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Harrogate Guide. Events and Festivals

Knaresborough Castle

Knaresborough Castle The History & facts below are those that I have researched on the internet and in libraries and hopefully correct, however, history sometimes differs in the views of different historians. Should you find any errors, anything I might have missed or indeed anything  I can include or research please email

The castle was first built by a Norman baron in c. 1100 on a cliff above the River Nidd. In the 1170s Hugh de Moreville and his followers took refuge there after assassinating Thomas Becket.

In 1205 King John took control of Knaresborough Castle. He regarded Knaresborough as an important northern fortress and spent £1,290 on improvements to the castle. The castle was later rebuilt at a cost of £2,174 between 1307 and 1312 by Edward I and later completed by Edward II, including the great keep. Edward II gifted the castle to Piers Gaveston.

In 1331 Philippa of Hainault took possession of the castle, and it became a royal residence. The queen often spent summers there with her family. Her son, John of Gaunt acquired the castle in 1372, adding it to the vast holdings of the Duchy of Lancaster. Katherine Swynford, Gaunt’s third wife, obtained the castle upon his death.

The castle was taken by Parliamentarian troops in 1644 during the Civil War, and largely destroyed in 1648 not as the result of warfare, but because of an order from Parliament to dismantle all Royalist castles. Indeed, many town centre buildings are built of ‘castle stone’.

Now the remains of the castle are open to the public and there is a charge for entry to the interior remains. The grounds are used as a public leisure space, with a bowling green and putting green open during summer. It is also used as a performing space, with bands playing most afternoons through the summer. It plays host to frequent events, such as the annual Festival of Visual Arts and Entertainment. The property is owned by the monarch as part of the Duchy of Lancaster holdings but is administered by Harrogate Borough Council.

Knaresborough castle has had ravens since 2000, one of which was donated by the Tower of London, and another an African pied crow named Mourdour. In 2018, Mourdour was filmed greeting people at the castle in a Yorkshire accent, saying “Y’alright love?” The video subsequently went viral and was reported by various news broadcasters.

The castle, now much ruined, comprised two walled baileys set one behind the other, with the outer bailey on the town side and the inner bailey on the cliffside. The enclosure wall was punctuated by solid towers along its length, and a pair, visible today, formed the main gate. At the junction between the inner and outer baileys, on the north side of the castle stood a tall five-sided keep, the eastern parts of which have been pulled down. The keep had a vaulted basement, at least three upper stories, and served as a residence for the lord of the castle throughout the castle’s history. The castle baileys contained residential buildings, and some foundations have survived. In 1789, historian Ely Hargrove wrote that the castle contained “only three rooms on a floor, and measures, in front, only fifty-four feet.

The upper storey of the Courthouse features a museum that includes furniture from the original Tudor Court, as well as exhibits about the castle and the town. Some of the surviving areas of the castle keep wall also bear impact scars left by bullets fired during the Civil War siege.



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