Raby Castle and the Neville Family

Raby Castle is located in County Durham in the North East of England. With a history dating to the reign of King Cnut (Canute), it is strongly linked to the Neville and Vane families. The castle as we know it has its origins in the 14th century. This was when a license to crenallate was issued to John Neville 3rd Baron de Raby. In subsequent centuries the castle has been modified significantly. 

Origins of Raby Castle

The earliest records of buildings at the site of Raby Castle come from the reign of King Cnut. This shows Raby being granted to the Prior of Durham. Little documented evidence remains from this era in relation to Raby. The area is linked to ancestors of the Neville family, though exact details of which generation are disputed. What is clear, is that the Neville family held Raby from the Prior of Durham from the 13th century.

Raby Castle
Raby Castle. By Draco2008 from UK – Via Wikimedia, CC BY 2.0,

Raby Castle: The Barons Neville of Raby


Isabel de Neville married Robert fitz Meldred, lord of Raby. Their son and heir Geoffrey adopted his mothers family name on account of the inheritance associated with that family. This included Raby, Brancepeth and Sheriff-Hutton. Geoffrey is nominally the 1st Baron Neville of Raby through tenure. Geoffrey died c1242.

Administrative roles of the Neville family increase

Robert de Neville inherited Raby and, through his maternal grandparents, other estates in the north. Robert held several positions of note, including becoming Sheriff of Yorkshire, having responsibility for the defence of York for a period, and as Chief Justice of the Forests [variously, his role altered]. Robert had become a significant figure in the administration of the north, the Nevelle’s of Raby were on the rise. Robert died in 1282. See more about Robert de Neville here.

Summons to Parliament as Baron Neville of Raby

Robert de Neville’s son, also called Robert, predeceased him. This son had married Mary fitz Ranulf who was a co-heiress to Middleham Castle. This is when and how Middleham Castle became a Neville property. The early death of Robert resulted in his son, Ranulph, becoming Baron of Raby upon his grandfathers death in 1282.

Ranulph Neville became the first Baron of Raby to be summoned to Parliament. Consequently, Ranulph is variously regarded as 3rd Baron Neville of Raby (by tenure) or as 1st Baron (by writ of summons). Ranulph married Euphemia de Clavering who was an heiress to estates that potentially would have included Warkworth Castle. However, these were then promised, then granted, to the Percy family for their role in defending the Marches.

The Neville’s of Raby and the Anglo-Scottish Wars

Ranulph Neville’s eldest son, Robert, predeceased his father, being killed in a border clash fighting against the Scots. When Ranulph died in 1331 he was therefore succeeded by his eldest surving son, Ralph, as 4th/2nd Baron Neville of Raby. Prior to inheriting, Ralph had already made a name for himself. He had fought against the Scots, been captured and ransomed, held administrative roles including being Keeper of Warworth Castle, and had been involved in the events that ultimately led to the deposing of Edward II and installment of Edward III as King of England.

Under Edward III, Ralph Neville was elevated, in 1334, to the rank of Banneret, appointed as keeper of the temporalities of the bishopric of Durham, and continued to serve in campaigns against the Scots. Throughout the 1330s and into the 1340s, Ralph 4th Baron Neville of Raby was highly active militarily and within court. The pinnacle of this being his commanding of the English forces at the Battle of Neville’s Cross in 1346 which saw his force defeat the Scots and capture King David II of Scotland.

Battle of Nevilles Cross as illustrated in Froissart's Chronicle
Battle of Neville’s Cross as illustrated in Froissart’s Chronicle

Hundred Years War and the Impeachment of John 5th/3rd Baron Neville of Raby

John Neville became 5th/3rd Baron Neville of Raby upon the death of his father in 1367. John was already and experienced soldier by this point. He had served under his father at Neville’s Cross, and campaigned in the forces of Henry of Grosmonth 1st Duke of Lancaster, in France in the 1340s followed by participation in Edward IIIs ‘Rheims Campaign’ of 1359/60, which had to the King knighting him. The association with the crown continued after his inheritance. John became a retainer of John of Gaunt, and fought aongside the Black Prince in the Spanish campaigns of 1367.

