This is me, with Monty the dog, sitting in the courtyard of Skipton Castle under the yew tree that was planted in 1659 by Lady Anne Clifford to mark the repair of the castle after the English Civil War. Despite enduring a three year siege during the Civil War, Skipton is one of the most complete medieval castles in England. The yew tree stands in the Conduit Court (so called because it was where the spring water bubbled out) in the centre of the castle, surrounded by a range of early Tudor buildings that remain unaltered and intact. I've never seen a tree growing inside a castle courtyard like this before although my husband swears he has been somewhere else where there was a tree just like this - and he has been racking his brains ever since to try and remember where it was! It was very peaceful and cool to sit beneath this ancient tree on what was a very hot day and read all about the castle in the guidebook. It was also very nice to be able to take our very well-behaved dog into the castle, although he wasn't very keen on the spiral stairs and refused to go down the dungeon!
There has been a castle in Skipton since 1090 when Robert de Romille, a Norman baron, built a fortress to defend against Scottish raids. The castle is built on a rocky outcrop with a truly impressive precipice behind. The Clifford family owned Skipton Castle from 1310 until 1676 and featured such characters as "Bloody Clifford" "the Butcher," who slaughtered many Yorkists in the Wars of the Roses including Richard, Duke of York, father of Edward IV and Richard III.
In the market square in the town we came across this plaque on one of the pubs. It records the fact that the "ancient hostelry" was once a Royal Mews belonging to Richard III at the time when he was Lord of the Manor and Honour of Skipton. Those were the days when the fortunes of the Cliffords were in decline since their star was tied so securely to the Lancastrians. They were restored to their lands and titles by Henry VII after the Battle of Bosworth.
Another infamous Clifford was the wastrel George, 3rd Earl of Cumberland, who was Queen Elizabeth I's Champion and wore her diamond-studded glove in his hat. George squandered a fortune before he was thirty then turned to privateering in an attempt to regain his wealth. He fought against the Spanish Armada, commanding the ship Elizabeth Bonaventure and was the first to bring the news of the English victory to the Queen. He never regained his fortune, however, and died in debt.
After the Battle of Marston Moor in 1644 Skipton Castle was the only Royalist stronghold left in the North. Sir John Mallory, the governor of the castle, finally negotiated a surrender, and on 21st December 1645 the garrison marched out with colours flying and trumpets sounding. In 1648 after the Royalists re-occupied the castle, Oliver Cromwell ordered the removal of the roofs and the slighting of the walls and towers so that it could not be used as a defensive fortress again. However Lady Anne Clifford was allowed to rebuild on condition that the walls were thinner and the roof was no longer strong enough to bear firing cannon. Above the gatehouse is the Clifford family motto, Desormais, meaning Henceforth.
Skipton contains all that a medieval castle should - arrow slits where archers could shoot a longbow with incredible accuracy to pick off attackers eighty two feet below; a suitably dark and dank dungeon (although the records state that prisoners were always particularly well fed at Skipton, which undermines the idea of terrible torture!) and watchtowers with fighting chambers whose walls are thirteen feet thick. The beautiful yew tree at the centre of the castle has been a witness to events there for over three hundred and fifty years.