Castle Bolton, Wensleydale and the Scrope Family

Castle Bolton is situated in Wensleydale, North Yorkshire. The castle was constructed between 1378 and 1399 by Richard, 1st Baron Scrope. As tension mounted in the 1440s and 1450s the Scrope Barons of Bolton were allied with their neighbours, the Neville’s of Middleham. Thomas 4th Baron Scrope and his descendants, Henry 4th Baron Scrope and John, 5th Baron Scrope were all Yorkist lords, siding firstly with the Duke of York, then his sons Edward IV and Richard III.

The Scrope Family of Castle Bolton

Sir Henry Scrope

Castle Bolton was built by Richard Scrope, 1st Baron Scrope of Bolton. His father, Sir Henry Scrope, had served as Chief Justice of the King’s Bench on occasions between 1317 and 1330. Richard 1st Baron Scrope of Bolton’s uncle, Geoffrey, also served as Chief Justice, four times, between 1324 and 1338. The Scrope family was therefore well connected and highly regarded within the legal profession. These roles had led to Sir Henry Scrope being granted lands following the failed revolt of Thomas, earl of Lancaster. Sir Henry was then appointed as Chief Baron of the Exchequer, following Geoffrey Scrope resuming the position of Chief Justice. At the time of his death in 1336, Sir Henry remained Chief Baron of the Exchequer, and held twenty one manors, making him a wealthy man.

Sir Geoffrey Scrope

Sir Richard Scrope’s uncle remained hugely important at the time of Sir Henry’s death. Sir Geoffrey had already advanced himself at court, serving in campaigns under Edward III and having, briefly, had the honour of Skipton conferred upon him. As the Hundred Years War began, Geoffrey was one of the diplomats that Edward III utilised to gain support for his claims and campaigns, sending Sir Geoffrey Scrope along with the Earl of Northampton to lead negotiations with the Holy Roman Empire, and also engaging Geoffrey as a diplomat with regards John Balliol and Scottish affairs.

Richard Scrope’s minority

Sir Richard Scrope was a minor when his father passed away. Born in 1327, his inheritance was managed for him until he came of age. His families influence, not least of that of his uncle until he died in 1340, ensured that Richard was well placed to continue the advancement of the senior branch of the Scrope family. This he did with aplomb, as did his cousins following the death of Sir Geoffrey Scrope.

Sir Richard Scrope’s Political Rise

Sir Richard Scrope entered national political life in 1364, when he was entered into Parliament as a Knight of the Shire for Yorkshire. He advanced quickly, being summoned as First Baron Scrope in 1371. Soon he was appointed as Lord High Treasurer, and soon given the position of Keeper of the Great Seal. Richard 1st Baron Scrope was benefitting from the family network created by his father and uncle, and from his own skills as a politician and administrator.

This led, in 1378, to Richard 1st Baron Scrope being appointed as Lord Chancellor. This was a tumultuous time, with Parliament seeking to curb the spending of King Richard II and growing unease amongst the commons. In 1380 Richard Scrope left his position as Lord Chancellor. He was reappointed after his successor was killed by the commons in the Great Revolt [Peasants Revolt] of 1381, but was removed from the position by King Richard II due to his resistance to the King’s spending and policies.

Richard 1st Baron Scrope granted a licence to crenellate at Bolton, Wensleydale

Whilst the 1st Baron Scrope was on the rise, he was granted licence to crenellate his Manor House at Bolton, Wensleydale.

Licence for the said Richard Lescrope to crenellate his manor of Bolton in Wencelowedale or a place within it with a wall of stone and lime. 4 July 1379,

Calendar of Close Rolls 1377-81, page 369. [Hathi Trust]

Having been granted permission to crenellate [fortify] his residence in Wensleydale. Richard 1st Baron Scrope dedicated his time to it’s development following his dismissal as Lord Chancellor by Richard II.

Building Castle Bolton

Lord Scrope had plans for a castle at Bolton, Wenselysdale, before the licence to crenallate was issued. Presumably assured that one would be granted, he drew up contracts with John Lewyn of Durham in 1378 for the design and construction of the castle. Built in stages, it took two decades to complete, with the chapel being dedicated in 1399. The castle was a state of the art construction by the standards of the day. It was a formidable fortress, but incorporated many features that would make living within the castle quite comfortable.

