Replacing an earlier motte-and-bailey fortification, Mulgrave Castle acted as an administrative centre for the vast Yorkshire estates of its owners and in the seventeenth century found a new role as a hunting lodge. It was re-fortified during the Civil War and then slighted on the orders of Parliament in 1647.
The first fortification was built at Mulgrave in the years immediately following the Harrying of the North (1069 to 1070) - William I's ruthless devastation of large tracts of land in Northern England following a rebellion against Norman rule. The fortification was an earth and timber motte-and-bailey known as Foss Castle and was erected a few hundred metres away from the site of the later Mulgrave Castle. It was founded by Nigel Fossard, a Norman who was a retainer of Robert, Count of Mortain. Nigel held a significant number of manors across Yorkshire and by the time of his death around 1129, he was a major magnate in his own right. His lands were inherited first by his son, Robert Fossard, and then by his grandson, William. The family continued to rise in prominence throughout the twelfth century with William Fossard being one of the key magnates present at the Battle of the Standard (1138). In this fight he helped defeat King David of Scotland who was seeking to exploit the turbulence in England caused by the Civil War (the Anarchy) between King Stephen and Queen Matilda. William died circa-1168 leaving a young son, also called William, as his heir. He had no male descendants and in 1197 Foss Castle, along with the Fossard estates, passed through his daughter Joan into the hands of Robert de Turnham.
Robert had served Richard I (the Lionheart) during the Third Crusade including participation in the conquest of Cyprus. He had also stood in as a hostage to secure the release of the King from his captivity in Dürnstein Castle where Richard was being held by Leopold V, Duke of Austria. In recognition of his service it had been Richard who arranged the marriage with Joan and, early in the thirteenth century, he abandoned his newly acquired Foss Castle and replaced it with Mulgrave Castle. Constructed on the plateau of a hill between Sandsend Beck and East Row, the natural slopes were cut away to create an oval shaped platform. This was riveted by a stone curtain wall which formed the defensive circuit around the enclosure. Accordingly the entire bailey interior was in excess of seven metres higher than the surrounding land and, over the years, required extensive buttressing along portions of the curtain wall to ensure stability. A dry moat provided protection on the east, west and south sides of the castle whilst the north was protected by the steep descent to Sandsend Beck.
Robert de Turnham went on to serve King John in appointments in both England and France but died in 1211. He was followed by a daughter, Isabella, and through her Mulgrave passed to Peter de Mauley. He was one of King John's henchmen and became infamous for his wide-scale abuse of his estates as well as his alleged murder of Arthur of Brittany in 1203. Arthur had been the son of Geoffrey, Duke of Brittany who himself was fourth son of Henry II. In theory this gave him a better claim to the throne than King John who was only the fifth son of Henry II. However, the claim against Peter de Mauley cannot be verified and some accounts have John murdering Arthur personally. Precisely who murdered the unfortunate Arthur is unclear but many of Peter’s contemporaries held him culpable and this is how the castle acquired its name - it was originally called Montgrace but this was (deliberately) corrupted to Montgrave which later evolved into Mulgrave.
Notwithstanding the dubious reputation of Peter de Mauley, his successors made numerous upgrades to the castle including building the central, rectangular Keep circa-1300. However, despite this expenditure, the rest of the defences were neglected with a report of 1309 describing the castle as ruinous. This prompted Edward II to order Peter de Mauley to go north from his main seat at Folkingham and make repairs to Mulgrave Castle. It is possible the circular towers on each corner of the Keep were added at this time.
The male line of the de Mauley family failed in the late fourteenth century and Mulgrave Castle passed through marriage to Sir John Bigot. Neither he nor his heirs invested in the castle and by 1600 the entire structure was ruinous. Thereafter it passed to Edmund Sheffield who was created Earl of Mulgrave in 1626. He was Lord Lieutenant of Yorkshire for both James I and Charles I as well as holding the position of Vice Admiral of Yorkshire. He converted Mulgrave Castle into a substantial hunting lodge and remodelled the Keep into a comfortable house.
Following the outbreak of the Civil War in 1642, Mulgrave Castle was deemed strategically important and, despite the Earl's support for the Parliamentary cause, was seized by Royalist forces and hastily re-fortified. Thereafter the Royalists held it until June 1644 after which it was used as a prison. It was still in Parliamentary hands in 1646 when Edmund was succeeded by his son, also called Edmund, and the following year Parliament ordered Mulgrave Castle to be slighted to prevent any future use as a military site. Edmund was paid £1,000 in compensation. Despite the damage, the castle remained at least partially habitable and continued to be used until the eighteenth century. In 1735 New Mulgrave Castle, a manor house, was built a short distance to the north-east. In 1792 Henry Phipps, Earl of Mulgrave employed Humphrey Repton, a landscape gardener, to romanticise the ruins of the old castle. He rebuilt the Gatehouse towers and re-modelled sections of the Keep. Today the remains still form part of the Mulgrave Estate but public access is allowed subject to a number of modest conditions.
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Mulgrave Castle is in ruins but substantial portions of the structure survive. The centrepiece is the early fourteenth century Keep complete with later modifications including some very fine Elizabethan windows. Also visible are the remains of the curtain wall plus portions of several towers.
Mulgrave Castle Layout. The castle occupied the summit of a natural hill, the sides of which were cut away and then riveted with the stone curtain wall. The net effect was an oval shaped bailey, the ground level of which was around seven metres higher than the surrounding terrain.
Gatehouse. The gatehouse towers were rebuilt and re-modelled in 1792 by Humphrey Repton, a landscape gardener who had been employed to romanticise the ruins of the old castle.
Buttresses. The castle platform was created by cutting away the natural slopes and riveting the sides with stone. However, this curtain wall was poorly built and required extensive buttressing in later years to ensure stability.
Keep. The Keep took the form a rectangular structure with four circular towers on each corner. It is believed the Keep was built circa-1300 and the towers in the 1320s. It was converted into a house in the late 1620s. The large mullioned windows were added by Edmund Sheffield, Earl of Mulgrave in the late 1620s when he converted the site into a hunting lodge.
Mulgrave Castle is found within the Mulgrave Estate. Pedestrian entrance is via the gateway just off the A174 (see below). There is no private car parking on site but (pay and display) on-road parking is provided nearby. Note that there is no public right of way to the castle but access conditions are very reasonable - any time on Wednesday, Saturday or Sunday every month of the year except May. Dogs must be kept on leads at all times.
Car Parking Option
Estate Access Point
1. The estate is accessed from the entrance off the A174 to the north of East Row Beck. Go straight on towards the wooden gate seen in the distance passing the old Mill on your right.
2. Pass through the gate (note the access conditions) which, at time of writing was Wednesdays, Saturdays and Sundays excluding May plus dogs to be strictly on leads. Follow the path (East Beck runs to your left).
3. Keep following the path through the grounds of the sawmill then passing a domestic house on your right.
4. Eventually you’ll see a small hut on your right - just beyond is a turning right onto a non-tarmac track. Follow this.
5. You’ll pass under a (seemingly pointless) arch at which point the track forks. Go left.
6. Keep following the path and it will intersect with a more substantial track. This leads directly to the castle.