Spofforth Castle

Spofforth Castle is located in North Yorkshire, on the route between Wetherby and Harrogate. The castle was held by the Percy Earls of Northumberland and was for many years their main residence. A castle in name, it was in the 15th century a fortified manor house. Spofforth lay at the heart of regional disputes prior to the Wars of the Roses and had some importance as the wars were fought.

Spofforth: A Percy Residence

Spofforth was a longstanding Percy landholding. A manor house had first been built in the 11th century by William de Percy, who was granted the lands by William the Conqueror. The original manor house no longer exists. The 15th century building was based largely on the improvements and fortifications added to the site as a result of a licence to fortify Spofforth, granted to Henry de Percy in 1308. As the Percy family grew in stature, becoming Earls, Spofforth was superceded as primary residence of the family but remained a hugely important cog in the management of the familiea vast Yorkshire landholding.

Geographical Significance

Spofforth lay on a major route connecting Harrogate and Wetherby. It controls a passage that links valuable farming regions to its north west to the inland waterways that ultimatrly took Yorkshire Wool via Hull for export.

In the 15th century its location was of note in regards the Percy-Neville feud. Immediately to the north of Spofforth was the Honour of Knaresborough, a valuable landholding which in the 1440/50s was held by the Neville of Middleham family.

Having rival manors of great value adjacent to each other placed Spofforth at the heart of the violent feud between the two preeminent Yorkshire landholders of the time. From Spofforth the Percy affinity launched raids against Neville lands. Spofforth was also a base from which the Percy family could muster its retainers for larger scale military actions. This included defence of the north as Wardens of the (usually Eastern) March but also saw Spofforth used to launch the assault on the Neville family at Stamford Bridge in 1454. Later, it was one of the locations from where the Percy family raised its forces for the campaigns of 1460/61.

Spofforth post Towton

Spofforth is just 14 miles away from the site of the Battle of Towton. As such it was a likely destination for Lancastrians fleeing the rout that followed the Lancastrian defeat. This was well known to the Yorkists. And as a result of this and the decades of animosity between the Percy and Neville families, Spofforth was one of the first places targetted by the victorious Yorkists. Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick, dispatched a force to Spofforth in the aftermath of the battle. The Neville retinue inflicted enough damage on the fortified manor and surrounding lands that the home was uninhabited or staffed for roughly one hundred years after the assault.

Spofforth and the 1471 Arrivall of Edward IV

Though the castle at Spofforth had been rendered unusable by the Earl of Warwick in 1461, the manor remained of importance. When the Percy family were restored to their Earldom it was again noteworthy as being adjacent to Neville lands. This was signifucant when the Earl of Warwick joined forces with the Lancastrians. As a recently restored Earl, Henry Percy would perhaps be expected to come to the aid of Edward IV againsf the rebellions, or in support of the 1471 campaign to retake the crown. Percy’s actions at this time are explored in Betrayal in the Wars of the Roses. Spofforth was involved, with Nicholas Leventhorpe of Bramham, who administrated the area and acted as an intermediary between the crown, Percg’s and Neville’s, rausing a force in support of Edward IV following his landing at Ravenspur. [See this book – Google Books page preview]

Spofforth Castle Links

English Heritage – brief history of Spofforth Castle

Spofforth Village – local community websites history section

Historic England – listing for the ruins of Spofforth Castle


Adapted from an aerial photograph of Spofforth Castle. Original image via Wikimedia.

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