Visit to Fotheringhay – Part 1, a Brief History

Fotheringhay is a little village in Northamptonshire, approximately 8 miles from the A1 and 10 miles from Peterborough.

Driving in from the north, you notice it truly is a small settlement, and it is the first sight of the impressively large church of  St Mary and All Saints that hints to you that this might not always have been the case.

On my visit to Fotheringhay in December 2014, I only went to the church.

The Church of St. Mary and All Saints, Fotheringhay

However, I wanted to write about the other great legacy of this town, the castle.

Mentioned in the Doomsday book, many centuries of history grace Fotheringhay and most notably the connection to the York family and the memory of a grand castle.

Fotheringhay Castle

Pre and Post Norman Conquest

The lands of Fotheringhay had belonged to the Earldom of Huntingdonshire since before the Norman conquest, and the castle itself was 11th century earthwork motte and bailey fortress.

It was located on the north side of the River Nene, with the land initially granted to the wife of the Earl of Northumbria by William the Conqueror, and the original castle was built by Simon de Senlis, who had married the Earl’s daughter.

12th – 15th Century

After being owned by David I, the King of Scotland and his descendants, it was confiscated by King John, and given to the great medieval knight William Marshall.

By 1219, it was in the possession of Henry III, and remained in royal control through the reign of Edward III. He gifted it to his son Edmund Langley, Duke of York in 1377 who spent much money enlarging and developing the castle.

During the late 13th century, a college of priests was established at the castle before being transferred to the parish church. This was rebuilt in a size and scale befitting the college, and also as the York family church. The church that remains echos the glory of this building.

When Edmund died, it eventually came into the possession of his nephew Richard, the 3rd Duke of York.

Richard, married to Cecily Neville, was father to the three sons of York – Richard, Duke of Gloucester (later Richard III) who was born there in 1452, George, Duke of Clarence and Edward the 4th Duke of York, who became Edward IV.

This is when the castle became the principle seat of the House of York, and the population of Fotheringhay swelled over the years, with a population of 100 families by the 16th century.

16th Century and demise

After the downfall of the House of York, Fotheringhay castle went into a slow decline. Henry VII gifted it to his wife, Elizabeth of York, then it passed onto Henry VIII. Henry granted the castle to his 1st wife, Katharine of Aragon, and she spent much money refurbishing the castle. Once Katharine of Aragon was deposed, Henry granted the castle to each wife in turn as they came and went.

There is not much of the castle remaining, except for a small amount of masonry as it was completely dismantled in 1628.

Mary, Queen of Scots was executed there in 1587, and it is said that James I ordered its destruction because of this, or that it simply crumbled into disrepair.

As with many of England’s castles, the materials were recycled by the local people.

The Great Hall, where Mary, Queen of Scots was executed survived into the 18th Century after being incorporated into a local manor house, and the staircase she walked down to meet her fate is rumoured to live on at the Talbot hotel in Oundle.

Present Day

If you are keen to read more about the castle, and what it is like to visit today, I recommend The Freelance History Writer’s blog, and there is a contemporary depiction of the castle on


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