In the 1370s Baron Neville served in Brittany, overseeing an ultimately failed and costly campaign. This and his ties to John of Gaunt saw him then being subjected to charges in Parliament who in 1376 forced King Edward III to remove Lord Neville from his position as Steward of the Royal Household, followed by an impeachment process in Parliament.

Penalties that had been imposed on Neville were soon overturned as the 1377 Parliament reversed those of the ‘Good Parliament’. This came at a time when John’s wealth was growing. The Neville’s had acquired interests in other estates, received monies in lieu of prior service, and by this stage were assured of the eventual inheritance of the Latimer estates from Lady Neville’s father: which happened in 1381.

Return to favour: license to Crenellate Raby Castle, 1378

This return to favour coincided with the granting to John 4th Baron Neville of Raby, permission to crenellate at Raby. Issued by Bishop Hatfield of the Palatine of Durham in 1378, this was the legal right to fortify existing structures at the Neville residence in Raby. It resulted in the construction of what we would recognise as being a Castle, rather than the previous manor house which, presumably, had been been fortified but to a far lesser extent. A similar license to crenellate was then issued for Neville properties at Sheriff Hutton in 1382. John 4th Baron Neville of Raby died in Newcastle in 1388, and was succeeded by his son Ralph Neville.

Plan of Raby Castle

Plan of Raby Castle

Title: “The Castles of England: their story and structure … With … illustrations and … plans”

Author(s): Macnairn, J. [person] ; Mackenzie, James Dixon, Sir, Baronet [person]

British Library shelfmark: “Digital Store 10369.v.7” Via Flickr

The image above illustrates Raby Castle once fully developed. This happened in stages, as outlined in The Medieval Development of Raby Castle by the Castle Studies Trust.

Ralph Neville, 1st Earl of Westmorland

In 1388 Ralph Neville, eldest son of John 4th Baron Neville of Raby, inherited his fathers title and estates. By this time Ralph Neville had gained considerable experience, and the family had acquired significant roles in the north. Ralph, along with Thomas Clifford, had been appointed as joint keepers of Carlise Castle in 1385. This was followed by Ralph’s appointment in 1386 as Warden of the West March, whilst his father was simultaneously appointed as Warden of the Eastern March. Ralph, as 5th/3rd Baron Neville of Raby, had his position in the Western March renewed following his fathers death.

Ralph Neville retained links with the King and Court, being a retained knight of the crown, and in receipt of a retainers feee from John of Gaunt by 1397. The 1390s saw the Neville’s of Raby become as powerful in the north as their neighbours, the Percy family. Ralph had led negotiations with the Scots following the Anglo-French Treaty of Leulingham and held justice positions for  the North and West Ridings of Yorkshire.

In June 1396, Lady Neville, Margaret (Stafford), died. The couple had a large family, Maud Neville, Alice Neville, Philippa, Baroness Dacre, John, Lord Neville, Elizabeth Neville, Anne Neville, Sir Ralph Neville and Margaret Neville. As was common at the time, Ralph 5th/3rd Baron Neville of Raby, opted to remarry. His second wife was Joan Beaufort. Joan herself had been widowed, and came from a highly significant family line: she was a legitimised daughter of John of Gaunt Duke of Lancaster and his then mistress Kathryn Swynford. This was followed in 1397 by Ralph Neville being elevated to the rank of Earl of Westmorland.

Alabaster effigy of Ralph de Neville, 1st Earl of Westmorland and his wives. Staindrop Church, County Durham. By Richard Gough, 1796.
Alabaster effigy of Ralph de Neville, 1st Earl of Westmorland and his wives. Staindrop Church, County Durham. By Richard Gough, 1796. Via Wikimedia.

