spring of 1645, the lord of the castle, John Scrope, the bastard son of Emmanuel Scrope of Bolton (d.1630), was bottled up in the castle.  He resisted surrender until Colonel Henry Chaytor surrendered to Colonel Francis Lassells (1612-67) on 5 November 1645 after the garrison had been reduced to eating their horses.  In March 1646 John was fined £7,000 for his obstinacy, but he died before he could pay the fine, aged just 20.  In 1647 the Commonwealth Committee sitting at York ordered the castle to be ‘rendered untenable'.  Despite this, the castle remained habitable and the family seat of John's sister until 1675 when nearby Bolton Hall was completed.  In 1761 the Kitchen Tower collapsed during a storm, but in the nineteenth century the castle was still used as 8 dwellings for local villagers.

Bolton is not a castle, but a great house, like many other fourteenth century northern fortresses, viz. Brancepeth, Lumley, Raby, Sheriff Hutton and Wrestle.  As it stands today it is a great rectangular block 180' east to west by 130' north to south, with square towers projecting only some 8' from its 4 angles.  Oddly to north and south are central turrets that project some 15' from the curtain, nearly twice the distance of the corner towers.  In the centre was a rectangular courtyard.  Around this courtyard stand 4 ranges, each about 38' deep and 40' high to the base of the battlements.  Generally the ranges contained 3 storeys.  It is built mainly from locally quarried limestone.

The Courtyard
The courtyard is about 90' east to west by 55' north to south and is entered from the south end of the east curtain via Lewyn's gate passageway.  This passageway lies close to the gatetower and consists of a 35' long passage with an entrance to the porter's lodge at the east end of its south wall.  It's inner entrance was also defended by a portcullis, while the outer had both portcullis and gate.  The portcullises were operated from the chamber above, which probably was the original residence of the constable.  There were also murder holes in the floor.

Within the courtyard were 4 doors leading eventually to the corner towers with an extra one set up some steps to the east leading to the upper floor over the gate passageway.  Each of these doorways was protected by stout gates and a portcullis, making the courtyard a potential deathtrap for anyone who got inside the fortress.  The entire courtyard is cobbled and overlooked by windows from the surrounding ranges.  These originally seem to have been lancets with cinque cusped heads and labels.  Externally the windows were generally simple rectangular lights, although many of these have been replaced with later mullion and transom windows.

The Ranges
The layout of the castle was generally logical.  At ground floor level, south of the gatehouse in the south-east tower, lay the guardroom, the south range adjacent to it containing all the accoutrements necessary for keeping such a force well, like a meal house, bake house, brewing house and a threshing mill in the base of the south-west tower.  These ground floor rooms were all vaulted.  On the second floor in the south-east tower was the guard's mess.  The range contained the mess kitchen and then the malting house.  The top level of the range contained the auditor's chamber next to the south-east tower, with the chapel occupying the rest of the range adjoining to the south-west tower.

The basements of the west and part of the north ranges contain store rooms, although some were possibly used as stables.  At either end of the west range were 2 further rooms, the provender house to the north and an armourer's workshop to the south.  The first and second floors were mostly occupied by great chambers, while on the top floor, next to Queen Mary's room in the south-west tower, was her bedchamber.  There were also many mural passages at this level, much more than those in just the towers on the level below.

The basement of the north range contained a dungeon in the central turret, with a wine cellar and well chamber to the east of it.  Above these lay the buttery and probably pantry serving the great kitchen in the tower to the east and the great hall to the west.  This hall is the only room that covered 2 floors.  Above the buttery lay a minstrels' gallery. 

The Towers
At each of the corners stood a large tower, each some 45' by 30', but none being identical.  The oddest tower of the 3 was the destroyed north-east kitchen tower which fell in 1761.  Unlike the other towers, this had its longest face along the shorter east side.  All the rest had their longer sides along the longer north and south sides.  Considering Lewyn built both the eastern towers this is odd and there seems no logical reason for this change of design.

The towers were originally all equipped with 5 storeys and 4 garrets on the angles, although only the south-west tower, with Queen Mary's Room at its summit, remains nearly intact.  This level also contained the bell for the chapel which lay next to it in the south range.  The north-west tower contained state chambers at its higher levels.

Bolton castle is not a real fortress, it is more a fortified house, strong enough to see off bandits, but utterly incapable of stopping a serious military attack.  The walls at only 6' thick would not have stopped artillery which could have been placed on the hillside opposite.  Neither was a ditch or moat dug to keep attackers from the base of the walls, although the earthwork 30-40' west of the castle and nearly 50' across has been suggested as remains of a defensive ditch.  However, this could not have been continued around the house as it would have run straight through the church on the north side.  Possibly this was a fish pond.  In short Bolton was an impressive looking house, but would have been of very limited use for serious military defence.

Why not join me here and at other Northern English castles this year?  Please see the information on this and similar tours at Scholarly Sojourns.


Copyright©2022 Paul Martin Remfry