Something less than 1000 years ago, a Norman baron built a castle on a rocky outcrop to protect the neighbourhood from marauding Scots. Seven hundred years ago King Edward II granted the castle to a Robert Clifford who he appointed Lord Clifton of Skipton. The first Lord got busy improving and strengthening the castle but sadly, four years later was killed at the Battle of Bannockburn (1314) fighting the Scots. For the next three hundred and thirty years, the Lords Clifford prospered and the castle grew in strength and importance. During the English Civil war, the castle was the only royal stronghold in the north of England and in 1642, the Parliamentarians laid siege to the castle. It withstood the siege for 3 years until in 1645, an honourable surrender was negotiated and the garrison of 300 was allowed to leave with drums beating and flags flying. They paraded down the main street and dispersed.
Cromwell was not one to leave such a stronghold standing and ordered its destruction which was done, apparently, in an unenthusiastic way by local people. In 1605, George Clifford, 3rd Earl of Cumberland had died. He willed the estate to his brother, rather than leave it to his daughter, the redoubtable Lady Anne Clifford, who was only 15 at the time. As a child she had been a favourite of Queen Elizabeth I and had known Queen Anne of Denmark, the queen of King James I of England. She was having none of that and entered into a long and complex legal challenge. It was not until the 4th Earl’s son died in 1643 that she managed to secure the family estates and in 1649 she was able to take possession. Almost immediately, she set to work to restore the castle at Skipton.
She was granted permission to do so on the understanding that the walls would not be as thick as before, and the roofs would not be flat and able to bear cannon. The repairs were carried out and to mark their completion, she planted a yew tree in the Conduit Court in 1659.
She worked tirelessly on her castles in the North despite her two marriages to other noblemen. In 1609 she had married the Earl of Dorset and, six years after he died in 1624, she married the Earl of Pembroke and Montgomery.
This castle is a wonderful synthesis of styles. The entrance tower is full of Norman touches such as the entrance, the approach to which used to be a drawbridge.
Inside the Court was a secure area and so all of the formal rooms face inwards. Though small, this gives the courtyard a cosy, almost homely feel. The Great Hall would have been used for all meals, usually taken around mid-day. The Lord, his Lady and all the main people of the Garrison would gather and be served by Retainers from the adjacent kitchen. For those caught short, it was not far to go to relieve oneself. The garderobe or privy was just the other side of the kitchen it delivered its gifts into the river below, as did the garbage from the kitchen.
The first picture shows the Great Hall. Both chutes can be seen in the picture on the right.
The entrance to the castle is an imposing mix of medieval fortress and later-day house. Inside the gateway, on the right, there is a Renaissance Grotto; one of only two preserved in the country. Created between 1626 and 1629 for Henry, Lord Clifford, it is made from coral and oyster shells and represents the four elements, fire, wind, air and water.
Lady Anne Clifford died in 1676 at the ripe old age of 86. When she died she was Baroness Clifford, Dowager Countess of Dorset and Dowager Countess of Pembroke and Montgomery. Her daughter died the same year, at which point it ceased to be lived in. In the 1970’s the castle was bought by the Fattorini family. They had arrived early in the nineteenth century and in 1831 opened a jewelery shop in Harrogate. Twenty years later they opened another in Bradford. They specialised in sports trophies and medals making, amongst others, the FA Cup and the Rugby League Challenge Cup. They have done much to restore the castle and to open it to the public. The family live in a wing of the castle.