Neville v Percy Clashes 1403 – 1405

When Henry Bolingbroke overthrew King Richard II and became King Henry IV, he had enjoyed the support of both the Earl of Westmorland and Earl of Northumberland. By 1403, however, the Percy family had become disenchanted and were a key part of the revolts against the fledgling Lancastrian regime. This brought the Neville family, loyal to Henry IV, into direct conflict with their neighbours, the Percy’s, with whom they had previously worked with on defence and were connected to through marriages.

Potential rivalries

The potential for a rift between the Neville’s of Raby and the Percy family may stem from the manner in which Anglo-Scottish relations were dealt with in the first years of the Lancastrian regime. Whilst the Earl of Westmorland received the Honour of Richmond in grant from the king, remained Earl Marshall of England, and was a member of the King’s Council, he saw the Percy family have their dominance over the Anglo-Scottish border region furthered. The Earl of Northumberland was granted lands in the Scottish Borders, the Percy family held the Warden positions for both Marches and as such the Neville’s of Raby were being outstripped by their baronial neighbours in regional appointments.


When the Percy family opted to rebel, Ralph Neville Earl of Westmorland not only had a decision to make over where his loyalties lay but also to enhance his families status in the North at the expense of the Earl of Northumberland. That opportunity came in 1403. Henry ‘Hotspur’ Percy, eldest son and heir to the Earldom of Northumberland joined forces with his relative the Earl of Worcester. This was part of the Percy rebellion which culminated in the Battle of Shrewsbury, 1403.

As ‘Hotspur’ marched south, the Earl of Northumberland mobilised his retainers and began building a large force in the north. It was clear that this force had the potential to take York and Pontefract, thus opening up a route of attack into the South.

Raby Castle as administrative centre for wardenship of the Marches

With that in mind King Henry IV sent word to Raby Castle that the Earl of Westmorland should raise his forces and prevent any Percy force from marching south. Ralph Neville, Earl of Westmorland, responded promptly and effectively. He forced the Percy army into retreat and they holed up in Warkworth Castle. The Neville’s had suppressed the Percy uprising in the north and were duly rewarded for their actions. The Percy family lost the wardenship of both the east and west Marches. The west was granted to the Earl of Westmorland, the East to the young Prince John [later Duke of Bedford] with much influence in that march being allowed to the Neville family. In a stroke, the tables had turned. The Percy hegemony in the north had in appearance at least been replaced by dominance of the Neville family, or their kin.

Scrope’s Revolt

The dominance was relatively shortlived. In 1404, the Earl of Northumberland was restored to his castles and some regional positions. Henry Percy, Earl of Northumberland, did not remain loyal for long. In May 1405 Percy forces attacked the fortified house of Sir Ralph Eure at Witton. The Earl of Westmorland was in residence there. It can be assumed that this was an attempt to capture Ralph prior to launching another revolt – which did happen under the leadership of Richard Scrope, who was the Archbishop of York and Thomas Mowbray. Henry Percy’s attack failed though, and he fled to Scotland for his own safety.

Securing Fortified Manors and Castles

The revolt illustrates the importance of the fortified manor and Castles in the region. Not only had the Earl of Westmorland been safe in the fortifications at Witton, but the follow up action was aimed at eliminating the risk posed by Percy and Scrope retainers gathering at the Earl of Northumberland’s fortified structures in the North Riding of Yorkshire. Topcliffe was high on the list of places that the Earl of Westmorland’s men sought to take control of and following the defeat of a group of Percy retainers there, Westmorland moved toward York to secure the city for the crown.

On his way to York Ralph Neville’s force came across a larger armed group led by the Archbishop of York. Demonstrating military awareness and political savvy, Neville opted to adopt a diplomatic approach. After parleying with the Archbishop and assuring him that his grievances would be addressed, Scrope dismissed his men. It was, of course, a trick by Westmorland, who had Richard Scrope and Thomas Mowbray arrested and taken to York: where King Henry IV had them quickly tried for treason and executed.

Neville dominance in the North

The North, however, was not yet secure. Whilst some threats had been overcome, the Percy family remained a danger. This was evident in 1408. In that year the Earl of Northumberland again rose in revolt, being defeated and killed in the Battle of Braham Moor.

