Bolton Castle in Wensleydale MYD4561 (c) YDNPA, 2023
A licence to crenellate Bolton Castle was granted to Sir Richard Scrope in 1379 while he was Chancellor of England, and marked King Richard II’s approval for a building project on a grand scale. In 1378, Sir Richard had already agreed a contract with master mason John Lewyn for a considerable amount of the work. John Leland visited in the 1530s and records that it took 18 years to build and cost 1000 marks a year. The building gives a great impression of strength but this is partly an illusion.
Although the castle superficially appears to provide a formidable defence, it is somewhat basic by comparison with some contemporary and earlier castles. Among the defensive features that the castle lacks, is a moat or a ditch of any kind to prevent the use of siege towers. Thus there is also no drawbridge and consequently, the portcullises are situated externally, whereas internal ones are stronger.
Lack of such features shows that the castle was less seriously intended as a military citadel, but it was still quite strong enough to deter the greatest contemporary threat – Scottish raiders.
Bolton Castle is in fact what is known as a ‘castle-residence’ of the last quarter of the fourteenth century. It holds a position of academic importance for two reasons.
Firstly is the link to probably the most important northern master mason of the Medieval period 1360-1400, John Lewyn. Second is the extent of survival of much of the original fabric, hence Bolton Castle’s position as architectural type-site for later Medieval northern England.
Architecturally it represents how the conflict between the needs of defence and the need for more space for accommodation came to be resolved in the quadrangular form (previously castles were built in the round). In a square castle, more people could be accommodated on the same ground area. At Bolton Castle the integration of the different living units was more complex than before, reflecting a more elaborate way of life; there was a greater differential in the scale of the accommodation and there was a decrease in the relative size of the Hall, reflecting its more formal use.
The ground floor provided stables and stores, while the principal rooms were on the first floor, approached from the central courtyard. The Great Hall was in the northern range, with the private apartments to the west and domestic offices to the east. There were twelve independent lodgings of one or two rooms for retainers.
In 1568, Bolton Castle was chosen by Queen Elizabeth I for the custody of Mary Queen of Scots. By then it was surrounded by extensive landscaped grounds. The Scrope family held the castle for the King during the Civil War but eventually surrendered to their besiegers in 1645. The castle was slighted after the Civil War and in 1678 the Scrope family, now named Powlet, built a new home, Bolton Hall some 4.5 km (3 miles) to the south east. In later years the castle became the residence of a local farmer.
Trueman, M R G & Neil, N R J (1992) Bolton Castle, North Yorkshire – the North and East Ranges. Lancaster: Lancaster University Archaeological Unit
http://www.boltoncastle.co.uk/ – website for Bolton Castle