Bolton Castle, Wensleydale

One of the country’s best preserved medieval castles, steeped in history, now open to the public.

Bolton Castle (© Copyright wfmillar<sup>1</sup>)
Bolton Castle can be found about 6 miles west of Leyburn, near the village of Castle Bolton which is named after the castle. One of a range of imposing castles built in the Yorkshire Dales in medieval times, it was constructed in the 14th-century and is now both a Grade I listed building and a Scheduled Ancient Monument. Bolton Castle has a rich history including holding Mary, Queen of Scots for a time and enduring a year long siege during the English Civil War. Now one of the country’s best preserved medieval castles, many of its rooms are completely intact and the remainder of the castle is fully accessible. It is still owned by the descendants of the Scrope family who built it in 1378.

A bit of history

The castle was built between 1378 and 1399 by Richard, 1st Baron Scrope of Bolton. It is thought to have cost 18,000 Marks, something near £43 million in today’s money, so Richard Scrope was seriously rich. How he came by his money, however, is a bit of a mystery.

In 1536 John, 8th Baron Scrope sided with the Pilgrimage of Grace rebellion against Henry VIII and his religious reforms, and gave the Abbot of Jervaulx, Adam Sedbar, sanctuary in the castle. It was a bad idea .. for both of them. John Scrope fled to Skipton with the King’s men hot on his heels, but at least he survived. Abbot Sedbar was not so lucky. He was caught and executed. The castle did not fair well either; as a lesson in opposing your King, Henry VIII ordered Bolton castle to be burned. Thankfully, within a few years the damage had been repaired and Sir John was rehabilitated, regaining his seat in Parliament.

Mary, Queen of Scots at Bolton Castle

Mary, Queen of Scots stayed at Bolton for six months. After her 1568 defeat in Scotland at the Battle of Langside, Mary fled to England. She was not, however, a welcome visitor for the English Queen, Elizabeth I. Mary was a Catholic while Elizabeth was Protestant – not a happy mix in those times. In addition, Mary had what some thought was a legitimate claim to the English throne, so she was a potential rallying point for oppressed Catholics in the country. Elizabeth was in a quandary about what to do with her.

Mary was initially held at Carlisle Castle, guarded by Henry, 9th Baron Scrope. In July 1568 she was moved to Bolton and was given Henry Scrope’s own apartments in the South-West tower. She was, however, still a Queen, so Bolton Castle was renovated to be more suitable for royalty. Tapestries, rugs and furniture were borrowed from local houses and nearby Barnard Castle in County Durham.

Mary spent her time wandering the countryside, hunting, having her hair done by her friend Mary Seton and learning English (she spoke French, Latin and Scots). In January 1569 her stay at Bolton Castle ended when she was taken to Tutbury in Staffordshire, never regaining her freedom.

Civil War siege

Bolton Castle - south-west tower (© Copyright James Allen<sup>2</sup>)

Bolton Castle – south-west tower2

During the English Civil War (1642-51), the then Baron Scrope, John (possibly learning from his forebear) supported King Charles I. This time he was eventually on the winning side, but it cost him his home. Scrope was appointed a colonel in the Richmond Cavaliers and held Bolton Castle for the Royalist cause. The Parliamentarians laid siege to the castle for more than a year, from autumn 1644 to 5 November 1645, pounding it with cannon. The castle surrendered only when the food ran out completely, all the animals having been eaten, including all the garrison horses.

The Parliamentarians occupied the castle for 2 years then moved out and ‘slighted’ it, i.e. destroying it enough to make it uninhabitable. The north-east tower, which had taken a huge battering from cannon during the siege, collapsed in 1671 but the south-west tower and west range remained pretty much intact and habitable. The castle was, however, never reoccupied; the Scrope family moved into a new home, Bolton Hall, a grand manor house built in 1678 on the Bolton Castle estate.

Ownership passes to the Powlett family

Bolton Hall, Wensleydale (© Copyright DTwigg<sup>3</sup>)

Bolton Hall, Wensleydale3

In 1630 Emanuel Scrope, 1st Earl of Sunderland, died without any legitimate children. Bolton Castle was inherited by Mary the eldest of his three illegitimate daughters. She married Charles Powlett, 6th Marquess of Winchester and 1st Duke of Bolton.

Bolton Castle today

Bolton Castle is currently owned by Harry Powlett, 8th Baron Bolton. The Powletts still live at Bolton Hall while Bolton Castle is run by his son and daughter-in-law, Thomas and Katie Orde-Powlett as a wedding and leisure destination.

Vineyard at Bolton Castle (© Copyright wfmillar<sup>1</sup>)

Vineyard at Bolton Castle1

The castle and grounds are open to the public. In addition to viewing some of the lovingly renovated rooms within the castle, the grounds include a maze, herb garden, wild flower meadow, rose garden and a vineyard on the site. The castle has been turned into a sought-after wedding venue and an educational facility as well as a visitor centre with Tudor experience days, archery lessons and falconry displays among many other events.

There is also a tea room offering a range of refreshments including beverages, meals, snacks and cakes.

Admission fees

  • Entrance to the castle, grounds and gardens is £8.50 for adults, £7.00 for children 5-18 years
  • Entrance to the gardens only is £4.00 for adults, £3.00 for children 5-18 years.
  • Dogs are not allowed in the castle or the garden.

More information: visit the Bolton Castle website

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1 © Copyright wfmillar
2 © Copyright James Allan
3 © Copyright DTwigg
All photos licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence .