Sunday, 7 March 2021

Spofforth Castle

 I've started reading 'The Castle in the Wars of the Roses' by Dan Spencer which was published a few months ago. It's been well reviewed, and I shall no doubt bore you with my own opinions in due course. However, I was rather taken aback by an egregious geographical error in the very first chapter. Referring to the Percy Earls of Northumberland, he states that they owned a number of important castles in that county including Alnwick, Warkworth and Spofforth. Surely some mistake?

In fact, Spofforth Castle is, as any fule kno', situated between Harrogate and Wetherby in what in the 15th Century would have been the West Riding of Yorkshire. Indeed it may well be the nearest castle to where your bloggist sits typing this (*). It is of course very closely connected with the Percies, having been the seat of the family from the time that William de Percy came over with the Conqueror until the fourteenth century, when their power grew and they switched their attentions more to Northumberland and the Scottish Marches. 

Its importance to the family is indicated by the fact that Harry Hotspur, the famously impulsive Shakespearean character, was born there; unless he was born at either Alnwick or Warkworth, no one seems to know. It is also possible that Magna Carta was drafted there; but then perhaps it wasn't, once again no one really knows. The one thing I will say with absolute certainty though, is that Spofforth is not, and never has been, in the county of Northumberland (**).

* As readers will have realised long ago, this blog does not run to a team of fact checkers, and I can't be arsed to do it myself, so we shall never know. It is self-evidently nearer than Knaresborough, and intuitively closer than Skipton so I'm going to assume that it is. For the purposes of this exercise the Roman fort in Ilkley doesn't count, and nor, for obvious reasons, does Cliffe Castle. Ripley Castle would, but even as the crow flies that must be further away.

** Before the mid tenth century it would have been in the Kingdom of Northumbria, but that's different.


  1. I think your estimate of the distance to Spofforth may depend on the accuracy of your eyesight when reading a map. Perhaps you had better drive to the castle to verify the distance, and thus of course 'check your eyesight', as any good and responsible father would of course want to do. ūüėĄ