Tutbury Castle

We visited Tutbury on the August bank holiday on what was probably the hottest and busiest day of the year, the Fairytale weekend event

Remnants of John of Gaunt’s gate, dating to 1313 and the North tower in the foreground, dating to 1457-1460

The Castle was initially built around 1068 by Hugh d’Avranches who had been granted the lands by William I. He constructed an earth and timber motte-and-bailey castle on the site but in 1071, the first recorded reference to the fortification, it was granted to Henry de Ferrers. Dominating the local town, which at the time of the Domesday survey of 1086 was the largest in Staffordshire, the Ferrers made it their primary residence. Early in the twelfth century the wooden tower on top of the motte was replaced with a stone Keep in fitting with the increasing prominence of the family. Robert de Ferrers was created Earl of Derby in 1138 and the castle passed to his descendants.

The south tower, begun in 1442 and complete in 1450.

In 1263, civil war broke out in England. The then Earl of Derby supported Simon de Montfort in the Baron’s Revolt against Henry III. The rebels were defeated in 1265 and their possessions confiscated. Henry III gave Tutbury Castle to his son Edmund whom he created Earl of Lancaster in 1267. The castle has remained in the hands of the Earls and Dukes of Lancaster ever since.

View from the motte overlooking the site with the Queen’s garden and South tower in the background
In front of the South Range, the brick building built in the 1630s was originally the site of a Great Hall and Great Chamber from the early 14th Century
The North tower. Built 1457-1460. The castle was held by Margaret of Anjou, wife of Henry VI and it was referred to in the 16th century as Queen Margaret’s Tower. It was originally 4 storeys, including a vaulted cellar.
Internal second story Fireplace within the south tower

The castle’s heyday came under the Lancastrian kings from Henry IV (1399-1413) to Henry VI (1422-61 and 1470-71), and most of the surviving structures date from this time. Henry VIII visited the castle in 1511, aged 20 and 2 years into his reign. 

Castle Map

In 1647 Parliament ordered the destruction of the castle with follies added on to the motte in 1780.

Mary, Queen of Scots

On the 4th February 1569, Mary Queen of Scots and sixty attendants, including her gaoler Knollys, rode into Tutbury Castle. She had been many hours in the saddle and for the first time since her arrival in England, she realised that she was now in prison. George Talbot, the 6th Earl of Shrewsbury was soon to take over Mary’s custody. Her custodian’s wife was the inimitable, Countess of Shrewsbury better known as Bess of Hardwick, one of the most powerful individuals in the Midlands.

It was a convenient location for Elizabeth to keep Mary, far enough from her Court in London and remote enough from Mary’s power base in Scotland.

On arrival at Tutbury Mary was quiet, modest and affable when receiving Shrewsbury’s instruction. There was a reduction in her household from almost 60 to 30 but this didn’t bring any complaints. This included ladies-in-waiting, a food tester, servants, cooks, grooms, physician, secretary etc. 

Inner Bailey of the castle, as it appears in the papers of Mary’s gaoler, Sir Ralph Sadler. The thin, long house on the left side was Mary’s lodging in 1585

Mary was bought up in French palaces, so she certainly got quite a shock when she arrived in Tutbury. Tutbury was a stark, forbidding place and became Mary’s most hated prison during all of her captive years. By the time Mary was incarcerated here the castle had already began to fall in to ruin. For Mary’s stay attempts had been made to make it habitable although the rooms were small, uncomfortable and crowded. She was lodged in the South Range buildings where the great hall and great chamber were divided with a low wall partition. It was here Mary would spend most of her time.

During her second stay at Tutbury (after moving to Bess of Hardwick’s Chatsworth) she remarked “I am in a walled enclosure on the top of a hill, exposed to all the winds and in- clemencies of heaven. Within the enclosure there is a very old hunting lodge, built of timber and plaster cracked in all parts ; the said lodge, distant three fathoms or there- abouts from the wall, and situated so low that the rampart of earth behind the wall is on a level with the highest part of the building so that the sun can never shine upon it on that side nor any fresh air come to it … The only apartments that I have for my own person consists of two little miserable rooms so very cold that but for the ramparts and entrenchments of curtains and tapestry I have made it would not be possible for me to stay in them. The garden for exercise was a potato ground ‘ fitter to keep pigs in than to bear the name of a garden”

Four times would Mary stay at Turbury, with the last being of 11 months duration. The geographical location would add to her misery with Tutbury being situated within marshlands which gave off obnoxious smells which penetrated right into the castle itself. 

In a letter to Elizabeth she noted that “this damp and uninhabited house has given me a cold and a headache”

After Mary’s departure the fabric of the castle was allowed to decay. When Queen Elizabeth died, Mary Queen of Scots’ son James became James I of England. Both James and his son Charles I used Tutbury as a hunting lodge. When the English Civil War began, Tutbury’s defenses were strengthened. Prince Rupert of the Rhine, nephew of Charles I, lodged in Tutbury after the Battle of Naseby in 1645. The castle was one of the last bastions to hold out for Charles I and came under siege by Parliamentary forces in 1643 and 1646. Sir William Brereton captured the castle after the last siege. The castle surrendered under the condition that it be destroyed. The Protector, Oliver Cromwell paid for Tutbury to be demolished. It took about two years, leaving most of the ruins we see today.

In 1831 the ‘Tutbury Hoard’ – possibly as many as 300,000 coins – were discovered in the vicinity. These were seemingly buried in the fourteenth century following Thomas Earl of Lancaster’s defeat at the Battle of Burton Bridge (1322). Unfortunately many of the coins have been subsequently lost.

Artist’s reconstruction of the castle site in the late 1400s

There is an excellent timeline of the Castle’s history here –http://tutburycastle.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/03/Time-Line-Blue.pdf

Artist’s reconstruction of Mary’s lodging in 1585

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