John Lewyn of Durham

John Lewyn of Durham was a master mason who was responsible for many of the North’s great castles and religious buildings of the late 14th century. See Raby Castle.

Design of Castle Bolton

The inside of the castle has a courtyard sized 28m x 17m. Around this central space are 4 towers that were 5 storeys high. THese are connected by curtain walls that contain rooms such as the Great Hall. The external measurements of the castle are 55m x 40m.

The diagram below illustrates the internal rooms within each of Castle Bolton’s four towers. The South West Tower containing the chapel. The North West contains the guardhoouse and on the connecting wall to the North East Twer the Great Hall takes up the equivalent of the first and second floors. Stables are also located in the ground floor of the North West Tower. The castles kitchen – which is still remarkably intact – is to be found on the first floor in the North East tower. The South East Tower contained the brewhouse.

Faulkner's Diagram of Castle Bolton
Faulkner’s Diagram of Bolton Castle. Via Researchgate

Accomodation within Castle Bolton

Castle Bolton was large. It had 8 apartments and lodgings for up to 12 retainers. These are found in the curtain walls of the original castle building: of which some have collapesed or been demolished. Remaining structures show that these areas were spacious, relatively comfortable, and for the time that the castle was built, well fortified. The Great Hall is sizeable and could have hosted large events: it still does, it is a popular wedding venue.

The 1378 Contract to build Castle Bolton

Victoria County History relates of the 1378 contract to construct Castle Bolton that:

It makes provision for a ‘tower for a kitchen’ (evidently the north-east tower, the measurements of which closely approximate), to be vaulted and embattled, and to be 50 ft. in height below the battlements, 10 yds. long and 8 yds. wide, with outside walls of the thickness of 2 yds.; between the kitchen-tower and the gate-tower a building (meson), vaulted and embattled, 40 ft. in height below the battlements, having above the vault three rooms, one above another, each 12 yds. long and 5½ yds. wide, the outside walls of the building to be of the thickness of 2 yds. and the inside walls (i.e. on the bailey side) 4 ft.; an embattled tower, 50 ft. in height below the battlements, containing a vaulted gateway, and above the gateway three rooms, one above another, each 10½ yds. long and 5½ yds. wide; in the same tower, to the south of the gateway, a vaulted room, and above it three rooms, one above another, each 13 yds. long and 7 yds. wide, the outside walls to be of the thickness of 6 ft. and the inside walls 4 ft.; adjoining the tower, on the side towards the west, a room vaulted and embattled, 40 ft. in height below the battlements, (fn. 106) with a second vaulted building over it, and above this again another room, each 10 yds. long, inclusive of the entrance passage, and 5½ yds. wide, the outside walls to be of the thickness of 2 yds. and the inside walls 4 ft. All these buildings and rooms were to be provided with entrances, fireplaces, doorways (huyses), windows, privies and all other necessaries; and there were to be three staircases (vices), one within the kitchen and two for the gate-tower. All the internal partition walls were to be either 3 ft. or 4 ft. in thickness. John Lewyn was to execute at his own cost all works appertaining to the masonry and to provide all stone and lime, while Sir Richard was to find wood for burning the lime and for centres and scaffolds, and to pay the carriage for all stone, sand and lime. John Lewyn was to be paid 100s. for each perch of masonry, the perch to be 20 superficial feet, one yard thick, and the arches and vaults to count as wall masonry. The sill of the gateway was to be taken on the datum, or point from which the height of the walls was to be measured. He was to receive over and above this 50 marks in all.

‘Parishes: Wensley’, in A History of the County of York North Riding: Volume 1, (London, 1914) pp. 268-280. British History Online

William Scrope, 1st Earl of Wiltshire

Richard 1st Baron Scrope of Bolton’s heir, William Scrope 1st Earl of Wiltshire, had been appointed seneschal of Aquitaine in 1383. He had been appointed vice-chamberlain of Richard II’s household in 1393 and granted lands in Wiltshire in the same year. Richard 1st Baron Scrope also purchased the Isle of Mann for his heir, granting him the nominal title of King of Mann. William followed in the footsteps of his grandafther and great uncle and retained high office at Parliament. In 1398 he became Lord High Treasurer and had been heavily involved in the diplomatic talks that led to King Richard II’s second marriage, to Isabella of Valois, Princess of France. William was clearly a man close to King Richard II and effectively ran the government in periods when the King was absent. This was the case when Henry Bolingbroke invaded and ousted King Richard II. William Scrope, 1st Earl of Wiltshire and heir to the estates of his father, Richard 1st Baron Scrope of Bolton, was seized by Henry Bolingbroke’s men at Bristol Castle and executed there without trial on 29 July 1399.

