Raby Castle was built by the Neville family in the late fourteenth century and it served as their family seat as they grew in power. However, they forfeited it in 1569 when they supported the Rising of the North and thereafter it was purchased by the Vane family. The castle was substantially rebuilt during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.
A settlement has existed at Raby since at least the eleventh century AD when King Cnut granted it to the Prior of Durham. It is possible some form of manor house existed at the site during this period but, if so, evidence has been lost under the later castle. The manor was originally known as Rabi, Danish for 'boundary dwelling', and this became corrupted into Raby.
The earliest parts of the structure seen today date from the late fourteenth century when a castle was built by Lord John Neville. Thomas Hatfield, Prince-Bishop of Durham granted him a licence to crenellate in 1379 but work had probably already started on the site by this time. The castle consisted of a central Keep surrounded by a substantial curtain wall augmented with eight large towers. The site was enclosed by a wet moat. The development of the castle clearly showed the ascendancy of the Neville family at this time and it was their rise that pushed the established family of the north, the Percys, into rebellion against Henry IV in 1403 (and which was defeated at the Battle of Shrewsbury).
As a devout Roman Catholic Ralph Neville, Earl of Westmorland supported the 1569 Rising of the North, a major rebellion against Elizabeth I intended to overthrow her and put Mary, Queen of the Scots on the throne. The uprising was defeated and Charles fled to the Netherlands whilst his English estates, including Raby Castle, were forfeited to the Crown. The castle then remained in Royal ownership until 1626 when it was purchased by Sir Henry Vane, Treasurer to Charles I. However, whilst he valued the surrounding estates, he had little interest in the castle and the structure was neglected until the outbreak of the Civil War in 1642. Despite his previous association with the King, Vane supported the Parliamentary cause and garrisoned Raby Castle accordingly. His support for the Parliamentary regime continued during the Second Civil War during which Raby Castle was briefly besieged by Royalist forces although little damage was inflicted.
The Vane family retained their estates after the Civil War despite the execution of Sir Henry's son, also called Henry, by Charles II. Thereafter it passed to Thomas Vane who was elevated to Lord Barnard in 1698. However, he inflicted wide scale destruction across the estate in order to ensure his son, Gilbert, did not inherit anything of value. Thomas had been angered by his son's inappropriate marriage and stripped all usable building materials from the castle, sold furniture, killed the estate's livestock and cut down most of the trees in the surrounding park. Gilbert inherited the shattered estate in 1723 and started repairing the damage done by his father to the park and the surrounding economic assets. However, the castle remained an abandoned ruin until Gilbert's son, Henry, commenced restoration. He commissioned the architect James Paine to revamp the south and west ranges in order to make the castle habitable once more. Henry was raised to Earl of Darlington in 1754.
Further restoration was instigated by Henry's son, also called Henry, who employed John Carr to transform Raby Castle into a comfortable residence. His modifications included demolishing the narrow entrance of the medieval castle, which was originally protected by a barbican, and replacing it with a Gothic style gatehouse wide enough for a carriage to be driven through. Further modifications were made to Raby Castle in the nineteenth century shortly after William Vane was elevated to Duke of Cleveland in 1833. He commissioned William Burn to revamp the structure and this included adding the Octagon Tower, built over the ruins of a burnt out medieval tower, in which he constructed a Jacobean style Drawing Room. He also re-roofed the Great Hall and Chapel.
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Raby Castle is a late medieval castle that has been extensively modified in subsequent centuries. It is a major tourist attraction.
Raby Castle Layout. The castle was configured around a central courtyard.
East Side. The east side of the castle was dominated by three towers: Bulmer Tower (left), Church Tower (centre) and Mount Raskelf Tower (right).
West Side. The castle as viewed from the west. Clifford's Tower can be seen on the left with Watch Tower, the Inner Gatehouse and Joan's Tower to the right.
Clifford's Tower. This the largest tower in Raby Castle.
Joan's Tower. The was originally three storeys tall but was heightened during modifications in the mid-eighteenth century.