Helmsley Castle

The History Of Helmsley Castle

LocationHelmsley, County of North Yorkshire, England (Google Maps)
Open for VisitorsYes
Owned byFeversham family
Rooms AvailableNo

Helmsley Castle is a 12th-century structure towering over the attractive market town of Helmsley in the county of North Yorkshire, England. Situated on the southern edge of North York Moors National Park, the castle is an imposing sight with a rich history.


Walter Espec built the first castle at Helmsley, called ‘Walter the Woodpecker’, sometime after 1120. He used it as his base during the anarchy, the long civil war between King Stephen and Queen Maud. He was a staunch supporter of King Stephen during the war. When Espec died in 1154, Helmsley Castle and estate were passed on to Peter de Ros, husband of his sister Adelina. More than 30 years later, Robert, Peter de Ros’ great-grandson, rebuilt Helmsley Castle using stone as recorded in the Chartulary of Rievaulx Abbey.

Thomas de Roos, the descendent of Robert, supported the Lancastrian cause in the Wars of the Roses. He was captured and executed after the Battle of Hexham in 1464, and the castle subsequently passed to the Crown. In 1478, it was granted to Richard, Duke of Gloucester, who later became King Richard III.

Helmsley Castle was restored to Edmund de Roos by Henry VII when he took the throne in 1485. However, as Edmund died childless in 1508, the castle was inherited by his cousin Sir George Manners. The Manners family remodelled the forbidding medieval fortress into a comfortable residence during the 16th century. The central block was converted into a suite of rooms featuring beautiful ornate plasterwork and panelling. Much of the work from this period can be seen even today.

When Francis Manners, descendent of the Manners family, died in 1632, the castle passed through marriage to his daughter’s husband, George Villiers, 1st Duke of Buckingham. In 1644, Helmsley Castle was besieged by Parliamentary troops under the leadership of Sir Thomas Fairfax. The Royalist garrison, headed by Sir Jordan Crosland, held out for three months until they ran out of food and were forced to surrender. Fairfax ordered to pull down the castle walls and the east tower so the castle could no longer be used for military purposes. However, he did not destroy the Tudor mansion within the castle walls. It is believed that he had an ulterior motive for doing so, as Helmsley Castle was given to Fairfax by Parliament. He later granted it to the 2nd Duke of Buckingham, the husband of Fairfax’s daughter.

When the 2nd Duke died in 1687, Charles Duncombe purchased Helmsley Castle for £90,000. He was a wealthy banker who later served as the Lord Mayor of London. After the death of Charles in 1711, Helmsley Castle was passed to his sister Mary and her husband Thomas Brown, who swiftly changed his name to Duncombe. Rather than living in the decaying Tudor mansion, Thomas Duncombe called in the architect William Wakefield to design a luxurious stately home overlooking the castle. The castle was left to decay and act as a focal point for views from the elegant new house known as Duncombe Park.


Helmsley Castle, by Barkmatter, is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0

Helmsley represents a fine example of an English ringwork castle style. Although it is in ruins, much of the castle exists today to comprehend its grandiose appearance before its demolition a few centuries ago. While only about half of the East Tower is mounted above the inner bailey today, it still is the most impressive part of the castle. The tower is frequently mistaken for a keep due to its enormous size. The tower, shattered keep, and fearsome earthworks continue to fascinate the visitors, making Helmsley Castle the perfect location to learn about the dramatic history of this region.

Free tours of Helmsley Archaeological Store are available for visitors. It holds a substantial collection of English Heritage’s archaeological finds from the North of England, spanning prehistory to the modern-day. Helmsley Castle’s opening times are 10 am to 5 pm on all days of the week.

Frequently Asked Questions

What was Helmsley Castle used for?

Helmsley Castle was used as a defensive structure against the attacks by Parliamentarians during the English Civil War.

Is Helmsley Castle a Motte and Bailey castle?

Helmsley Castle is a motte and bailey castle constructed in the English ringwork castle style. It is managed today by English Heritage and is open to the public.

Have you visited this castle before? If yes, why not share some beautiful pictures with us!
You can email us your pictures of the castle at castrumtocastle@gmail.com. Please use the name of the castle in the subject line.
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He is a versatile E-Learning Support Officer and former Academic Officer at the University of York, United Kingdom. Not just an expert in education and technology, Debayan also has a deep love for castles and mountains. With a passion for travel, having explored 168+ cities worldwide, and a keen eye for photography, He brings a unique blend of experiences to the table. Specializing in E-learning content, IT support, AR development, and software engineering, Debayan has made a significant impact, educating over 200,000 students on Udemy.

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