Scarborough Castle, Part 1 - From Roman Signal Station to Tudor Stronghold
After all those obscure German castles and geneaologies of German noble families I've been blogging about those last months - if I blogged at all - I'll be back to some British history and British castles. I still got a bunch of those in my photo archives from my travels to the UK. So here is Scarborough Castle for you - photographed on one of the few days of 'British weather' I've experienced during my travels: fog, drizzle, and an icy wind.
Scarborough Castle; the keep seen from the outer gate
The history of human settlement on the rock promontory overlooking the North Sea goes further back than the Roman signal station, but the late Bronze Age and Iron Age people left few architectural traces behind. An excavation done in the 1920 produced evidence for a hill fort which dates to 900-500 BC. Some pottery finds are even older (2100-1600 BC). There is an anchorage place beneath the promontory which may have attracted interest in the site at such an early time; and the promontory is protected by steep cliffs on three sides which makes it a suitable place for a hill fort.
Scarborough Castle seen from the north bay,
with the usual evening fog coming in
I've already presented the Roman signal station
via an interview with our Roman guide Aelius Rufus. The Anglo-Saxon chapel which was built partly into the remains of the signal station about 1000 AD, has been covered in that post as well.
The landside curtain wall seen from the town
There was a settlement on the south bay in the 10th century. It had been assumed to be a Viking foundation, but there is no proof for that. Snorri Sturluson's Heimskringla
tells about a skirmish at the site: shortly before the battle of Stamford Bridge, King Harald Harđráđa came from Norway via Orkney where he had gathered more men, to push his claim to the English throne after the death of Edward the Confessor. He wanted to secure the surrender of a place called Skarđaborg, but the inhabitants refused. So he had a big fire built on the promontory and threw brands down into the settlement until they gave up and 'ganga til handa Haraldi' (became his vassals). Harald then continued with his fleet up the Humber and landed in Riccall (1). He fell at the Battle of Stamford Bridge, together with his ally Tostig Godwinson. The victor, King Harold Godwinson, marched back south to meet his fate at Hastings.
While the details of the fight at Scarborough may be invented, and there is no archaeological evidence (which would be difficult to find anyway), I think the very existence of a settlement, including the geographically correct description, would not have been made up by Snorri Sturluson. It could have been an Anglo-Saxon foundation as well as a Viking one, though.
The curtain wall on the town side
The first castle on the promontory was built by William Count of Aumale. He was created Earl of York by King Stephan in 1138 after the victory at the Battle of the Standard
where he commanded a Norman force. The chronicler William of Newburgh says that Aumale built a tower, curtain wall, moat and chapel. The structure of the castle would likely have followed the Norman motte and bailey style.
But the Count of Aumale could not enjoy his castle for long. When King Henry II ascended the throne in 1154, he firmly reestablished the royal power and reclamied the royal lands which had been given to his supporters by King Stephen, who then often treated the fiefs as their own possession. At first, Aumale refused, but when King Henry II appeared before York with an army, he thought better of it and surrendered.
The - partly destroyed - keep of King Henry II
William Aumale was not the only great noble who initially caused problems; some other earls and Welsh marcher lords closed their - illegally built - castles against Henry as well, but the latter prevailed. It is amazing how fast the king moved his army which consisted mostly of mercenaries between the north and the Welsh border to put out those brushfires. Henry pursued a conciliartory course in those first years of his reign - those who surrendered would keep their titles; thus William of Aumale remained Earl of York (2).
Remains of the keep from the inside
Henry II turned Scarborough Castle into an important stronghold in the north. He knew about the frequent incursions of King David of Scots into England during King Stephan's reign, and while his grandson and successor Malcolm the Maiden was nothing like David, Scotland remained an uneasy neighbour.
Henry demolished some of Aumale's buildings and rebuilt them in much grander and stronger scale. The most impressive feature is the stone keep which looks formidable even today in its half ruined condition. It is placed on the highest point of the promontory, overlooking the town and the barbican, as well as the way up to the castle.
The settlement beneath the castle was given the title of Royal Borough in the mid-12th century.
