Conisbrough Castle

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Conisbrough Castle
Castle Hill, Conisbrough, Doncaster, England
Coordinates 53°29′03″N 1°13′35″W / 53.48417°N 1.22639°W / 53.48417; -1.22639Coordinates: 53°29′03″N 1°13′35″W / 53.48417°N 1.22639°W / 53.48417; -1.22639
Type Castle
Site information
Owner English Heritage
Site history
Built 12th-century

Conisbrough Castle is a 12th-century castle in Conisbrough, South Yorkshire, England, whose remains are dominated by the 97-foot-high (30 m) circular keep, which is supported by six buttresses. In the mid-1990s, the keep was restored, with a wooden roof and two floors being rebuilt. Audio and visual displays now help to reconstruct a view of life in a medieval castle, while a history of the site is documented in the adjacent visitors' centre. The building is considered one of South Yorkshire's primary tourist attractions, and sees in excess of 30,000 visitors per year. It is managed by English Heritage, as of 1 April 2008. Doncaster Council own the land the monument is standing on, but English Heritage manages the property.


Conisbrough Castle Keep

The name Conisbrough is derived from the Old English Cyningesburh – meaning 'the defended burh of the King', suggesting the area once belonged to one of the English kings, prior to the Norman Conquest. The area, strategically placed on one of few historic crossings of the River Don, has been home to a fortification since at least 600 AD.[1]

At the time of the Norman Conquest, the manor of Conisbrough was held by King Harold, who was defeated at the Battle of Hastings.[2]

The current castle was probably on the site of an earlier Norman castle, built by William de Warenne, 1st Earl of Surrey, son-in-law of William the Conqueror.[3] The Warenne family also owned Sandal Castle near Wakefield, Lewes Castle in Sussex, and Reigate Castle in Surrey, as well as a keep on their lands at Mortemer in Normandy.

The third Earl died without male heir in 1147, the castle passing to his daughter, Isabel de Warenne, Countess of Surrey.[3] The current castle was built by Hamelin Plantagenet, Isabel's second husband and the illegitimate half-brother of Henry II.[3] The unique style of keep has been attributed to Hamelin's own design, similar to the keep at Mortemer.[4]

The Yorkshire lands of the Warenne family were seized by Thomas, Earl of Lancaster in 1317. A rebellion by Thomas was put down after the Battle of Boroughbridge in 1322, with the castle first falling to Edward II before eventually being restored to John de Warenne, 7th Earl of Surrey in 1326. When John died without legitimate issue in 1347, the castle again came under the possession of the Crown.[4]

After Conisbrough reverted to the Crown, Edward III gave it to his youngest son Edmund Langley, and it was probably during his tenure that the work to improve the accommodation in the inner ward was carried out. Langley died in 1402 and the castle was inherited by his eldest son Edward, 2nd Duke of Albemarle. Albemarle (by then Duke of York) was slain at the Battle of Agincourt in 1415. Edmund's youngest son Richard (executed 1415) inherited the castle & after his death his second wife Maud lived at the castle until her death at Roche Abbey.

Upon Maud's death, the castle passed to Richard, 3rd Duke of York, who was killed during the Wars of the Roses at the Battle of Wakefield in 1460. His son Edward, Earl of March continued the war, emerging victorious and being crowned King Edward IV. The castle became Crown property upon his ascension to the throne.[4]

By the reign of Henry VIII the castle was in a dilapidated state. In the 1537–38 a survey by Royal Commissioners found that the castle was already a ruin; from the description in the survey, it seems that most of the damage seen today had already occurred.[4] The castle was passed by Elizabeth I to Henry Carey, 1st Baron Hunsdon, then inherited by the Coke family before being sold to the Dukes of Leeds in 1737.[1]

Still a ruin by the 17th century (the collapsed gatehouse and fallen parts of the curtain wall making the castle indefensible), no further damage was done to the fabric of the castle during the English Civil War, which caused so much damage to many old fortifications either through bombardment or slighting. Because of this, along with sympathetic ownership, the keep survived as a ruin, but largely intact.[4]

In 1859, it was sold to Sackville Lane-Fox, 12th Baron Conyers, remaining in his family until it was sold to Conisbrough Urban District Council in 1920 and has been owned by English Heritage since 1949.[1]

Conisbrough Castle in fiction[edit]

Aerial photograph of the castle

In Sir Walter Scott's novel, Ivanhoe, 'Coningsburgh Castle' is based on Conisbrough. Scott's Coningsburgh is a Saxon fortress, based on the mistaken conclusion by him that its unique style marked its keep as a non-Norman. In the notes that accompany the novel, Scott acknowledges that the outer works were Norman but speculates that the keep—which he describes in some detail in the novel (but which in the notes he says he only viewed hastily)—was similar to Scottish mainland and island Brochs, in particular Broch of Mousa in the Shetlands, and hence in Scott's mind, if the castles of the Scottish islands were Scandinavian in origin, then so too could Conisbrough have been a pre-Norman castle built by Scandinavians or Saxons with knowledge of similar Scottish structures.[5]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c "Yorkshire's Castles: Conisbrough Castle". BBC. Retrieved 29 December 2013. 
  2. ^ Dalton 2002, p. 34; Thompson 1977; Scott 2000, p. 481
  3. ^ a b c "Conisbrough Castle". English Heritage. Retrieved 29 December 2013. 
  4. ^ a b c d e Pilkington, John. "Castle History". English Heritage. Archived from the original on 1 April 2008. Retrieved 1 July 2008. 
  5. ^ Scott 1836, pp. 237, 284-287


  • Dalton, Paul (2002). Conquest, Anarchy and Lordship: Yorkshire, 1066–1154. Cambridge, US: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-52464-4. 
  • Scott, Walter (1836). Ivanhoe: A Romance 15. Boston, US: Samuel H. Parker. OCLC 60854958. 
  • Scott, Walter (2000). Tulloch, Graham, ed. Ivanhoe. London, UK: Penguin Classics. ISBN 0-14-043658-8. 
  • Thompson, Michael Welman (1977). Conisbrough Castle. London, US: Her Majesty's Stationery Office. ISBN 0-11-671453-0. 

External links[edit]