Appleby Castle was originally raised as a ringwork-and-bailey fortification in the late eleventh century and the stone Keep was added a few decades later. During the twelfth century the castle alternated between English and Scottish ownership as the two nations vied for control of Westmorland.  In the mid thirteenth century it passed into the hands of the powerful Clifford family.



North West England was originally divided with half forming part of the Saxon Kingdom of Northumbria and the remainder being part of the independent Kingdom of Cumbria. Appleby was located in the latter although there was no settlement on the site and it was not until AD 920, decades after the Kingdom of Cumbria had been overrun by the Danes, that it was founded. In AD 945 Cumbria was conquered by Malcolm I of Scotland and it remained in Scottish hands until 1092 when William II occupied the territory. William appointed Ivo Taillebois as Lord of Westmorland and it was he who started to build Appleby Castle soon after.


The site chosen for the new castle had previously (circa-AD 75) been used by the Romans as a signal station along the York (Eboracum) to Carlisle (Luguvalium) road. It was built on a ridge of high ground overlooking a fording point on the River Eden. The castle is regularly described as formerly having a motte but this is almost certainly incorrect and it is probable it was actually an earth and timber ringwork-and-bailey fortification. Additional enclosures surrounded the castle on the north-west, north and south-west sides which were probably used for livestock and/or ancillary buildings. In 1100 the castle passed to Ranulf le Meschin, Earl of Chester who may have commenced construction of the stone Keep (later known as Caesar’s Tower) within the ringwork.


In 1135 Henry I of England died without leaving a male heir. Prior to his death he had made the leading magnates of the realm swear allegiance to his daughter, Matilda, but after the King had passed away many switched their support to her cousin, Stephen of Blois. Nevertheless, Stephen was in a weak position and this was exploited by David I of Scotland. Claiming to act in support of Matilda, David invaded northern England in December 1135. He was initially brought off when Stephen granted him Carlisle Castle but he invaded again in January 1138 and, despite a defeat at the Battle of the Standard (1138), he achieved domination of Westmorland and control of Appleby Castle. David granted the castle to Hugh de Morville and, if the Keep hadn't already been started by this stage, it may have been Hugh who raised it.


The Anarchy was ultimately settled in 1154 with the accession of Matilda's son, Henry II. His initial priority was to restore Royal prestige and power that had been so degraded during almost two decades of civil war. In 1157 he forced Malcolm III of Scotland to restore the northern English territories to English control. At this time Appleby Castle was owned by Hugh de Morville, son of the man appointed by David I, and Henry II confirmed this grant keeping continuity of ownership. Hugh would later become notorious as one of the Knights who murdered Thomas Becket, Archbishop of Canterbury.


In 1173 the then owner - Hugh de Morville - supported the rebellion of Henry the Young King. Henry was the eldest son of Henry II and was frustrated by his father's refusal to transfer any effective power. He was joined by the King's other sons, Geoffrey and Richard, as well of King William the Lion of Scotland. The latter, seeking to exploit the situation to recover Cumbria and Northumberland, invaded northern England. After commencing an unsuccessful siege of Carlisle Castle, William made a dawn raid on Appleby Castle which immediately surrendered.


Henry II successfully defeated his opponents including capturing William the Lion at the Second Battle of Alnwick (1174). Appleby Castle was surrendered by the Scots and taken into Crown ownership as the de Morville estates had been declared forfeit. The King retained the castle until 1179 after which he granted it to Ranulph de Glanville, Sheriff of Yorkshire. It was either Henry II or Ranulph who began substantial modifications to Appleby Castle with the Keep being heightened and the ringwork rampart flattened and replaced with a stone curtain wall. Ranulph also  constructed the Great Hall, replacing whatever structure had preceded it, in the form of a Hall House and incorporated a central hall, chapel and high status accommodation.


Appleby Castle was taken back into Crown ownership in 1189 and remained a Royal possession until 1203 when King John granted it to Robert de Vieuxpont. It was probably during his tenure that the  round towers were added on the north and south sides of the bailey curtain wall. Robert also acquired Brough, Pendragon and Skipton castles plus he built a new fortification at Brougham which, when paired with Appleby, enabled him to exercise control of the Eden Valley and the route through the Pennines to York. When Robert died in 1227 the castle passed to his son, who was also called Robert.


Robert de Vieuxpont joined the rebellion of Simon de Montfort against Henry III and fought at the Battle of Lewes (1264). He died from injuries sustained in that engagement and, after the defeat of the Montfort rebellion the following year, his only heirs - two young daughters named Isabella and Idonea - were made wards of the Royal court. Appleby Castle formed part of Isabella's estates although an attainder imposed upon her late father as a result of his participation in the Montfort rebellion meant she probably never expected to inherit. In the interim her estates were placed in the care of Roger Clifford who lobbied for removal of the attainder and, when this was granted, married Isabella to secure control of Appleby Castle as well as the attached manor of Brougham.


In 1314 a large Royal army suffered a catastrophic defeat at the hands of the Scots at the Battle of Bannockburn. The then owner of Appleby Castle - Robert, Lord Clifford - was killed in that engagement but worse was to follow. Under the leadership of Robert the Bruce, Scottish forces raided deep into Northern England attempting to force Edward II to recognise an independent Scotland. Between 1314 and 1322 Appleby was attacked four times with the town being burnt on each occasion although the castle withstood the assaults. Perhaps prompted by the ineptitude of Edward II to deal with the Scottish threat, Roger Clifford joined the Earl of Lancaster's 1322 rebellion against the King. When that was defeated Clifford forfeited his estates but just four years later Edward II was overthrown by Roger Mortimer, Earl of March whose regime restored the Clifford family estates. Later the Cliffords inherited the valuable Brough and Pendragon castles when Idonea, daughter of the former owner Robert de Vieuxpont, died childless.


