Bolton Castle was the home of the Scrope family who rose to prominence under Richard II. Following that King’s overthrow, they had a turbulent relationship with the Lancastrian and early Tudor monarchs but by Queen Elizabeth’s reign were sufficiently trusted to act as gaoler for Mary, Queen of Scots.



The Scrope family had settled in England during the reign of Edward the Confessor and were responsible for building Richard's Castle, one of the first castles built in England. By the twelfth century they were important Yorkshire magnates who had held land in Wensleydale but they rose to national prominence during the early fourteenth century through the efforts of Henry Scrope. He served in the retinues of Thomas de Beauchamp, Earl of Warwick and later John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster as well as fighting in Edward III's campaigns in Scotland and France including seeing action at the Battle of Crecy (1346). He was rewarded with appointments as Chief Baron to the Exchequer and Chief Justice of The Kings Bench. This put his son, Richard, in the right place for further advancement. He too fought on the continent and served as Treasurer between 1371 to 1375. Thereafter he was appointed (joint) Warden of the West March before becoming Richard II's Chancellor in 1378. It was at this time that work started on Bolton Castle with the mason Johan Lewyn being contracted to do the work in September 1378. A formal licence to crenellate (fortify) was obtained from the King in July 1379.


Although the Scropes had an existing manor house at Bolton, the castle was built on a new site and was intended to serve as a palace with defence being a secondary consideration. The structure was configured in a rectangular layout with four substantial ranges surrounding a central courtyard. Five storey towers were built on each corner and two additional towers were placed in the centre of the north and south ranges. What was impressive about the structure however was the level of integration. The high status components - Great Hall, lordly accommodation and chapel - were part of the same structure as the supporting facilities such as the stables, storerooms, kitchen, bakehouse and brewhouse. This was markedly different from earlier castles where such functions tended to be contained in separate buildings within an outer enclosure. This integration was all the more impressive as the castle was built over a twenty year period with work being split into separate phases to make it affordable. The design proved influential with it being repeated at nearby Sheriff Hutton Castle in 1382.


Richard Scrope was dismissed as Chancellor in 1382 for attempting to curb Royal excesses and he retired to his estates. His son, William Scrope, was appointed as Treasurer in 1398 but the timing was poor for the regime of Richard II came to an end the following year. Henry Bolingbroke overthrew the King, imprisoned and then murdered him in Pontefract Castle and took the throne as Henry IV. William Scrope was beheaded without trial although Richard Scrope himself was not persecuted. Thereafter the family made some poor political choices. In particular Richard Scrope of Masham, Archbishop of York joined the Percy rebellion against Henry IV and openly preached against the King. When the leader of the rebellion, Henry 'Hotspur' Percy, was killed at the Battle of Shrewsbury (1403), Richard was left in charge of the rebellion. In May 1405 his forces faced the King’s army on Shipton Moor and, although he disbanded his forces in exchange for a truce, he was nevertheless arrested and executed. Twelve years later Lord Henry Scrope of Masham was executed at Southampton for his part in the plot to stop Henry V sailing to campaign in France. Finally, during the Wars of the Roses, Sir John Scrope supported Richard III to whom he served as Captain of the Fleet. He changed sides following Richard's death at the Battle of Bosworth Field but later joined the 1487 rebellion against Henry VII led by Lambert Simnel. When this failed John was pardoned but only on the proviso that he lived no further than 22 miles from London meaning he could never return to Bolton Castle.


After their misfortune during the fifteenth century, the Scropes focused on local, rather than national politics. However, they still became embroiled in trouble when the then owner - Sir John Scrope - supported the Pilgrimage of Grace, a major northern rebellion against Henry VIII's reforms of the church. Sir John had allowed Bolton Castle to be used as a safe haven for Adam Sedbar, Abbot of Jervaulx, who was one of the ring-leaders. As Henry's commissioners approached the castle, Sir John fled to the safety of Skipton Castle. Adam attempted to evade the King’s agents by hiding on Witton Fell but was caught and executed. Bolton Castle was set alight but John was eventually pardoned.


Bolton Castle was repaired and modernised after the fire and in the mid sixteenth century it was deemed a suitable prison for Mary, Queen of Scots. She had fled to England following her defeat at the Battle of Langside (1568) and had arrived at Carlisle Castle where she had been welcomed as an honoured guest by its constable, Henry Scrope, who held the position of Warden of the English West March. He soon received instructions from Queen Elizabeth, who saw the Scottish Queen as a dangerous rival to the English throne, and accordingly Mary's welcome turned into imprisonment. Carlisle was unsuitable for long term detention, not least due to its proximity to the border, so Mary was relocated to Scrope's own home at Bolton Castle in July 1568. His custody of Mary drew criticism from hard-line Protestants as he had allowed her to meet with local Catholics, so she was moved to Tutbury Castle in January 1569.


During the Civil War the then owner, John Scrope, held Bolton Castle for the King. Following the decisive Royalist defeat at the Battle of Marston Moor (1644), the garrison found itself in an increasingly difficult position. From Autumn 1644 onwards they endured an extended siege which included heavy bombardment largely targeted on the North West Tower. Whilst the Royalist defeat at Naseby (1645) ended all credible hope of relief, the castle continued to hold out until its food supplies were exhausted finally surrendering in November 1645. Parliament ordered the castle to be slighted but, whilst some demolition was carried out, the structure largely survived. Its heyday was over however and it was allowed to drift into ruin.




Allen, R (1976). English Castles. Batsford, London.

Emery, A (1996). Greater Medieval Houses of England and Wales. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.

Johnson, P (2006). Castles from the Air: An Aerial Portrait of Britain’s Finest Castles. Bloomsbury, London.

King, C.D.J (1983). Castellarium anglicanum: an index and bibliography of the castles in England, Wales and the Islands.  Kraus International Publications.

Liddiard, R (2005). Castles in Context: Power, Symbolism and Landscape 1066-1500. Macclesfield.

Salter, M (2001). The Castles and Tower Houses of Yorkshire. Folly Publications.


What's There?

Bolton Castle is one of the best preserved palace-fortresses of medieval England. The remains include the Great Towers that stand to full height and various internal rooms that have been restored and reconstructed. The castle also has a number of Birds of Prey with regular displays.

Bolton Castle. The castle was a rectangular enclosure with a five storey tower on each corner.

Entrance. The initial specification for the castle included an elaborate entrance but the final product was much more conservative.

Great Chamber

Courtyard. The courtyard had a fortified gate in each of the four corners designed to confuse attackers.

Getting There

Bolton Castle is found in the village of Castle Bolton and is well sign-posted off the A684. There is a dedicated car park (pay and display) directly adjacent to the castle.

Bolton Castle


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