A lavish residence built by the Lord Treasurer to Henry VI, Tattershall Castle was designed to impress. One of the few fifteenth century brick built castles, its owner became embroiled in the Wars of the Roses on the Yorkist side. The castle was gifted to the National Trust in 1926.
A castle existed at Tattershall since at least 1231 when a simple bailey fortification was recorded on the site. The castle and manor passed to the Cromwell family in the mid-fourteenth century and served as the manorial and administrative centre of their estates. In 1419 these passed to Ralph Cromwell, a soldier who had fought in the continental campaigns of Henry V including serving at the Battle of Agincourt (1415). His political career started when he was called to Parliament in 1422 and thereafter he gained the trust of the Lord Protector - John, Duke of Bedford - who appointed him Lord Treasurer in 1433. He held this post for ten years and invariably it brought him great wealth thus giving him the resources to completely rebuild Tattershall Castle.
Work started on transforming Tattershall Castle in 1434 and continued for twelve years. The function of the castle was to serve as a lavish residence that would convey the impression of wealth and power to those who visited. The centrepiece of the restyled site was a huge brick tower six storeys tall that was rectangular in plan with octagonal corner turrets. The design was probably influenced by Cromwell's experiences fighting on the continent during the Hundred Years War where he would have seen similar structures in France and Flanders. It also resembles the nearby South Kyme Tower, which had been built in the mid-thirteenth century and at the time was owned by Cromwell's friend Walter Tailboys. However, Cromwell's new tower was an order of magnitude greater and today is one of the most impressive secular buildings from the period. Cromwell also remodelled the wider site. The original bailey from the first castle was retained but its moat was revetted with brick and Outer and Middle Wards were added for ancillary buildings. The existing Great Hall, which connected with the Great Tower, was also enhanced and a new kitchen added.
Cromwell retired from the role of Lord Treasurer in 1443 as he faced intense political opposition from William de la Pole, Duke of Suffolk. Instead he took the role of Chamberlain of the Exchequer which he held until 1455. However, relations with the Duke of Suffolk continued to deteriorate and manifested themselves in a dispute with William Tailboys, son of his former (and by now deceased) friend. Tailboys attacked Cromwell's property and, when the latter sought to commence legal proceedings, Suffolk blocked them. Cromwell began impeachment action against Suffolk who fell from power in 1450. However, this destabilised the Royal court and Cromwell felt the need to reinforce his position so married his nieces to Sir Thomas Neville and Humphrey Bourchier, nephew of the Duke of York. As England slipped into the dynastic fighting which we today call the Wars of the Roses, these alliances tied him to the Yorkist faction and accordingly he provided political support to that side during the first Battle of St Albans (1455).
Cromwell died in January 1456 before the full chaos of the Wars of the Roses descended upon England. Tattershall passed to his niece, Joan, who had married Humphrey Bourchier. They initially prospered when the Yorkist King Edward IV came to the throne in 1461 but later Bourchier changed sides to support the Lancastrian cause. He was killed in the Battle of Barnett (1471) and thereafter Tattershall was confiscated by Edward IV. It remained a Royal property until Henry VII gave it his mother, Margaret Beaufort, Countess of Richmond. Later Henry VIII granted it to Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk in recognition of his work at suppressing the northern rebellion against his rule known as the Pilgrimage of Grace.
Tattershall was purchased by Edward Clinton (later Earl of Lincoln) in 1573. The castle remained a possession of the Earls of Lincoln until 1693 at which point it passed to the Fortescue family. It was abandoned as a grand residence at this time and allowed to drift into ruin with the grounds becoming consumed by the neighbouring farms. The Great Hall was demolished in 1726. In October 1911 it was purchased by Lord Curzon who started restoration and on his death he gifted Tattershall, along with Bodiam Castle, to the National Trust.
Allen, R (1976). English Castles. Batsford, London.
Avery, T (1997). Tattershall Castle. Acorn Press, Swindon.
Douglas, D.C and Myers, A.R (ed) (1975). English Historical Documents Vol 4 (1327-1485). Routledge, London.
Emery, A (1996). Greater Medieval Houses of England and Wales. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.
Johnson, P (2006). Castles from the Air: An Aerial Portrait of Britain’s Finest Castles. Bloomsbury, London.
King, C.D.J (1983). Castellarium anglicanum: an index and bibliography of the castles in England, Wales and the Islands. Kraus International Publications.
Seward, D (1995). A Brief History of the Wars of the Roses. Robinson, London.
Tattershall Castle is a major tourist attraction managed by the National Trust. The site is dominated by the huge brick built tower that was built in the mid-fifteenth century. All levels are fully accessible including parapet access which offers impressive views of the surrounding area.
Tattershall Castle Layout. The Inner Ward was the area originally enclosed by the thirteenth century castle. Ralph Cromwell added the Outer and Middle Wards at the same time as he built the Great Tower.
Guardhouse. The guardhouse now serves as the shop and main entrance to the castle.
Great Tower. Cromwell's rebuilt residence was a palace rather than a fortress as proven by the large ground floor windows would would have neutralised any defensive qualities in the rest of structure.