Helmsley Castle - History and Facts | History Hit

Helmsley Castle

Ryedale, England, United Kingdom

Helmsley Castle was a 12th century castle in York and the site of a dramatic siege during the English Civil War.

Lily Johnson

27 May 2021
Image Credit: Shutterstock

About Helmsley Castle

Helmsley Castle is a large medieval fortress and mansion in the town of Helmsley, Yorkshire. Today its well-preserved ruins provide a fascinating look into Britain’s Civil War past, with the towering architecture of the Middle Ages a picturesque backdrop.

Helmsley Castle history

Initially built as a timber construction by the influential baron and military man Walter l’Espec in 1120, it was converted to stone by his nephew, Robert de Roos and further expanded over the 12th and 13th centuries.

In the 16th century the old hall was transformed into a Tudor mansion by the Earls of Rutland, and eventually passed into the keeping of George Villiers, Duke of Buckingham – a favourite of the Stuart monarchs.

During the English Civil War, Helmsley Castle managed to endure a massive attack by the Parliamentarians for a staggering 3 months, only falling when food and supplies ran dry.

Following the Parliamentarian occupation of Helmsley Castle it was slighted, or intentionally damaged to avoid further military use, yet the manor house was saved. In an intriguing instance of cross-factional politics, Sir Thomas Fairfax’s daughter married the Duke of Buckingham’s son, thus Helmsley remained in the family of both its Royalist and Parliamentarian ancestors.

In the 18th century a new country house was built nearby and Helmsley Castle was left to fall to ruin, attracting the likes of J. M. W. Turner to sketch its atmospheric remains.

Helmsley Castle today

Today, the remains of Helmsley Castle rise out of Yorkshire’s dramatic landscape on a wave of ditches and banks, which would have served to increase its defensive capabilities. Managed by English Heritage, it is now open to the public who can enjoy its grandeur and learn about its history via audio guides and exhibitions.

There are several Civil War displays looking at the castle’s domestic, social, and military history, with both cannonballs and tableware on display alongside a tactile model of what the fortress once looked like.

Free tours of Helmsley Archaeological Store are also available, which holds a large collection of English Heritage’s archaeological finds from the North of England spanning prehistory to the modern day.

Getting to Helmsley Castle

Helmsley Castle is located in Yorkshire and can be accessed via the A170 road, with parking available at the site. The Stephenson’s 29, 31, 31X, 194, 195 and Scarborough & District 128 bus services run to the nearby area, while the nearest train station is Thirsk, a 30-minute drive away.

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