The keep, upper floor
The architecture of the castle will get its own post, so here is just some basic information about the keep which was over 27 metres (90ft.) high, with walls 3.5 m (12ft.) thick. It had a basement and two storeys, as well as a countersunk roof which made it appear even taller. Attached was a forebuilding which housed a chapel.
Most of the construction work was going on between 1157 and 1169. Henry spent the considerable sum of about £ 680 on the castle - his annual income was about £ 10,000 which had to pay for a migrant royal household, mercenary armies, castle building and other venues.
There was an inner curtain wall and trench around the keep; traces of those still remain, but the buildings inside had been dismantled already during the time of King John.
Remains of the inner curtain wall and trench
King John spent even more money on the castle which served as stronghold against the northern barons: £ 2290 between 1202 - 1212. During his time, the invention of the trebuchet had changed the way of siege warfare; to defend the larger missiles thrown at higher angles, stronger and higher curtain walls were neccesary. John had the entire promontory surrounded with those, though only the ones on the land side still remain. During the baron's war at the end of John's reign, the castle was held for him by Geoffrey de Neville, but never besieged.
King John also built what is called King John's Chambers or Mosdale Hall, a building outside the former inner bailey which sat along the curtain wall. It was a two storey building with a large and a small room on each storey, each warmed by a fireplace. The rooms were still in use at the time of King Edward III.
Remains of King John's chamber block
John's son King Henry III also put some efforts in maintaining the castle, though he never spent time there himself. Henry also built the barbican with the two D-shaped towers. The barbican has been altered considerably during later times. A separate King's Hall was built at some point (it is mentioned in a survey from 1361), but only the foundations remain today.
The storms and saltwater spray from the sea made constant repairs neccesary. Severe storms carried away roofs (1237) and caused parts of the curtain wall to collapse (1241). Erosion of the seaward walls was also an issue. Nevertheless, Scarborough was considered one of the greatest royal fortresses in England at the time.
I suspect that even with fireplaces and at the peak of 13th century living standards, Scarborough Castle was not a comfortable place in bad weather. I for my part was glad I brought some hot tea along to warm myself up, and I love exploring castles.
King John's Chambers, interior
Edward I continued to use the castle; he held court there in 1275 and 1280, and used Scarborough Castle as prison for captives / hostages from his Welsh and Scottish campaigns - I could not find any details, but I don't think it involved hanging them in cages from the barbican towers. *wink*
There is an interesting tidbit: In 1304, Edward I made Isabella de Vesci, a member of the influential Beaumont family, constable of Bamburgh Castle (3). According to some sources, she was constable of Scarborough as well, though maybe later (under Edward II). It was a very unusual position for a woman at the time. If she got Scarborough after Gaveston's death, it would surely have pissed off the Lords Ordainer.
To make a complicated bit of history simple: The Lords Ordainer, led by the Earl of Lancaster, were a group of barons who wanted to curb the power of King Edward II. They forced him to follow a set of Ordinances or rules in 1311, which included the exile of Edward's favourite Piers Gaveston who the barons thought was too close to the king and endangered their own position. Not to mention that he gave them insulting nicknames.
Foundations of the king's hall
Gaveston was used to going into exile by then, it was the third time he left England (early November 1311). But he did not remain absent long, instead he returned in January 1312, probably to visit his wife who had just given birth to their daughter. King Edward II declared the judgement against Gaveston unlawful, restored his lands and made him governor of Scarborough Castle.
Gaveston began to fortify the castle, but during a stay in Newcastle he and the king were set upon by the barons and barely escaped; their baggage was taken, including a number of valuable jewels. Edward fled to York and Gaveston to Scarborough where he was soon besieged by the earls of Pembroke and Warenne. Gaveston had had no time to provision the garrison and thus accepted surrender under safe escort to York where they would negotiate with the king.
After a preliminary meeting in York, Gaveston was left in custody of the Earl of Pembroke who took Gaveston with him to Oxfordshire. One day, as Pembroke was absent, the Earl of Warwick used the chance, captured Gaveston and dragged him off to Warwick Castle where he was subjected to a mock trial led by Warwick and Lancaster. Piers Gaveston was then taken outside and beheaded on June 19th (4).