Whilst the Earl of Westmorland was not involved in this battle, it impacted upon his status and the importance of his Raby Castle based adminstration: Percy and Bardolf estates were confiscated, with many being granted to members of the Neville family. As the Percy family returned to some form of favour a marriage was arranged that tied the Neville’s of Raby to the Percy family, creating a family bond that may have contributed to improved relations and relative calm in the region for some years.

Raby Castle following the death of the First Earl of Westmorland

In his later years the Earl of Westmorland had set about ensuring that his children from his second marriage, to Joan Beaufort, were well catered for.


This took the form of arranging high profile marriages. Some of these marriage unions were to have a significant impact on regional and national poitics for decades to follow. The couples youngest daughter, Cecily Neville, was betrothed to Richard 3rd Duke of York in 1424, marrying the duke in 1429. Prior to this, her eldest full blood brother, Richard Neville, had married Alice Montagu heiress to her father, the Earl of Salisbury. Other such marriages included marrying into the Fauconberg family and into the lines of inheritance for the Duke of Norfolk and Earl of Worcester.

Detail from the 15th century Neville Book of Hours showing Cecily Neville, Duchess of York. By Meister der Münchner Legenda Aurea
Detail from the 15th century Neville Book of Hours showing Cecily Neville, Duchess of York. By Meister der Münchner Legenda Aurea. Via Wikimedia

Estates and the Raby Castle Inheritance

Ralph Neville also ensured that this line received a favourable settlement on his own estates. Whilst he could not adjust inheritance of his title, as it was held in tail male, he could and did make arrangements for estates to be inherited by his children through his second marriage. This resulted in the senior line, offspring from his first marriage, inheriting just two of the many estates that had been accumulated by the Neville’s up to Ralph’s death in 1425. Raby Castle itself was, in 1417, settled upon the family he had through his second marriage.

Therefore Raby Castle, along with Middleham, Sheriff Hutton and most of the other estates in the far north passed to Richard Neville, Earl of Salisbury, and other offsping from his marriage to Joan Beaufort. His heirs to the Earldom, firstly his son John who predeceased Ralph, and his grandson Ralph, stood to gain the Earldom but not the entirity of the estates that had been associated with it.

Dispute over inheritance of Raby and other Neville estates

When, in 1425, Ralph Neville died, these matters had not been fully settled as they had been challenged by his son John as legal papers and wills were drawn up and continued to be contested by the Second Earl of Westmorland, Ralph, following the death of the first Earl.

In the immediate aftermath of his death, children from his first marriage received Brancepeth, some manors in Lincolnshire, the barony of Bywell and Styford and assorted properties including several in London. Raby Castle was now held by the Earl of Salisbury, for whom Middleham Castle was the primary residence in the north.

Raby Castle Links

Raby Castle – Official website

Raby Castle Blog – Ancient Families of Raby Castle

Raby Castle Blog – Medieval Fortifications at Raby Castle

Historic Houses – guide to Raby Castle

Historic England – listing for Raby Castle and Gardens

Castle Studies Trust – The Medieval Development of Raby Castle

Visit England – tourist information

The Accidental Preservationist – Raby Castle: A Medieval Gem in Northeast England

Cambridge Core: Rowan A. Gothick restoration at Raby Castle. Architectural History. 1972;15:23-50. doi:10.2307/1568328

Durham University. Cambridge, Eric (1992) The masons and building works of Durham priory, 1339-1539. Doctoral thesis, Durham University. This thesis has a focus on John Lewyn, the master mason who is credited with the Neville families transformation of Raby into a medieval castle. He was also engaged in works at many other sites in the north of England.

Featured Image

Raby Castle, Co Durham – Morris’s County Seats, 1868

Image extracted from page 224 of volume 1 of The County Seats of the Noblemen and Gentlemen of Great Britain and Ireland, by Francis Orpen Morris. Original held and digitised by the British Library. Copied from Flickr.

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