Helmsley Castle

Helmsley can be found in North Yorkshire, on the road between Thirsk and Kirby Moorside. Helmsley was an important location. It was granted to Robert de Mortain, a half-brother of William the Conqueror. A castle was constructed at a later date, in the early 12th century. By the 15th century the holding of Helmsley Castle had passed to the Roos family. As the Wars of the Roses broke out, it was Thomas 9th Baron Roos of Helmsley who was lord of the castle.

Helmsley Castle

The original castle at Helmsley was constructed by Walter l’Espec with work beginning c1120. This wooden structure was built on a prominent position overlooking the River Rye and Manor of Helmsley. This area was of note, it had been ‘harried’ by the Normans and then participated in revolts, led by Robert de Mortain and Bishop Odo, against King William II.

The Castle was replaced by a stone keep and is unusual for the period in that it was surrounded by two dry moats. It did not originate as a Motte and Bailey as was the case for most of the areas Norman Era castles. The structure was developed quite extensively in the 13th and early 14th century. A new hall, more comfortable apartments, and an improved kitchen were added. Furthermore, defences were improved through development of the curtain walls and adaptations to some of the towers.

By the 15th century the castle was not only very strong but also quite comfortable. It retained strategic importance as it guarded a key route across North Yorkshire, and was a place of refuge for locals and monks from the nearby Rievaulx Abbey in times of violence, such as raids from Scottish reivers.

Helmsley and Thomas 9th Baron Roos

As tension mounted in the 15th century the castle at Helmsley was in the hands of Thomas 9th Baron Roos. Baron Roos was a staunch Lancastrian. This is hardly surprising. Roos was a half-brother to the Duke of Somerset, and was descended from Richard Beauchamp 13th Earl of Warwick, amongst other notable Lancastrian nobles. Similarly his wife, Eleanor, had strong ties to the Lancastrian court, being a half-sister to Henry Duke of Warwick. This affinity resulted in his loyalty to the crown during the troubled 1440/50s. And his service to the crown was rewarded with patronage that had benefits for himself, and for his estates in and around Helmsley: the most advantageous of the rewards that Lord Roos received was an exemption from taxation on wool. Wool at the time was England’s chief export, and Helmsley lay at the heart of the North Yorkshire farmlands that were ideal for the rearing of sheep that produced high quality wool.

Helmsley Castle Helmsley Castle taken from Helmsley Walled Garden. Nigel Catterall Helmsley Castle. CC BY-SA 2.0. Via Wikimedia.

Helmsley, Thomas 9th Baron Roos and the Wars of the Roses

Thomas 9th Baron Roos (also spelt as Ros) was born at Conisborough CastleConisbrough Castle in September 1427. He inherited at an early age, his father dying when he was just four years old. King Henry VI granted Thomas livery of his lands when he was 18, after which time he had control of the Roos / Ros barony. Bound to the Lancastrian court through family ties and marriages, Thomas 9th Baron Roos made use of his lands and retainers to support the cause of the Court Party and was a loyal servant to the cause of King Henry VI, answering the call to arms issued by Margaret of Anjou in 1460 and remaining militarily active until his execution following the Battle of Hexham in 1464.

As with most Barons, Thomas 9th Baron Roos had a system of retaining and a retinue of capable and experienced military men drawn from his estates. This included those within the lands tied to Helmsle Castle and the men here were well drilled in military matters, as they formed part of the defences of the Anglo-Scottish Marches. In 1460 Thomas Roos and his retinue were, according to Whethamstead’s Register, present at the Battle of Wakefield. From here he and his retinue marched south with Queen Margaret’s army. Thomas was present at the 2nd Battle of St. Albans and was one of the men knighted by Edward Prince of Wales following the Lancastrian victory.

When the Lancastrians opted to return to the North and base themselves in York, Baron Roos accompanied them. As the Yorkist army followed and engaged the Lancastrians at Ferrybridge, Dintingdale, and Towton, Lord Roos was at the King’s side, in York, as part of the royal entourage. The defeat of the Queen’s army at Towton led to the royal party fleeing to the North East. Thomas 9th Baron Roos accompanied the royal party. From the North East he could draw upon his resources in North Yorkshire, and utilise his local knowledge and retinue in the defiant attempts to hold of the Yorkist assaults, led by the Earl of Warwick and Lord Montagu.

As a result, Lord Roos was present at the Battle of Hedgely Moor, and later at the Battle of Hexham alongside his half-brother, the Duke of Somerset. Hexham proved disastrouTfor Lord Roos and the Lancastrian cause in the North East. He, and his half-brother, amongst others captured in or shortly after the Yorkist victory at Hexham. He was taken as a prisoner to Newcastle, where he was tried and executed for treason.

Helmsley Castle under Yorkist rule

Following the execution of Thomas 9th Baron Roos and the eradication of the Lancastrian foothold in the North East, Helmsley Castle was very much under the control of the Yorkist regime. Shortly after the Battle of Hexham, King Edward IV granted the castle and estates to his brother, George Duke of Clarence. It remained part of the estates of the Duke of Clarence until he was tried and executed for treason in 1478. King Edward IV then granted the estates and castle to his other brother, Richard Duke of Gloucester. Richard then held the castle as Duke and latterly as King, until his death in the Battle of Bosworth.

The Tudor Victory and Helmsley Castle

Following the victory of Henry Tudor over Richard III, Helmsley Castle was returned to the Roos family. Edmund de Roos who was also recognised by the new Tudor regime as being 10th Baron Roos. Edmund held the castle until his death in 1508, at which point it passed to his nephew, Sir George Manners.

Helmsley Castle Links

Historic England – official listing of Helmsley Castle.

English Heritage – overview of the castle, with visitor information.

English Heritage – Timeline of the history of Helmsley Castle (pdf file).

AW History – photo gallery with notes, from a local historian.

Castle Studies Group – Teachers Resource Pack on Helmsley Castle (pdf file).

Featured Image Details

By Barkmatter – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, Via Wikimedia.

Leave a Reply