To tie in with Historic Houses’ #medievalmonday theme this week, we caught up with Castle Curator, Julie Biddlecombe-Brown to find out more about the ‘Medieval Fortifications’ at Raby Castle.
In the 13th and 14th centuries, many wealthy families took the decision to fortify their properties. Ongoing conflict with the Scots led many nobles to take additional precautions to defend their families and land. At Raby Castle, an earlier manor was fortified through successive phases of building during the 14th century. The castle belonged to the powerful Nevill family. In 1346 Ralph Nevill had been one of the leaders of English troops at the Battle of Neville’s Cross (just outside of Durham), where a much larger Scottish army was defeated and King David II was captured. Perhaps this military action led to the decision to increase defences at his family residences? The work at Raby begun by Ralph was continued after his death by his son John, turning it from a Manor into a Castle which included a range of towers, moat, portcullis and crenelations.
Defensively, Raby isn’t an immediately obvious site for a castle – it is not on a peninsula like Durham Castle or a rocky outcrop like Barnard Castle. But there is a natural water supply and it was on a traditional route north to south. This made the location more strategic and worth maintaining as a place of residence. The fortification work culminated in the granting of a license to crenelate by Bishop Hatfield in 1378. In other parts of the country, such awards were made by the monarch but as part of the palatinate, in County Durham this power rested with the Prince Bishops.
Visitors to Raby Castle today can still marvel at the remarkably intact 14th century fortifications. Whether viewed from afar, or up close on the castle terrace, the remarkable skills of the medieval craftsmen who built the castle are clear to see. Raby has an ongoing programme of maintenance and repair of these historic structures and current work on the Keep Tower roof will help to preserve these magnificent fortifications for generations to come.
Top Image credit: @Chelseachaseslife
To find out more about our castle towers, visit our previous blog below.