Fotheringay Castle

Fotheringhay Castle was in the village of Fotheringhay 3½ miles (6 km) to the north of the market town of Oundle, Northamptonshire (grid reference TL061930).

King Richard III was born here in 1452 and it was also where Mary, Queen of Scots, was tried and executed in 1587.


A Norman motte castle was first built on the north side of the River Nene by Simon de Senlis, Earl of Northampton around 1100.

The large motte, which was topped with a polygonal stone shell keep, was surrounded by large water-filled moat. The inner bailey was protected by ramparts and a ditch. This enclosed a great hall and domestic buildings. The larger outer bailey was guarded by a gatehouse and a lake which was crossed by a bridge.

William Marshal, 1st Earl of Pembroke held the castle in the early 13th century. It was later passed to Ranulf, Earl of Chester. In 1232 John of Scotland, Earl of Huntingdon became Earl of Chester through Ranulph, his maternal uncle. After John died five years later, Henry III of England acquired Fotheringhay and Chester Castle from Ranulph's sisters through purchase. The king gave both castles to his son Prince Edward.

During the Second Barons' War, Fotheringhay and Chester Castle were taken by Robert de Ferrers, 6th Earl of Derby. He held them from 1264 to 1265.

Trial and execution of Mary, Queen of Scots

Mary, Queen of Scots, who had spent much of her 18 years of imprisonment at Sheffield Castle and Sheffield Manor, spent her final days at Fotheringhay, where she was tried and convicted of treason. Mary was only given the verdict the day before her execution, and spent her final night praying in the castle's small chapel. She was beheaded on a scaffold in the castle's great hall on 8 February 1587.

An account of Mary's execution, written by Pierre de Bourdeille, seigneur de Brantôme, was printed in 1665 using an alternative spelling "Fotheringay". The account was the basis for the song of the same name written by Sandy Denny, which she wrote and performed while she was a member of the English folk-rock group Fairport Convention, and later again used the name "Fotheringay" for the group she formed after her departure.

Later period

Despite the castle's size and importance, it was allowed to fall into disrepair during the latter part of the Elizabethan period. In 1627, shortly after Charles I, the grandson of Mary, Queen of Scots, came to the throne, Fotheringhay was demolished and the site was completely cleared.

Present day

Today there is little to be seen apart from earthworks and some masonry remains. Fotheringhay is open to the public during daylight hours and provides good views along the Nene valley demonstrating well its defensive position.