Helmsely Castle

Helmsley Castle, Yorkshire

~ History ~

1086 ~ The manor of Elmeslac is owned by Count Robert of Mortain, half brother to William the Conqueror. The land is recorded as having little value following the King's 'Harrying of the North' following repeated rebellions against the Normans. Just seven men and their families live on the estate.

1088 ~ Rebellion within the Norman ranks is also not uncommon. King William II's own uncles Count Robert and Bishop Odo rebels against him and in doing so forfeit their estates, including Elmeslac. He is later pardoned by his nephew.

1090 ~ Count Robert dies in Normandy. His estates, including Elmeslac is eventually returnedto his family.

1100's ~ Count Robert's son learns nothing from his father and rebels against King William's ambitious brother Henry, who has taken the throne of England following a hunting accident in the New Forrest which resulted in William being shot by an arrow. The lands of Elmeslac are again forfeit.

1122 ~ King Henry I grants the lands of Elmeslac to Walter Espec, a loyal Norman lord who also holds the castle of Wark in Northumberland.

He sets about building a castle at Elmeslac.

1138 ~ Defending Englands northern borders from the Scots he is one of the loyal Norman lords who defeat King David I of Scotland at the Battle of Standard.

1154 ~ Walter Espec dies in his retirement at Rievaulx Abbey. The castle and lands oass to his brother in law, Peter de Ros I.

1157 ~ Peter dies and so the state passes to his son Robert. He also does not live long to enjoy his inheritance when he dies ten years later, leaving the castle and lands to his son Everard.

1191 ~ Robert de Ros II rebuilds the castle at Elmeslac and improves the defences at Wark Castle. His power and wealth and position as guardian of the northern borders with Scotland enable him to make a strategic marriage to King William the Lion of Scotland's own illegitimate daughter, Isabella.

1210 ~ Despite an often difficult relationship with King John of England, not uncommon with many Baron's, Robert campaigns in Ireland for King John.

1215 ~ Upon a major rebellion by the barons of England against King John, Robert is eventually persuaded to side with the barons and is one of 25 lords chosen to ensure the King complies with Magna Carta.

1216 ~ During King John's own rebellion against Magna Carta and his barons, Robert successfully holds Helmsley Castle against the King.

From the North King John turns his attentions to rebellious barons in the South, from where his relentless campaign against his barons takes him once again north to relieve a rebel siege of Lincoln Castle and from there East to King's Lynn to order further supplies from the continent

In King's Lynn, John contracts dysentery, and is seriously ill.

Grasping the opportunity of rebellion in England,King Alexander II invades northern England again, taking Carlisle and then marching south to give homage to the French Prince Louis who has been invited to take the throne of ENgland by the rebellious barons.

King John narrowly misses intercepting King Alexander's army along the way. Tensions between Louis and the English barons begin to increase, prompting a wave of desertions back to King John.

Whilst crossing the tidal estuary on the Wash, King John's baggage train, including the Crown Jewels, are lost in quicksand and whirlpools.

John's illness grows worse and by the time he reaches Newark Castle he was inable to travel any further. He dies the following night. 

His nine year old son is later crowned King Henry III.

1225 ~ Robert de Ros II is present when Magna Carta is reissued to King Henry III. Robert joins the Knights Templar and dies the following year. He is succeeded by his sons William, who is awarded Hemsley Castle and Robert who holds Wark Castle.

1265 ~ Robert is summoned to Parliament by Simon de Montfort, leader of the baron rebellion against King Henry III. Further improvements are made to Helmsely Castle in rediness for further war.

1277 ~ William de Ros II fights in the Welsh Wars for King Edward I and again in a second campaign five years later, followed by campaigns in Scotland.

1300's ~ Major improvements are to the castle by William and his son.

1322 ~ The Scots defeat King Edward II's army at nearby Battle of Byland, but avoid Helmsley castle. Following the English defeat King Edward II is forced to flee for his life. Following capture and imprisonment the King is eventually murderded five years later in Berkeley Castle.

1334 ~ King Edward III spends five days at Helmsely Castle with William de Ros III.

1346 ~ William de Ros IV fights for King Edward at the Battle of Crecy against the French, resulting in an English victory which criples the French from being able to relieve Calais, which falls to the English and is held for more than two hundred years.

