by ANTONY CLAY
THE castle that inspired the novel Ivanhoe. That’s certainly quite a claim for one of South Yorkshire’s best-known historic landmarks.
Conisbrough Castle has had a fascinating past and remains to this day an important building for the local people and the area’s economy.
Thousands choose to visit the English Heritage property which is a much-loved regional treasure.
Perched on Castle Hill, the small town of Conisbrough has grown around the building which still acts as a focus for the community.
Travel back in time by exploring the 12th century building and learn about the illustrious people who inhabited it.
The castle is extremely popular with school trips and tourists alike.
Built of magnesian limestone, the medieval castle was the focus of a lordship owned by William de Warenne, who was given the land by none other than William the Conqueror.
It is the de Warenne and Langley families which had the greatest significance on the growth and development of the castle over the centuries.
William de Warenne, who took on the Earldom of Surrey, set about developing Conisbrough Castle.
In those early times, soon after the Norman Conquest, the structure may have been an earthwork enclosure or ringwork which had a timber palisade. There would have been timber buildings.
The 3rd Earl’s daughter, Isabel, married King Stephen’s youngest surviving son, William of Blois, who became the 4th Earl, but they did not have children. She later married the half brother of Henry II, Hamelin, and the pair made regular sojourns to Conisbrough, and it is during this period that the stone keep was built (1170s to 1180s).
The curtain wall and associated buildings such as the great hall, kitchen and a chamber block are thought to have been built soon after Hamelin’s death by his son, William. We are now in the early 13th century.
King John stayed at Conisbrough.
The last Earl, the 8th, had an unhappy marriage. Joan of Bar, his wife, was Edward I’s granddaughter and lived separately from the Earl at Conisbrough before upping sticks to London.
Thomas, Earl of Lancaster, besieged and captured Conisbrough in 1322, but was eventually executed for rebellion against the king. John got his estates back but died without heirs so the land and property went to the Crown. Edward III gave the castle to his son, Edmund Langley, later Duke of York.
The Langleys proved to be principal figures in 14th and 15th century politics.
Conisbrough was regularly used and many alterations were carried out to the domestic buildings in the castle in the 14th century.
Edmund Langley’s death in 1402 saw the estates and dukedom inherited by his oldest son, Edward, who allowed his brother Richard, who was born at Conisbrough Castle in 1385, to live there as his tenant.
Richard and others plotted to assassinate Henry the Fifth but it all went wrong and Richard was executed.
Edward lost his life at the Battle of Agincourt in 1415. This left the castle in the hands of Richard’s widow, Maud. She died in 1446. Richard’s son, also called Richard, inherited the site but he was killed in the English Civil War in 1460 and the castle appears to have fallen into a state of neglect.
But in 1559 Queen Elizabeth the First gave Conisbrough Castle to her cousin Henry Carey. It eventually fell into the hands of the Coke family in the 17th century, to the Dukes of Leeds in 1737 and in 1839 to the Conyers family and Earls of Yarborough.
Landscaping work was carried out in the 18th and 19th centuries when it gained the reputation of being a picturesque ruin which caught the attention of many a painter.
Writer Sir Walter Scott used the castle in his famous novel Ivanhoe, which was published in 1819.
The state took over the castle in 1950 and it was managed by the Ivanhoe Trust during the 1990s before being taken on by English Heritage in 2007.
Repairs have been carried out to improve the castle for visitors over the years and there is an excellent visitor centre.
Conisbrough Castle certainly draws in the visitors – whether they be school groups, interested locals or tourists finding out what Yorkshire has to offer – and there will usually be plenty of people milling around and discovering the place.
Display panels and projections bring the fascinating tale that Conisbrough Castle has to tell to life.
A lot of imagination has gone into making the attraction visitor-friendly and interactive. People can learn a lot about the castle’s rich history and about the significance of the whole area in major historical events.
From the top of the castle you can get fantastic views of the countryside around Conisbrough, and perhaps plan an excursion into it if you have the time. There are plenty of local walks, as well as nature reserves and nearby
Doncaster has a museum to add even more to your new-found South Yorkshire history knowledge inspired by the castle.
The castle visitor centre is certainly worth a closer look, offering up attractions such as a model of the circular keep and illustrated panels.
All in all, Conisbrough Castle is a local treasure that most people will be familiar with as they drive by in their car or travel past on the train, but it is well worth exploring even further.
It isn’t just the south of the country that has the nation’s most magnificent historical treasures, we have one on our doorstep that we should take pride in.
Address – Castle Hill, Conisbrough, Doncaster, South Yorkshire, DN12 3BU
Telephone – 01709 863329
Website – https://www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/places/conisbrough-castle/