Middleham Castle was once known as the “Windsor of the North.” Located in Wensleydale, North Yorkshire (fans of Wallace and Gromit will enjoy), Middleham Castle was the home of the youthful Richard, Duke of Gloucester, better known as King Richard III. Historians may agree that it was here that Richard spent some of the happiest and most productive years of his life.
Built in 1190, the castle became the property of the Neville family in 1290; the most famous Neville being the “Kingmaker,” Richard Neville, the 16th Earl of Warrick.
Richard first arrived at Middleham as a young teenager. His father, Richard Duke of York, had been killed at Wakefield in December 1460, one of the many battles fought during the Wars of the Roses. Richard had been sent, with his brother George, to Burgundy for safekeeping. He had returned to England in 1461 when his oldest brother took the throne as Edward IV. When he arrived at Middleham, he had already been named Duke of Gloucester, a powerful and mighty title for a young boy!
After his father’s death and the tumultuous years that followed, Middleham Castle must have seemed a haven of peace and tranquility far from the foul air and dangerous streets of London, with the clean, crisp air of the dales and wide open moors, it was the perfect venue for a young royal to learn the ways of chivalry and the martial arts. And no one was more suited to teach these things to aspiring young men than the powerful Earl of Warwick.
Richard was by no means a natural athlete or soldier. But after four years under the tutelage of Warwick, he could hold his own against those twice his size. Four years of racing his horse across the moors – in all kinds of weather made him expert horseman.
Many years later when Richard married Warwick’s youngest daughter, Anne, his brother Edward IV gave them Middleham Castle. This allowed them to return to the “home” they loved best. During Richard’s tenure at Middleham it was the base of operations for the governance and protection of the north. His son, Edward of Middleham, was born there and lived there most of his short life. He died there, too, at the age of about 10.
As king, Richard spent virtually no time at Middleham. After Richard’s death at the Battle of Bosworth in 1485, the castle returned to the crown’s property. It was sold during the early 1600s, but sadly has fallen into ruin.
We visited Middleham on a grey, overcast fall afternoon. The winds were sharp and piercing. The drive through the busy town was no different than through any other busy English town. We drove up the steep hill towards the castle at the top.
There’s a small visitors’ center and we would recommend buying the guide book so you can see the castle at the height of its glory. For a ruin, it was still enthralling. Walking through the Castle’s doorway allowed us to step back into time and recreate for ourselves this once magnificent medieval castle. (The guidebook helped.) And of course, walking where so many of our Plantagenet and Neville friends had walked gave these enthusiasts quite the thrill.
When we finally reached a high point within the castle, we were able to look out and see the views of the surrounding area of the spectacular dales and moors, which appeared to go on forever. The castle’s location made it highly defensible. Its size would have made it impressive and its setting was perfect. Even on that grey day we could see for miles. For the breathtaking view alone, Middleham is well worth seeing!
For a fascinating side trip, do go to the York Museum and see the Middleham Jewel. It was found on the grounds of Miidleham. It is a gold pendant with a large sapphire. It was a reliquary made for holding some religious fragment. The incredible detail of the engraving is awe-inspiring and best of all, it dates from the reign of either Edward IV or Richard III.
For more information, please go to: http://www.english-heritage.org.uk/daysout/properties/middleham-castle/