Originally built by junior members of the nobility, Middleham Castle was later transformed by the Nevill family who used it as one of their main residences. Richard, Duke of Gloucester – later Richard III – was brought up here under Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick and ‘Kingmaker’.
Guarding a key crossing across the Pennines, Middleham was fortified by the Normans as early as 1069 when the original Anglo-Saxon ruler, Gilpatric, was dispossessed in favour of Alan the Red, son of Count Eudo of Penthievre. He built an earth and timber motte-and-bailey castle just to the South West of the later stone structure. Alan granted Middleham to his brother, Ribald, sometime before the Domesday survey of 1086. Ribald's descendants became the FitzRanulph family and moved from the cramped confines of the motte-and-bailey into a new stone structure. It is unknown which one of them built this but design is comparable in some aspects with the Keep at Newcastle-upon-Tyne, a Royal fortification raised by Henry II between 1168-78, and suggests Middleham dates from the same period which would mean the builder was Robert FitzRanulph. The new structure was an unusual design as although it encompassed a large area, it wasn't as tall as contemporary Keeps and seemingly prioritised comfort over defence. A wooden palisade surrounded the stone Keep.
Ralph FitzRanulph died in 1270 without a male heir and the castle passed to his daughter Mary. Through her marriage to Robert de Neville, Middleham became the property of one of the most powerful northern families. Their son, Ralph, made extensive modifications to the castle including rebuilding the outer defences in stone.
The Neville family continued to rise in power and influence with ever closer links with the Royal family. The Second Lord Neville, another Ralph, participated in the campaigns of Edward III in Scotland and was present at the capture of King David II of Scotland at the Battle of Neville's Cross (1346). He, and later his son, were appointed Warden of the Marches and assumed responsibility for the stability of the English/Scottish border. It wasn't until the Fourth Lord Neville though, that any further changes were made to Middleham Castle. At this time the Neville's were competing with the other great northern family - the Percys, Earls of Northumberland - and his upgrades to Middleham were inevitably significant in order to demonstrate his status. The domestic buildings were totally overhauled in this period and the stone curtain wall heightened to two storeys.
Although raised to Earl of Westmorland by Richard II, the Fourth Lord Neville supported Henry Bolingbroke's seizure of the English throne in 1399. He was well rewarded and even more so when his traditional rivals, the Percys, rose in rebellion against Henry IV in 1403. His family went to be loyal supporters of Henry V keeping the border secure during that King's continental adventures.
When the Wars of the Roses erupted in 1455, the then owner of Middleham Castle - Richard Neville, Earl of Salisbury - supported the Yorkist cause. The castle was his main residence and he used it as a recruiting centre to raise forces against Henry VI. He was captured after the Battle of Wakefield and executed at Pontefract but his son, another Richard, inherited his father's title as well as being Earl of Warwick through his own marriage. Like his father he vigorously supported the Yorkist cause ultimately providing the bulk of support that saw Edward of York take the throne as Edward IV. Shortly after their decisive victory at the Battle of Towton (1461), Warwick entertained Edward at Middleham Castle.
Middleham Castle remained a popular residence for the Nevilles. During the early reign of Edward IV, the Earl of Warwick lived at the castle and was entrusted with the guardianship of the King's younger brother (Richard, Duke of Gloucester). Relations between the King and Warwick deteriorated rapidly in 1469 - not helped by Edward's secret marriage to Elizabeth Woodville - and led to the King being held prisoner by him in Middleham Castle. Warwick's regime however destabilised and his switch of support to the Lancastrian cause ended in his defeat and death at the Battle of Barnet (1471).
The Neville estates were seized by Edward and granted to his brother Richard, Duke of Gloucester. Perhaps because of the time he spent there during his younger years, Middleham became one his primary residences with his only son, Edward, being born there in 1474. Richard remained at the heart of Edward IV's government but, when that King died in 1483, he engineered the downfall of his brother’s son, Edward V, and used his northern powerbase to secure the English throne. During his short reign he visited Middleham one last time in May 1484 - just one month after his young son died there - but insecurity associated with the potential invasion of Henry Tudor meant he spent much of his time in or around London or Nottingham. The anticipated invasion came in 1485 leading to Richard's death at the Battle of Bosworth Field.
After Bosworth, Middleham was taken into crown ownership but its heyday was over. The castle was maintained and, for a period, the revenues from the Middleham estate funded the military garrison at Berwick-upon-Tweed. The castle was granted to Sir Henry Linley in 1604 and was briefly occupied by Royalist forces during the Commonwealth in 1654 and 1655 albeit no action was fought there. After the war the castle was sold to Edward Wood and it remained with his family until the nineteenth century by which time it was ruinous.
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Middleham Castle includes the ruins of the twelfth century Keep and thirteenth century surrounding curtain wall that was later augmented with ranges to the north, west and south. The castle is ruinous and has been enclosed by modern buildings on three of its four sides making it difficult to appreciate the size and scale of this once magnificent fortress.