It’s easy to understand why Richard III loved Middleham, and spent so much time there. Surrounded by the soft green scenery of Wensleydale in Yorkshire, it must have been a calming respite from the upheavals of the war and the court intrigues.
Middleham was granted to Alan the Red, eldest son of one of the Norman lords who supported William the Conqueror, and the first castle was built in the 11th century. The present castle was started about a hundred years later, and in 1270 it devolved by marriage to the Neville family. When Richard Neville, earl of Warwick, was killed at the battle of Barnet in 1471, Middleham was forfeited to the Crown, and Edward IV gave it to his brother, Richard, duke of Gloucester.
|The Great Hall (upper floor)|
After Richard’s death, Middleham remained in royal hands until the 17th century when it was sold, and gradually fell into disrepair. Nevertheless, the ruins are still very impressive, and also slightly eerie. There are various stories about people hearing faint music from the castle. One group saw a knight on horseback, and a young boy asked his mother if ‘the soldier’ would show him his sword. My ‘spookiest’ moment came at a Medieval Festival at Middleham in 2000, when a re-enactment group performed various imaginary scenes from Richard’s time at the castle. Seeing ‘Richard’ himself striding around the grounds was somewhat surreal. Even stranger, later in the afternoon, was sitting outside a café in the town, chatting to ‘Richard’ and ‘Lord Stanley’!
The church in Middleham, dedicated to St Mary and St Akelda, was founded in the 13th century, and enlarged in the 14th. In the 1470s, Richard, as lord of Middleham, petitioned to have the church elevated to a collegiate church, with a dean, six chaplains, four clerk, and six choristers, an honour which the church was allowed to retain even when Henry Tudor usurped the throne.
In the 1930s, a memorial window was installed, which shows Richard and his son at one side, and Anne Neville at the other, all kneeling at prayer desks.