As a direct result of the Scots-French Auld Alliance, the Scots are bound by the treay to support their allies andso invade England.

William de Ros joins his Kings forces in routing the Scots at the Battle of Neville's Cross, capturing their King, David II in the process.

1352 ~ William dies on pilgramage to the Holy Land.

1403 ~ William de Ros V is made Lord Treasurer of England. Belvoir Castle is now the main seat of the family.

1421 ~ John de Ros and his brother William are killed in France at teh Battle of Bauge. Their brother Thomas succeeds them and nine years later following his death is succeeded by his three year old son, also named Thomas.

1446 ~ Thomas de Ros fights in France in the closing years of the Hundred Years War.

1461 ~ Following the Yorkist victory over their Lancastrian rivals at the Battle of Towton during the Wars of the Roses, Thomas is forced to flee to Scotland with King Henry.

1464 ~ Thomas is captured and executed following another Lancastrian defeat at the Battle of Hexham. The castle is forfeit to the Crown.

1478 ~ Helmsley Castle is granted to King Edward's IV's brother, Richard, Duke of Gloucester, future King Rochard III.

1485 ~ Following the decisive Lancastrian victory over the Yorkist King Richard III and his death upon the battlefield of Bosworth, the Helmsely lands are restored to the de Ros family.

1492 ~ Edmund de Ros is deemed unfit in the role and so the estates are overseen by order of an Act being passed to his brother-in-law Thomas Lovell.

1508 ~ Helmsely castle comes into the ownership of the Manners family.

1525 ~ Thomas Manners as a member of King Henry's VIII's court is made Earl of Rutland.

1538 ~ Following the desolution of the monasteries, Thomas purchases Rievaulx Abbey and begins to dismantle it.

1580's ~ Major rebuilding and refurbishment work is undertaken at the castle. However their predecessors the de Ros family, the Manners primary seat remains at Belvoir Castle. The family spend little time at Helmsley.

1642 ~ Sir John Crosland, a local man of Helmsley who is knighted and appointed Colonel of the Horse, is given the castle to garrision for King Charles I against Parliament.

1644 ~ Following the Parliamentary victory at the Battle of Marston Moor and the subsequent fall of York, General Fairfax turns his attentions on Helmsley Castle. Upon arriving at the castle to set up his artillary, Fairfax is shot in the shoulder by a member of the castle garrison.

Royalist forces from Pontefract, Knarlesborough and Skipton castles arriveto lift the siege but are defeated. The castle surrenders soon after with generous terms they are free to join the Royalist garrison at Scarborough Castle. Helmsely castle is ordered to be demolishe,albeit its dungeons are to be used to hold prisoners of war.

1650 ~ General Fairfax aquires the castle and borough of Helmsley. His daughter marries George Villiers, 2nd Duke of Buckingham, from whom the castle has been forfeit and is later imprisoned by Oliver Cromwell after his father-in-law and Oliver's second in comand, General Fairfax guarantees his son-in-laws future behaviour.

1667 ~ The tudor wing of the castle is the last habitable part of the castle which upon George's death, falls into decay.

1689 ~ By an Act of Parliament the trustees to George's estates are permitted to sell Helmsley Castle and all his possessions. The castle is purchased by a wealthy London Banker, Charles Duncombe. However the castle is no longer lived in and slowly falls into ruin.


Castlegate, Helmsley


Off B1257


YO62 5AB

Helmsley Castle stands on an outcrop of rock in the valley of the River Rye, overlooking the historical market town of the same name.

The castle was founded in the early 12th century and is now ruinous. However, what a magnificent ruin and fabulous castle to explore. Only half of the keep now survives but there is plenty of the Elizabethan Chamber Block, barbican and curtain walls with rock ditches that survive to keep any castle-finder busy. A walk round the path that follows the rock ditch will give you the very best view of the castle. Make sure you visit the Chamber Block buildings which are still in a very good state of repair and are probably the best of their type we have visit anywhere in England.

Definately one of our favourite castles in Yorkshire. Do try to make time to visit the lovely market town with all its old buildings.

There is plenty of parking made available for visitors witha short walk tothe castle