History of Richmond Castle
Richmond Castle is the best-preserved example of an early Norman castle in England. Probably begun in the 1070s by Alan Rufus, who had fought at the Battle of Hastings, it was expanded in the 12th century by his great-nephew Conan, who built the keep. By 1540 the castle was derelict, but it later became a popular tourist destination. During the First World War it was used as a prison for conscientious objectors, including the Richmond Sixteen.
Foundation of Richmond Castle
Richmond Castle was built in the aftermath of the Norman Conquest of 1066. The exact circumstances remain obscure, but it was most likely founded in the 1070s by Count Alan Rufus, ‘the Red’, of Penthièvre. A kinsman of William the Conqueror, Alan had commanded the Breton contingent of the Norman army at the Battle of Hastings. In return for his service, King William granted him land in the north in about 1071. Richmond Castle was probably begun soon afterwards to defend these estates from the dispossessed Anglo-Saxon nobility.
The castle is alluded to in the 1086 Domesday survey. Although the survey makes no direct reference to a castle, it describes Alan’s lands as forming a ‘castlery’, an estate organised to sustain a castle. The survey also names Richmond (then called Hindrelag) as Alan’s possession, and as Richmond came to form the centre of his estates it was doubtless Richmond Castle that he had built.
The earliest surviving buildings at Richmond were probably erected by Count Alan in the 1080s. They include long stretches of the stone curtain wall, the great archway in the ground floor of the keep, and Scolland’s Hall. No other castle in England can boast so much surviving 11th-century architecture – it is probably the best-preserved castle of this scale and age in the country.
A Royal Castle
Conan did not enjoy his joint inheritance for long. In 1166 he betrothed his daughter, Constance, to Henry II’s fourth son, Geoffrey, ceding the duchy of Brittany to the king as part of the deal. On Conan’s death in 1171 Constance was only nine, and Henry II (reigned 1154–89) took control of Richmond Castle. Royal accounts list several buildings as objects of repair or new work under Henry II, including the tower and houses of the castle (1171–4) and the ‘king’s house’ (1186–7), probably a reference to Scolland’s Hall.
Although Geoffrey and Constance married in 1181, the castle remained in royal hands until the end of King John’s reign in 1216. Unlike other royal castles in the north, however, there is no documentary or archaeological evidence to suggest that John did any building at Richmond.
In 1215 the north of England revolted against John, who subdued it in a rapid campaign. There is no record of a siege at Richmond at this time, but Roald must have stood against the king, because he was ousted from office and his garrison were imprisoned in the castle until January 1216.
In 1265 Simon de Montfort, who had rebelled against Henry III (r.1216–72) during the civil wars of the 1260s, ordered his supporters to lay siege to Richmond Castle. Frustratingly, though, no details of the siege, if there was one, are recorded.
Richmond Castle in Ruins
Despite these repairs, the castle gradually lapsed into ruin. A survey made in 1538 showed that it was entirely derelict, and it remained in this condition for the next 300 years. Ownership of the castle passed to the dukes of Richmond in 1675. Some repairs were carried out in the 1760s by the 3rd Duke, mainly to the keep.
The works of JMW Turner and other artists in the late 18th and early 19th centuries greatly encouraged admiration of the castle as a romantic ruin, and the town became a fashionable place for tourists to visit.
The First World War and the Richmond Sixteen
During the First World War the castle was occupied by the northern Non-Combatant Corps. This was a military unit in which men who had asked for exemption from military service could contribute to the war effort in non-combatant roles. However, some men who had been ordered to join the Corps refused to take part in any work touching the war effort, because it went against their fundamental beliefs. In 1916 a number of them were detained in cells at Richmond Castle in a 19th-century building, previously the castle’s reserve armoury, beside the castle gate. The walls of these tiny rooms are still covered with graffiti made by the objectors, a unique survival.
Some of these conscientious objectors, who became known as the Richmond Sixteen, were sent to France in May 1916, where they were put on trial for refusing to obey orders, and faced a potential death sentence. Their transportation to France, trial and sentencing have become notorious in the history of conscientious objection.