Bolton Castle

North Yorkshire


"I will weep for thee; for this revolt of thine, methinks, is like another fall of man"

King Henry V - William Shakespeare


Bolton Castle stands in its prominent position, guarding the landscape of the North Yorkshire Dales unchanged in over 600 years. Many of the castles in this part of the country are now in ruin or have disappeared altogether after being plundered by raiding Scots or destroyed during the Civil War, their stonework being robbed over the centuries by local villagers for their own buildings and stone walls. But Bolton Castle stands proud to this day, along with the memories of the great family of the Scropes of Wensleydale.

The castle was first built by Sir Richard le Scrope in 1379 when a licence to crenellate Bolton was granted by Richard II. However, work had begun there certainly in the previous year, as a contract is known for the building of the Kitchen Tower (now collapsed) which is dated 14 September 1378. The wording in these documents give a clear indication that this was not the first building to be erected and it is likely that Sir Richard's manor, half a mile away in West Bolton, was being moved and seriously upgraded to a property more suitable to someone of his rank and status. Most of the records on the building of Bolton survive and they tells us that the contract was with a certain Johan Lewyn, a mason. Lewyn is also thought to have been responsible for building at Raby, Warkworth and Lumley and may also have had a hand in the construction of Ayton. Later, in the 16th century, Sir Francis Knollys describes Bolton as having:

' The highest walls of any house he had seen.'

Bolton was built, like Bodiam Castle in East Sussex 10 years later, at an evolutionary stage in castle building. The nobility were looking for more comfortable agreeable places to live that offered them not only security but also represented an outward show of their wealth, rank and power. Although now the castle lies partly in ruin many of its halls and galleries can still be seen, extremely well preserved with their original 600 year old beams still intact.

The castle entrance

One recent analysis indicates there were twelve individual lodgings at Bolton and no fewer than eight self-contained household suites, all contained within the walls of the one great building. While this was certainly no larger that one would expect for a Baron of Richard le Scrope's acknowledged standing and great wealth, what distinguished Bolton, in a single-period building, was the sophistication of the planning required of its architect to meet each and every one of these very different needs.

Bolton is missing some of the elaborate defences and fortifications of other castles found but on close inspection it soon becomes clear how a defence system would be operated. The gate-passage has two portcullises at each end to stop any initial breach but if these were forced the intruder would soon find themselves in an even worse position than before. Fireloops in the inner walls of the ground floor rooms commanded every angle of the courtyard and the four doors to gain entrance to the castle itself are identically placed in each of the corners of the courtyard, defendable from above by diagonal machicolations in the towers. If these were breached then access to the upper levels are only gained by way of several narrow staircases. All these small features come at a price though and during the twenty years it took to build Bolton, expenditure ran at 1000 marks a year with a total cost being just over £12,000, a considerable sum at this time.

The castle itself looks out over the beautiful dales of North Yorkshire, however the landscape did not always look as it does today. Where now there are rolling hills with heather and bracken, this area in the 14th Century was completely covered by the ancient forest of Wensleydale, offering the lord of the manor some fine hunting with wild boar, deer and probably wolf being found under its canopy.

The courtyard showing fireloops and machicolations over the entrances

The owners of the manor of Bolton, the Scrope family, were believed to have been established landholders dating back to before the Norman conquest in 1066. A man named Richard le Scrob, who was a Norman land owner in England, is said to have been granted lands in England by King Edward the Confessor. The unusual name apparently derives from his nickname Le Scrob - 'The Crab', which was thought to have been given to him by the jealous Saxons at Edward's court. The name itself has had several variants over the centuries from Scrob, Scroop, Scroupe, to the name they are generally known today, Scrope ( pronounced Scroop ). Recent research on the family concludes that Richard le Scrob of Gloucestershire was not related to the Scropes of Wensleydale, but that a man also named le Scrob from Lincolnshire is from where the Scropes of Bolton and Masham are descended.

The first recorded connection with the Scropes to Bolton appears around 1149 during the reign of King Stephen, where Hugh le Scrope is listed as a landholder in the district of Wensleydale. His son, Robert le Scrope, is listed as holding a knight's fee in Yorkshire in 1198 and he had two sons. The family were to continue as minor land holders of no great importance through much of the 13th century until a William le Scrope is listed as holding the manor of West Bolton in 1286.

William le Scrope served as Bailiff of Richmondshire in 1294 and was knighted at the Battle of Falkirk in 1298. It is from Sir William le Scrope that the two great lines of the family, the Scropes of Bolton and the Scropes of Masham, are descended, both families eventually playing an important role in the running of the country during the next two and a half centuries.

Sir William le Scrope is thought to have had at least four children and it was from his two sons, Henry and Geoffrey that the lines of the Lord Scropes of Bolton and Masham were begun. It is not clear when Sir William died but he is reported to be alive in 1303 and his eldest son Henry later inherited the manor of Bolton. Both Henry and Geoffrey went on to become Chief Justice to the king's bench and the careers of the two Scrope brothers remained close. They both managed to manoeuvre themselves to their own advantage during the troubles of Edward II with Geoffrey probably proving to be the more successful of the two brothers. He gained himself the manor of Clifton on Ure in South Wensleydale where he was given licence to build a castle in 1318 and he also purchased the estates of Masham, some twelve miles from his brother's manor at Bolton Castle. After Roger Lord Clifford's fall from grace he also added the Castle and Manor of Skipton, which lies at the opposite corner of the Dales from Masham.