The Scrope’s of Bolton 1403-1459

Richard 1st Baron Scrope of Bolton died on 30 May 1403. As his eldest son had been executed in 1399, the Barony was inherited by his next eldest son, Roger Scrope, who became 2nd Baron. Roger’s tenure as Baron Scrope of Bolton was short. He passed away in December of 1403 and was succeeded as Baron Scrope of Bolton by his aon, Richard 3rd Baron Scrope of Bolton.

Richard 3rd Baron Scrope of Bolton

Richard Scrope was a minor when his grandfather, then father, passed away. His families ties to the crown and the value of his inheritance made him an important and wealthy child. So much so that he became a ward of the Queen [Catherine of Valois]. The royal wardship, his worth upon coming of age, and the politics of the north of England led to a marriage being arranged for the young Richard Scrope that sought to strengthen his ties to the crown and the bonds between families at the heart of securing Engand’s borderlands with Scotland. The Queen arranged for Richard 3rd Baron Scrope of Bolton, to marry Margaret Neville, a daughter of Ralph Neville, 1st Earl of Westmorland and his first wife, Margaret [Stafford].

Following his marriage, in 1413, Richard followed in the footsteps of his forefathers and engaged in military and administrative duties for the crown. This included participating in Henry V’s 1415 campaign in France. Leading a company of 15 men-at-arms and 40 archers, Richard 3rd Baron Scrope of Bolton fought in the Battle of Agincourt, and then acted as a naval commander in the Siege of Harfleur. Following the English successes in the 1415 campaigns, Richard returned to the north of England. By 1418 he was based in Hull, commanding some 120 men-at-arms and 240 archers as Henry V continued his preparations for the next stage of the conquest of Normandy. It was whilst in Normandy as part of King Henry V’s army, that Richard 3rd Baron Scrope of Normandy died, at Rouen, on 2o9 August 1420. His wife, Margaret, survived him and lived until 1463. He was succeeded as Baron Scrope of Bolton by his son, Henry Scrope.

Henry 4th Baron Scrope of Bolton

Henry Scrope was born in 1418. As an infant at the time of his father’s death, he was raised by his mother with wardship and administrative oversight of his lands being granted to his uncle and neighbour, Richard Neville, Earl of Salisbury, who was based in Middleham Castle. A bond of £1000 was held to ensure that the young Henry Scrope was not married off, and there was a brief legal dispute pertaining to the lands he was due to inherit – which saw his uncle clash with Marmaduke Lumley, which resulted in a settlement in favour of Henry’s uncle.

Henry 4th Baron Scrope of Bolton received livery of his lands in February 1439 and entered parliament for the first time in 1441. Most of Henr 4th Baron Scrope of Bolton’s acts of note were in the north of England. He acted as a commissioner of the peace in the 1440s and 14450s and was courted by the City of York who saw worth in retaining good relations with him. As the north saw troubles begin and escalate between the Neville [of Middleham} and Percy families, Henry Scrope was involved in more ways than one. When Nevile retainers challenged the Percy’s at Topcliffe, Henry Scrope was among them. Rather oddly perhaps, he was then in 1453 appointed to investigate the violence between the two families and sat theoretically impartially on a commission of oyer and terminer looking at the matter. Henry’s role at Westminster was rather limited in comparison to some previous Barons Scrope. His attendance in London was limited, though notably he attended the partisan parliaments of the Duke of York’s protectorate and during the period of Neville dominance at court following the First Battle of St. Albans. Otherwise, his administrative duties beyond those of a ‘normal’ regional magnate were limited to negotiations, in 1449, with Burgundy over truce arrangements and infractions, and the more routine matter of maintenance of the Western March through his family ties to the Neville family.

Henry 4th Baron Scrope of Bolton died in on 14 January 1459. His heir was his son, John, who became John 5th Baron Scrope of Bolton.

