Crowning a high rocky spur above the River Swale, this castle served to protect its owners. There was also another reason for its presence, to brutally instil into the population the strength and
determination of Norman rule.
Its first owner was the Saxon, Edwin Earl of Mercia, until he was killed in 1171. William the Conqueror then gave Richmond to Earl Alain, nicknamed le Roux, the son of Eudo, Count of Penthièver in Brittany. Alain fought at the Battle of Hastings and became a close adviser to William the Conqueror and as a reward for his services, he was given vast amounts of land across England.
The first phase of the stone construction by Alain is believed to have been the curtain wall and Scolland’s Hall, built between 1071 and 1086. The hall served as a two storied hall keep residence.
Circa 1146, Conan the Little. Duke of Brittany inherited the property. The fortified gatehouse had already been built by this time. Conan then transformed it into a 100 ft towered keep, blocking up the ground floor entrance and making a first floor entrance for added security. He also began strengthening the castle’s defences, which included a fortified barbican. This was because of unrest among the populous in the north of England. All this work may have been done under the direction of the engineer Richard de Wolveston, chief architect to Bishop Puiset. He was the builder of Conan’s other castle at Bowes. Conan died in 1171 and was never to see this work completed. His nine year-old daughter Constance, then became the ward of King Henry II. Henry took a keen interest in the castle’s development and continued with its maintenance.
For the next 300 years the Breton family who still owned Richmond, fell in and out of favour with the English crown because of their continuing support for France. When John III, Duke of Brittany died in 1341, John of Gaunt, King Edward III’s son, became Earl of Richmond and took over the property but by the end of the 14th century the Richmond fortress had lost its military importance and did not take part in the War of the Roses nor the Civil War in the 16th century and continued to be neglected until it was in a ruinous state.
It is now in the care of English Heritage and is open to the public.
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