The main gate from inside the castle

Both brothers were not only lawyers but soldiers and diplomats, although it was as diplomats that Edward III found them both useful. They both managed to amass large tracts of land in North Yorkshire and it has been widely believed that the two brothers were responsible for building the Scrope family fortune. There are problems with this as recent research has found, they don't appear to have had much of a disposable income. It is now believed that Richard le Scrope, Henry's son and 1st Lord of Scrope of Bolton, used to lend money on the security of land and when the lender was unable to pay back the loan these lands and manors then became forfeit to him. It is thought that his careful management of these acquisitions rewarded the family with financial security for future generations.

Sir Henry le Scrope of Bolton died in 1336 and had three sons. William was the eldest who died in 1344, after wounds he received at the Battle of Morlaix in 1342, Stephen died without issue in 1344 and the youngest, Richard, became the 1st Lord Scrope of Bolton.

Geoffrey le Scrope of Masham died in 1340 and had five sons and three daughters. His eldest son Henry, became the 1st Lord Scrope of Masham fighting at Crecy, Poitiers and Najara. Thomas, his second son, died young as did his fifth son Geoffrey. His third son Willaim fought at Crecy, Poitiers and Najara with Henry but later died in Spain. His fourth son Stephen also fought at Crecy and took part in the siege of Berwick in 1356.

I shall now follow the Scropes of Bolton with the occasional glance at their cousins, the Scropes of Masham.

Richard le Scrope, 1st Baron Scrope of Bolton was born in 1328 and at the age of seventeen succeeded his brother William in their father's estates. Richard was probably the finest and most capable of all the medieval Scropes. He spent much of his early days in the saddle fighting for his King and was later appointed Chancellor of England. The earliest notice of him is at the Battle of Crecy on 20 August 1346, fighting with Edward III. After Crecy, he returned to England and is remarkably mentioned again at the Battle of Neville's Cross on the 17 October 1346. It was here that he was knighted while in the service of the Lord Percy.

The Battle of Neville's Cross - 1346

He returned to France almost immediately and joined Edward III and the Black Prince at the siege of Calais in 1346-47. While at the siege his right to bear the family crest of a crab issuing from a ducal coronet was first challenged. Robert de Ufford, earl of Suffolk came to defend Scrope's honour by stating that this was his right as Scrope was descended from an ancient family and had every right to bear arms. Over the next forty years there was hardly a campaign in the Hundred Years War in which Richard le Scrope didn't take part.

In 1350 he is found again with the King and the Black Prince fighting in the earl of Warwick's retinue at the Battle of Winchelsea. This sea battle was really no more than a grand pirate raid against some Spanish ships loaded with treasure heading out of the then great French sea port of Sluys. The sea battle is mentioned in some detail by Jean Froissart in his chronicles. He tells of Edward's Queen and other spectators watching the battle from the sea cliffs at Fairlight in Sussex, near to Winchelsea. In November 1355 he is again back in France with William de Bohun and by Dec/Jan 1356 he is found back in the North of England taking repossession of Berwick-upon-Tweed with the King. On 20 January 1356 he is at the surrender of Edward Balliol at Rokesburgh to King Edward III.

Three years later in October 1359 he is back in France with John of Gaunt. On this occasion he was accompanied by five other members of the Scrope family: Sir Henry, Sir Geoffrey and Sir William along with Stephen and Henry le Scrope, both esquires. The following year in May 1360 he was present at the signing of the Treaty of Bretigny where Edward III renounced his claim to the Crown of France whilst retaining Aquitaine, Calais and other important provinces. He was also in Bordeaux with John of Gaunt in 1366 and fought with his two cousins, William and Stephen le Scrope at the Battle of Najara in 1367 when Edward, Black Prince of Wales tried to restore Don Pedro to the Spanish throne.

The Powell Roll of Arms (1345-51) recording the heraldry of Edward III's Nobility

The Arms of Henry 1st Lord Scrope of Masham are top left

By 1371 he was summoned to Parliament as a Baron of the Realm and the same year he was appointed treasurer, an office he held until 1375. In 1378, under Richard II, he was appointed Chancellor of England and held the post for two years before being re-appointed in 1381. It was while he was Chancellor that he was given licence to castellate the manor of Bolton and work began on the building of Bolton Castle.

Over the next couple of years he was constantly in the saddle in his capacity as Warden of the Northern Marches. It was while he was on these duties in 1385 that the infamous challenge was issued by Scrope to Sir Robert Grosvenor over his right to bear the arms, Azure a bend d'or. This famous hearing reads like a Who's Who in the world of chivalry of the 14th century with some of the leading figures of the age appearing in support of Scrope. The hearing was to last a full four years with John of Gaunt, Henry Bolingbroke, Henry 'Hotspur' Percy, Owen Glendower and Geoffrey Chaucer all backing Scrope. Judgement was eventually given in the favour of Richard le Scrope at Westminster Hall in 1389, with the two men being publicly reconciled before the King in Parliament. The full texts of this dispute are available and make remarkable reading, going into heraldry and the wars of Edward III in quite some detail. The study of these texts by some literary academics have led them to come to the conclusion that Chaucer's Knight and some of his other works were written and based on the life of Richard le Scrope and the families of Bolton and Masham.


King Edward III and his Great seal.

I shall leave Richard le Scrope, 1st Lord Scrope of Bolton, for a short while as he is over sixty years old at this point and it seems a good moment to talk a little about his sons. Richard had married Blanche de la Pole, sister of Michael de la Pole, earl of Suffolk. They had four sons. William le Scrope, who became earl of Wiltshire, Roger le Scrope, who succeeded his father as 2nd Baron Scrope of Bolton and Stephen le Scrope, who married a Tiptoft heiress and became in her right Lord of Bentley. Their fourth son was Richard le Scrope who died young without issue.

© MWC 2000

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