John 5th Baron Scrope of Bolton

John 5th Baron Scrope of Bolton inherited his fathers title and estates in 1459. He had already gained experience of the administrative aspects of lordship, having been a commissioner of the peace in York prior to his fathers death. He had been knighted before his inheritance, and was already affiliated with the Neville and Yorkist factions as England entered into the bloodiest phase of the Wars of the Roses.

1459: brink of war

1459 was a politically turbulent year in the north. The major landholders had, in 1458, been subjected to bonds and ordered to make good on promises to curb the violence of the Percy-Neville feud: that the Scrope family had been involved in, on the side of the Neville’s of Middleham. The fallout from the ‘Loveday‘ and the linked acts of forced reconcilation and bonds had been almost immediate in the North Riding, with the efforts of the crown to halt the violence being spurned by some of both affinity. As John Scrope took his fathers place as Baron of Bolton, the region, and nation, were on the brink of all out war.

John 5th Baron Scrope of Bolton in the Wars of the Roses (1461-64)

When the Wars of the Roses did burst into action John 5th Baron Scrope was militarily involved. He was part of the Yorkist army led by the Earl of Warwick at Northampton, then fought with his Neville allies, in the campaigns of 1461 which resulted in injuries being incurred in the Battle of Towton. His wounds were not serious enough to prevent John 5th Baron Scrope from participating on the field of battle again. Again alongside his Neville neighbours, he saw action on the field of battle at Hexham in 1464, which effectively sealed the Yorkist victory in the North.

France and Scotland

John 5th Baron Scrope’s endeavours on behalf of the Yorkist cause did not go unnoticed. In 1463 he was invested as a Knight of the Garter by King Edward IV, an honour limited in number and only granted to the most loyal or important of subjects. This loyalty continued. In 1475 the Baron participated in Edward IV’s invasion of France, taking with him a force of 200 archers and 20 men-at-arms. Similarly, when England intervened in Scottish affairs in 1482, John Scrope was involved. His importance and seniority by this time is clear: it was Baron Scrope who commanded the vanguard of the English army as it advanced into Scotland.

The latter of those campaigns also shows the way in which northern politics had changed. By 1482 the Scropes were working alongside the Percy family, with the Percy Earl of Northumberland commanding the army in which John 5th Baron Scrope held his command. Indeed, by this time Baron Scrope’s son and heir had married a daughter of the Earl of Northumberland, bonding the families together.

Support for the Yorkist cause: 1485 – 1487

As opposition emerged to the rule of Richard III, John Scrope remained loyal to the Yorkist cause. He was among the forces fighting for King Richard III at Bosworth. His support for Richard at Bosworth did not result in any particular consequences. He was pardoned by King Henry VII and continued to hold regional offices.

Scrope had little loyalty to the new Tudor regime though and in 1487 he, along with his relative Thomas 6th Baron Scrope of Masham, assaulted York in support of the invading army that the Earl of Lincoln had assembled. That intervention on behalf of Lambert Simnel and the Yorkist invasion was unsuccessful but did not result in execution, nor attainder. Instead the Baron was fined by Henry VII and required to remain in or close to London.

Return to thenorth and the death of John 5th Baron Scrope of Bolton

His role in the north remained important though. This, and his ties through marriages to the Tudor household, enabled him to return north. This saw him returning one last time to military action. In 1497 he was present at Norham Castle as Scottish invaders were ousted from the stronghold.

John 5th Baron Scrope of Bolton died the following year, 1498. His son, Henry, inherited the Barony and estates as 6th Baron Scrope of Bolton.

Virtual Tour / Street View of Castle Bolton, Wensleydale

Cadet Branch of the Scrope Family.

The descendants of the younger brother of Henry le Scrope, Geoffrey, became a Cadet branch of the Scrope family. They too rose to baronial rank, becoming the Baron Scrope’s of Masham. The families remained close and are seen working alongside one another throughout the period covered above.

Castle Bolton Links

Bolton Castle (Wensleydale) – Castle history from the castles website.

Julia Tales – overview of Bolton Castle and its role in the Wars of the Roses.

Heritage England – Listing for Bolton Castle, Wensleydale

British History Online – the entry in Victoria County HIstory for Wensleydale incorporates detail on the village of Castle Bolton and a chronology with detail of the history of the castle with associated events noted.

ARCHi Database – images, maps and virtual tours of Castle Bolton.

Featured Image details

By wfmillar, CC BY-SA 2.0, Via Wikipedia


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