Significance of Scarborough Castle

Scarborough is significant both as a medieval royal castle which played a prominent part in national events as an important gateway to north-east England, and for the architectural importance of its great tower and 13th-century defences.

A digital reconstruction of the Roman signal station

A reconstruction of the 4th-century Roman signal station
© Historic England (illustration by Richard Lea)

Roman Signal Station

The Romans built a signal station here in the 4th century, one of a coastal chain that watched for seaborne raiders.

             

Royal Castle

Scarborough is of national historical importance as a medieval royal castle. It figured prominently in national events throughout the Middle Ages and Tudor period and was besieged several times. Its importance is reflected by its nomination, along with the castles of Dover, Nottingham, Bamburgh and Corfe, as a bargaining counter in the peace arrangements of 1265 between Henry III and his rebellious barons.

In 1312 it was briefly the scene of a siege when Edward II’s favourite, Piers Gaveston, took refuge here. Shortly after his surrender he was summarily beheaded.

During the Pilgrimage of Grace in 1537 the castle was successfully held for the king against rebel forces.

               

Architectural Importance

The castle is of architectural significance particularly for Henry II’s great tower and for its outstanding and well-preserved series of 13th-century fortifications, in which King John and Henry III both invested vast sums.

The great tower has the earliest externalised forebuilding in the north of England,[1] and King John's chamber block in the outer bailey is a rare survival: the only substantial parallel for this period is the ‘Gloriette’ at Corfe Castle, Dorset.[2] 

Of significance too is the planned settlement of surprising scale by Henry II beneath the castle walls; Henry III also invested heavily in the town.

View of the Master Gunner's House at Scarborough Castle with some fragments of stone wall in the lawn in front and a view of the sea beyond

The Master Gunner’s House, built in the early 18th century, testifies to Scarborough Castle’s continued military importance

Civil War and After

Scarborough played an important role in the Civil War, and is particularly valuable for the unusually detailed account of the first siege preserved in the diary of Sir Hugh Cholmley.

From the mid-17th century Scarborough became a permanently garrisoned fortification. The buildings for the garrison are well documented and the Master Gunner’s House survives in good condition, one of a group of such residences created across the country in the 18th century (such as in Walmer and Dover Castles in Kent), testifying to Scarborough’s continuing military importance after the Middle Ages.

                 

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Footnotes

1.  J Goodall, The English Castle (London, 2011), 130.
2J Grenville, J Clark and K Giles, ‘Scarborough Castle and headland conservation plan: Parts 1A and 1B – understanding the site’, unpublished report, University of York for English Heritage (1999), 97.

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