During the latter half of the fourteenth century the castle was neglected with a report of 1391 describing it as "ruinous". However, its decline was halted by John Clifford who inherited the castle the same year. He commenced a series of upgrades including rebuilding the gatehouse and restoring the existing structures. He went on to fight in Henry V's continental campaigns and was present at the Battle of Agincourt (1415). His son, Thomas, inherited in 1422 and made further modifications at Appleby including rebuilding the Great Hall, upgrading the eastern (residential) range and adding square towers to the north-east and south-east corners of the bailey curtain wall. Cumbria was the most deprived region of England at this time and, aside from modifications made to Penrith Castle in early years of the century, Appleby Castle was the only fortification in the county to undergo significant upgrades to its residential accommodation during the fifteenth century.


In the latter half of the fifteenth century England became embroiled in a period of dynastic fighting now known as the Wars of the Roses. Thomas Clifford supported the Lancastrian cause and was killed in the first major engagement, the First Battle of St Albans (1455), fighting for Henry VI. His son, John Clifford, also supported the Lancastrians killing Richard, Duke of York at the Battle of Wakefield (1460). However, the following year the Lancastrians were decisively defeated at the Battle of Towton in which John Clifford was killed. The new Yorkist King, Edward IV, declared the Cliffords traitors and seized their lands granting them to Richard, Duke of Gloucester (later Richard III). The young Henry Clifford, now deposed, was sent into hiding in Threlkeld in Cumberland until the Tudor victory at the Battle of Bosworth Field (1485) which saw his estates and titles restored. The family continued to prosper under the new regime and in 1525 the then owner of Appleby - Henry Clifford - was made Earl of Cumberland by Henry VIII. Both he and his son neglected the castle and in 1539 it was once again reported to be in a ruinous condition. Furthermore Henry's son and namesake had it slighted in 1569 during the 'Rising of the North' to ensure it could not be used by the rebels.


George Clifford, Third Earl of Cumberland died in 1605 leaving a daughter, Anne, as his only heir. After an extended battle to secure her inheritance, Lady Anne Clifford finally took possession of Appleby Castle in 1649. Although she currently acquired three other castles in Westmorland - Brough, Brougham and Pendragon - she chose Appleby as her primary residence. She added the corner turrets and also inserted a cross wall within the Keep helping to stabilise the structure. She also demolished the wall and infilled the ditch which divided the former ringwork from the bailey.


In 1651 England was invaded by a Royalist army headed by Charles II and accordingly Appleby Castle was occupied by a Parliamentary force under General Thomas Harrison. To ensure the castle could not be seized and held by the Royalists, it is possible that Harrison’s garrison may have destroyed the original gatehouse at this time. The invasion crisis was short-lived and came to an end when the Royalists were defeated at the Battle of Worcester (1651). Lady Anne Clifford was able to reoccupy the castle and continue her restoration work until her death in 1676.


After the death of Lady Anne Clifford, Appleby Castle passed into the hands of the Earls of Thanet who rebuilt the eastern range between 1686 and 1688 using material plundered from Brough and Brougham castles. In 1849 it passed to Richard Tufton and it remained with his descendants until 1962 when it was sold to a private buyer. Thereafter it passed through numerous owners.





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What's There?

Appleby Castle is a medieval castle that has been extensively modified over the subsequent centuries. Over recent years its opening hours have been variable but, at present, pre-booked tours are conducted regularly during the Summer months.

Appleby Castle Layout. The castle was originally a ringwork-and-bailey fortification. A stone Keep was built within the ringwork during the twelfth century and later the ditch that separated it from the bailey was in-filled. The Great Hall is located to the east of the site and evolved into a substantial hall house during the twelfth century which was regularly upgraded thereafter.

East Range. Ever since the castle was founded in the late eleventh century, the eastern end has hosted the main residential quarters. The original Great Hall was replaced in the twelfth century by a new Hall House. This in turn was substantially rebuilt in 1454 by Thomas Clifford. It was restored and modified on several occasions during the latter half of the seventeenth century and was partially rebuilt again during the nineteenth century

Appleby Castle Keep. The precise date the Keep was built is debated with some authors attributing it to Ranulf le Meschin, Earl of Chester (died 1129) whilst others suggest it wasn't raised until the 1170s. Known as Caesar's Tower, it was originally three storeys tall but a fourth floor was added during the late twelfth century. A cross wall was inserted into the structure in the seventeenth century by Lady Anne Clifford. The lanterns on top of the Keep's four towers were added circa-1784.

Norman Earthworks. The Norman earthworks that surround the castle are some of the most impressive surviving examples of Norman military engineering.

Gatehouse. Provided access into the bailey. This is a modern entrance replacing one destroyed during the Seventeenth century Civil Wars.

Round Tower. Round towers were added to the north and south of the bailey during the thirteenth century.

Entrance. Access into the East Range and Great Hall.

Getting There

Appleby Castle is found to the immediate south-east of the town. The main entrance is located at the end of Broughgate around 300 metres beyond the Tourist Information Centre. There is a small car park within the castle grounds or alternatively there are numerous (pay and display) options in Appleby.

Car Parking Option

Chapel Street, CA16 6QP

54.577444N, 2.492789W

Appleby Castle

CA16 6XH

54.573661N 2.487813W