Like all castles, Knaresborough served as a focus for the surrounding community: a refuge in times of danger and a centre for government and judicial administration. Long after the castle’s military significance had diminished, it continued to function as a centre for justice, administering the Honour of Knaresborough. Even after the castle was ordered to be dismantled by the Parliamentarians, the townspeople of Knaresborough managed to successfully petition the government to allow them to preserve the King’s Tower and to use it as a prison. The earliest castle at Knaresborough was established after the Norman conquest, predating the standing fourteenth century remains by nearly 200 years. Throughout its long history, the castle has been in royal control or held directly from the Crown. Its fortunes have risen and fallen with the history of the English Monarchy. The first documented reference to a castle at Knaresborough is from the Pipe Rolls of 1129-1130, which make reference to £11 spent by Eustace fitz John for the King’s works at Knaresborough. In 1170, when Hugh de Moreville held the castle, he and his followers took refuge there after they had murdered Thomas a Beckett in Canterbury. King John took a particular interest in Knaresborough and he spent £1,290 on works at the castle, including the excavation or enlargement of the moat. The remains of this great dry ditch can still be seen around the southern and northern halves of the castle, and this is the earliest remaining visible construction. King John visited often during his reign, residing here while hunting in the Forest of Knaresborough
In the early 14th century King Edward I turned his attention from his successful Welsh campaigns and looked toward the North. He began a programme of modernisation at Knaresborough Castle, and made repairs to buildings referred to in court records as the ‘White tower, the great hall, the great chamber, the great chapel, the chapel of St. Thomas and the great gate’. These historical references are the only record we have which can give us a picture of the castle at this period. From the brief glimpse they give us, we know that Knaresborough Castle consisted of a substantial range of buildings by the 14th century. All that survives from that period now are the twin towers of the East Gate and fragments of the curtain wall. When Edward of Caernarvon succeeded his father Edward I to become King of England, the country lost a strong ruler to a weaker man, who was influenced by unpopular favourites. Piers Gaveston was the first of these men to gain Edward’s favour, and in 1307, Edward II granted the Honour and Castle of Knaresborough to Gaveston. In reality the estate remained in the King’s control, and a substantial amount of money from the royal purse was spent on the Castle. Piers Gaveston was extremely unpopular amongst the powerful barons, who felt he exercised undue influence over the King. In 1311, under pressure from the barons, he was banished, but was later re-admitted into the country and the King’s favour. In 1312, Gaveston was besieged at Scarborough Castle. During the siege, Edward remained at Knaresborough Castle, to be close at hand. Gaveston surrendered and was eventually beheaded.
Edward II’s reign was marked by continuing internal friction amongst powerful factions, and ever increasing raids by the Scots into northern England. This general unrest led to rebellion and on 5 October in 1317, Knaresborough Castle was seized by supporters of the Earl of Lancaster, and held against the King. The Constable spent ,£55 to mount an attack to retake his own castle, and used a siege engine to breach the curtain wall and recapture it three months later. In 1318 the raiding Scots penetrated as far south as Knaresborough. Much of the town including the church and priory were devastated by these raids, with the castle as the only point of refuge in the town. The powerful aristocracy were soon in a state of complete rebellion, led by the King’s own wife, Queen Isabella. In 1327 they deposed Edward II and accepted his son as King Edward III. In 1331, Edward III’s wife Queen Philippa received the Honour and Castle of Knaresborough as part of her marriage settlement. It was while in her possession that Knaresborough Castle became firmly established not only as a royal possession, but as a royal residence in the truest sense. Previous monarchs had used the castle to consolidate their power in the North, but Queen Philippa spent many summers in residence at Knaresborough Castle, her young family with her. It may have been memories from his childhood spent in Knaresborough that encouraged John of Gaunt, in 1372, to give up his properties in Richmond for the Honour and Castle of Knaresborough and the Honour of Tickhill. As Duke of Lancaster, John of Gaunt had a large inheritance including many castles of great importance. Knaresborough from that time onwards was joined to these estates and belonged to the Duchy of Lancaster. Upon John of Gaunt’s death in 1399, King Richard II confiscated the Lancastrian estates as the property of the Crown, disinheriting Henry Bolingbroke, John of Gaunt’s son and heir. Henry returned to claim his inheritance, landing at Ravenspur, and travelling to receive support from his Castles at Pickering, Knaresborough and Pontefract This confrontation eventually led to the downfall of King Richard II, who was deposed and imprisoned. He spent a night as prisoner in Knaresborough Castle, most likely in the King’s Tower, before he was taken to Pontefract, where he was murdered. Henry Bolingbroke’s ascendance to the throne as King Henry IV brought the lands of the Duchy of Lancaster directly under the control of the Crown, and Knaresborough was a royal castle once again.
Knaresborough Castle supported the Royalist Cause during the Civil War, but in 1644 the Parliamentarians were gaining control in Yorkshire. After the battle of Marston Moor in July 1644, the castle was besieged, and finally surrendered when cannon breached the wall on December 20. In 1646 Parliament ordered the castle to be rendered untenable, and by 1648 demolition had commenced. Nearly the entire circuit of the curtain wall was destroyed, as were all the buildings in the grounds, except the Courthouse. The King’s Tower was in the process of demolition when the townspeople petitioned Parliament to allow them to maintain it as a prison. Demolition was halted and the Tower was left standing. The King’s Tower and Courthouse continued to serve as prison and courthouse for some time. The Courthouse has now become the Museum housed in one of the Castle's oldest surviving buildings. Find out about Knaresborough's fascinating history and the colourful characters who have contributed to it, such as Eugene Aram, the infamous 18th century murderer! Get a glimpse of what life was like for children and adults alike living in a medieval castle in the hands-on Life in a Castle exhibition room. Try on chain mail and Civil War costumes; play medieval games and find out about food, drink, and schooling all those years ago. Come and see the original Tudor courtroom in the museum. This rare survival gives an insight into Crime and Punishment in Tudor England. Discover the laws of the land and what it felt like to be tried in the dock.
Both Putting and Bowls are available in the Castle Grounds (which have Free access). he Castle site is accessible for wheelchairs but there is limited access to the historic buildings. The ground floor of the King's Tower is on a single level, but access to the dungeon and King's Chambers are via steep and worn stairs. Access to the sallyport is down a steep set of stairs, and there is a steep downward slope within the sallyport which can be slippery. Regular access to the Old Courthouse Museum is via a set of steps, but level access from the rear can be provided with prior arrangement. The majority of displays are on a single level, but there are some steps within the museum. The museum is equipped with a hearing induction loop and large print is available on request. There are downloadable audio tours for the castle.
Location : Knaresborough Castle, Castle Yard, Knaresborough, HG5 2AS
Transport: Knaresborough (National Rail) 10 minutes . Bus routes : 56, 56R, 57 and 57B stop nearby.
Opening Times : Daily 11:00 to 14:00 until 14th September.
Tickets - Castle/Museum: Adults £3.40. Children £1.90 Concessions £2.30.
Tickets - Bowls: Adults £2.20. Children £1.70 Concessions £1.70.
Tickets - Putting: Adults £2.40. Children £1.80 Concessions £1.80.
Tel: 01423 556188