The Saga of Skipton Castle
by Ben Fitton
There’s probably no finer or more iconic site in Skipton than that of Skipton Castle. Perched at the top of the town’s High Street, its crenulated gatehouse and stout, circular buttresses make it a truly imposing monument that, in some form or other, has existed since 1090. This was when Robert de Romille, a Norman lord who followed William The Conqueror to England in 1066, constructed a wooden fort in an attempt to defend northern England from marauding Scottish tribes.
The Skipton Stone Age
But, as three little pigs and a hungry wolf taught us, stone trumps timber. In 1310, with the Romille bloodline run dry, King Edward II bestowed the castle to Robert Clifford, the first Lord Clifford of Skipton, who soon set to work fortifying the castle with stone walls and battlements. The Scots huffed and they puffed but they couldn’t bring Skipton Castle crashing down.
Unfortunately for Robert, barely had the mortar dried on his revamped fortress when in 1314 he was cut down at the legendary battle of Bannockburn. Robert’s heir, Roger, continued the reconstruction but he too met a premature end at the age of 22, executed by Edward for choosing the wrong side in a baronial revolt.
But the king was magnanimous in victory and left the castle under Clifford stewardship. Their reign lasted until 1676 and went uninterrupted save for a brief period during The War of the Roses when Henry Clifford, a supporter of the Red Rose of Lancaster, was forced into hiding – disguised as a shepherd, no less! – by his White Rose Yorkist enemies. During this time, Skipton Castle became the principle residence of Richard, Duke of Gloucester – later to be crowned King of England as Richard III.
But Richard would lose his crown – and his life – at the climactic battle of Bosworth Field in 1485, leaving Henry Clifford free to reclaim his seat at Skipton, with a new unofficial title to his name: The Shepherd Lord.
A Right Royal Dust-Up
Skipton Castle also played a prominent role in the English Civil War, where it ploughed a lonely furrow as the only Royalist stronghold in the north of England. It doggedly withstood Oliver Cromwell’s Parliamentarians in a bitter three-year-long siege, before a surrender was finally negotiated in 1645. As part of the deal, Cromwell ordered the walls and roofing to be weakened so that the castle couldn’t present such a formidable obstacle in the future.
Skipton Castle Restored
But, just when it was needed most, a woman’s touch was on hand to see the castle restored. It was Lady Anne Clifford, a woman as indomitable as the castle itself, who oversaw the reparations that leave us, by and large, with the monument we see today. Including, so it’s said, the yew tree that still stands elegant and proud in the castle’s central courtyard.