Although they are now more famously associated with Alnwick, Spofforth Castle was the original family seat of the powerful Percy family. Built in the twelfth century and extensively modified thereafter, this fortified manor house was badly damaged during the Wars of the Roses and then finally slighted during the English Civil War.
Spofforth was originally an Anglo-Saxon manor called Spawford - a name derived from its proximity to the ford over the River Spaw. In the late eleventh century it was granted to William Percy, a Norman who had become a favoured companion of William I. Positioned on a rocky outcrop, some form of manor house had been built on the site by 1100 and was used by the Percy family to administer their extensive Yorkshire estates. Whatever form this structure took it was later upgraded in the early thirteenth century into a two storey stone hall. Around this time the Percys were one of the Baronial families opposed to King John and it is possible the provisions of Magna Carta may have been drawn up at Spofforth for the castle hosted a major meeting of the rebels prior to the sealing of the charter at Runnymede in 1215. Relations with John's successor, Henry III, were better and in 1224 that King granted the adjacent town Royal permission for a market to be held there every Friday.
The structure was substantially rebuilt in the late thirteenth/early fourteenth century. A sizeable extension was made to the north including the addition of a stair turret, new chambers and a parapet walkway. This was probably contemporary with Edward II granting Henry Percy a licence to crenellate (fortify) the site in 1308 although, as was traditional, this may well have been a post-construction nicety. However, despite theses upgrades, Henry looked to move his family estate to a site more befitting his increasing status. To this end he purchased Alnwick Castle in 1309 and commenced a major conversion of that facility into a lavish residence. Unfortunately Henry had precious little time to enjoy either Alnwick or Spofforth for in 1314 he rode north with Edward II to relieve Stirling Castle in the campaign that culminated in the English rout at the Battle of Bannockburn. Henry was captured and ransomed by the Scottish forces and, whilst he returned his estates, he died soon after. Spofforth continued as a minor residence of the family but received little funding for upgrades or maintenance.
The Percy family supported the Lancastrian cause during the Wars of the Roses. Following the Yorkist victory at the Battle of Towton (1461) - in which Henry Percy, Earl of Northumberland was killed - Spofforth Castle was sacked and, along with the other Percy owned estates, confiscated by the Crown. Although it was restored to the family following the victory of Henry Tudor at the Battle of Bosworth Field (1485), Spofforth Castle remained in ruins until 1559. Partially restored around this time it never fully regained its former prestige and was abandoned early in the seventeenth century. The structure was briefly garrisoned by Parliamentary troops during the Civil War who slighted the structure upon their withdrawal. It was never repaired and decayed into ruin.
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Only some earthworks and the west wing of Spofforth Castle survive but this nevertheless provides an interesting insight into a fourteenth century fortified Manor House.