Whatever Edward II's failures as king and Gaveston's character, this was the deed of a niđing, not a nobleman. The Lords Ordainer lost some of their support over it; especially the Earl of Pembroke who rightfully considered his honour slighted by Warwick's action, turned into a stout ally of King Edward.
View from the keep to the curtain wall
Maintenance of the castle continued to be an issue; often only the absolute neccesary repairs would be done - royal treasuries were not unlimited. There may also have been an element of sabotage like the story about part of the curtain wall that collapsed into a cloud of sand in 1361. *cough* I'd have checked the houses in Scarborough for recent additions of stones.
Lord Henri de Percy who lived in the castle in the mid-14th century had a bakehouse, brewhouse and kitchen built in the inner bailey.
Inner bailey (part of the keep wall to the left)
During the Hundred Years War, Scarborough Castle played a role again in protecting the town which had become an important harbour for the wool trade. King Henry VI ordered major repairs in 1424, though I could not find out what exactly was done.
King Richard III stayed in the castle in 1484 while he assembled a fleet to fight the Tudors. In the end, it was not a fleet he lacked, but a horse; Richard fell at Bosworth August 22, 1485. The Tudor dynasty would rule England for the next generations.
View from the keep to the barbican
Scarborough came into focus again during the Pilgrimage of Grace. This was an uprising in Yorkshire against King Henry VIII's break with the Catholic Church, Thomas Cromwell's politics and the dissolution of the monasteries. It was led by Robert Aske, a lawyer from a well-connected Yorkshire family. Aske tried to take Scarborough which was defended by Sir Ralph Eure who held the castle with nothing but his household servants in October 1536. There was some damage by gunfire, but obviously minor. The rising failed and the leaders - including several lords and knights - were executed. Aske was hanged in chains from Clifford Tower
Scarborough proved attractive for another rebel: Thomas Stafford, grandson of the 3rd Duke of Buckingham who had been executed in 1521 during the reign of Henry VIII. Thomas Stafford did not like the idea of Queen Mary 'the Bloody' marrying Philipp II of Spain and thus securing a Catholic monarchy. He returned from exile in France (5), landed at Scarborough and took the castle obviously without any problems. But within six days, the Earl of Westmorland (whose mother was a daughter of the 3rd Duke of Buckingham) retook the castle; Thomas Stafford was beheaded for treason.
Way from the the castle down to the barbican
Queen Elisabeth established a garrison at Scarborough during the Northern Rising 1569. Several powerful nobles in northern England were Catholics and would have prefered Mary Queen of Scots (who already was prisoner in southern England) to Elisabeth. The rebellion failed, but the garrison remained until the political unification of England and Scotland under James I (IV) in 1603. More about the history of Scarborough Castle can be found in this post
Keep and curtain wall to the north, with the well in the foreground
1) The events are told in the Heimskringla, chapter 83, Orrosta viđ Skarđaborg. The Old Norse text can be found here (text page 502).
2) Fun fact aside: The title Earl of York was only created twice, once for William of Aumale (1138-1179) and again for Otto, son of Heinrich the Lion, who was made Earl of York by King Richard in 1190. The title became defunct with his death in 1218.
3) Isabella had married John de Vesci of Alnwick who already died in 1289. She was lady-of-honour of Edward's wife Eleanor of Castle and would remain faithful to King Edward II and Queen Isabella against the Lords Ordainer. She later sided with Queen Isabella against Edward II, but abandoned that alliance when Isabella and Roger Mortimer snatched some Beaumont lands. Kathryn Warner only mentions her being governor of Bamburgh Castle, but it is not impossible that Isabella de Vesci was governor of Scarborough Castle as well. Edward II confirmed her for Bamburgh in 1311, and he may have given her Scarborough after Gaveston's death.
4) More details can be found on Anerje's blog.
5) It was actually the second rebellion in which Thomas Stafford was involved; he had joined the - failed - one of Thomas Wyatt in 1554 and escaped to France.
Frank Barlow: The Feudal Kingdom of England 1042-1216. 5th edition, Edinburgh 1999
Robert Bartlett: England Under the Norman and Angevin Kings 1075-1225. 5th edition, Oxford University Press, 2003
John A.A. Goodall: Scarborough Castle; English Heritage Guidebook, 2010