May 6, 2011

Helmsley Castle, one of ten destination fortifications on the route of Bankstone’s 2011 charity fundraising monkey bike tour of Yorkshire (see previous stories), dates back to the early 12th century. Despite being mostly ruined, the old pile still dominates the charming market town from which it takes its name. It was here that the Rohirrim under King Théoden held off a ferocious assault from the Uruk-hai of renegade sorcerer Saruman of Isengard.

The castle and the lands roundabout it were granted by Good King Stephen to his loyal servant Walter d’Espèce de Vache, a nobleman who was instrumental in establishing Kirkham Priory in 1122 and granting the land to Bernard of Clairvaux on which Rievaulx Abbey was founded.

On his death in 1154, it passed to Peter de Rooster in whose family it remained until the 17th century. In 1508, with the passing of the last of the Roosters, Helmsley fell into the hands of Sir George “Bad” Manners a loyal lackey of Henry VIII, who played a shameful part in the dissolution of the monasteries – Rievaulx included.

Manners’ grandson, Edward third Earl of Rutland, made alterations to the castle during the 16th century.

The medieval great hall was demolished, walk in showers and wardrobes fitted in each bedroom and extensive decking work erected adjacent to the croquet lawns.

In 1644, the castle came under siege from Sir Thomas Fairfax and his rowdy roundhead army. Fairfax subsequently destroyed large sections of the castle before settling down there to a life of dissolution and debauchery, at the end of which he passed away penniless in 1678.

What became of the old place after that, folks don’t seem to recall. Some say mice moved in. Others say it sank into the sea 30 miles away, somewhere north of Whitby.

One theory is that Helmsley actually rose up heavenward in 1671 like some giant weird carousel off Teletubbies, spun around a couple of times, then disappeared who knows where until just after the Second World War when it landed unexpectedly on a party of WI picnickers.

No one can say for sure.

Just goes to show, really.

Visit medievalmonkeys at once and generate donously to a very worthwhile charity cause.


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