Peveril Castle

Peveril Castle (also Castleton Castle or Peak Castle) is a medieval building overlooking the village of Castleton in the English county of Derbyshire. Its site provides views across the Hope Valley and Cave Dale. The castle is named after its founder, William Peveril, who held lands in Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire on behalf of the king. It was built some time between the Norman Conquest in 1066 and its first recorded mention in 1086, in the Domesday Survey. Nearby Castleton benefited from the presence of the castle, which acted as the administrative centre of an independent lordship called Peak. The town became the economic centre of the lordship.

William Peveril the Younger inherited his father's estates; however, they were confiscated by King Henry II in 1155. While in royal possession, Henry visited the castle in 1157, 1158, and 1164, the first time hosting King Malcolm IV of Scotland. During the Revolt of 1173–1174, the castle's garrison was increased from a porter and two watchmen to a force led by 20 knights shared with the castles of Bolsover and Nottingham. The Earls of Derby had a claim to the Peveril family's estates through marriage, and in 1199 William de Ferrers, the fourth earl, paid 2000 marks for the Peak lordship although the castle remained in royal control. The closest Peveril Castle came to seeing battle was in 1216 when King John gave the castle to William de Ferrers, but the castellan refused to relinquish control. Although they were both John's supporters, the king authorised the earl to use force to evict the castellan; eventually he capitulated although there is no evidence that the castle was assaulted.

In 1223 the castle returned to the Crown. In the 13th century there were periods of building work at the castle, and by 1300 Peveril's final form had been established. Towards the end of the 14th century, the lordship was granted to John of Gaunt. Having little use for the castle, he ordered some of its material to be stripped out for reuse, marking the beginning of its decline. Since the time of John of Gaunt, the castle has been administered by the Duchy of Lancaster. Peveril Castle became less important administratively and by 1609 it was "very ruinous and serveth for no use". In the 19th century, Sir Walter Scott featured the castle in his novel, Peveril of the Peak. The site is cared for by English Heritage and situated in a national park. Peveril Castle is protected as a Scheduled Monument and a Grade I listed building.


Peveril Castle stands sentinel on a limestone outcrop over the west end of Hope Valley, in the midst of an ancient landscape; Mam Tor on the north side of the valley is a Bronze Age hill fort, and 2 miles (3.2 km) to the east at Brough and Shatton is the Roman fort of Navio. The valley formed a natural line of communication and had added importance due to valuable mineral resources in the area, particularly lead. The small Hope Castle lay halfway along the valley.William Peveril was a follower of William the Conqueror and was rewarded for supporting him during the Norman Conquest. The first extant record of him in England records that in 1068 he was granted the new castle at Nottingham by William the Conqueror who was in the process of subduing the Midlands and northern England. There is a story that Peveril was William's illegitimate son but is it unsubstantiated. By the Domesday Survey of 1086, Peveril had become a powerful landowner, with holdings in Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire. The exact year he founded the castle is uncertain, although it must have been started by 1086 as it is recorded in the Domesday Book, one of 48 castles mentioned in the survey and the only one in Derbyshire. The castle was recorded as standing at Pechesers; this has been translated as both "Peak's Tail" or "Peak's Arse". The first stages of early Norman castles were usually built in timber; however, Peveril Castle seems to have been designed in stone from the start.

William Peveril had custody of royal lands such as the district of Hope and, although he had his own estates, he relied on continued royal favour to maintain power in this way. In 1100 the new king, Henry I, granted William "his demense in the Peak". This meant the Peak became an independent lordship under William Peveril's control; the castle became an important centre of administration for the area, allowing the collection of taxes. Nearby Castleton benefited from the castle's new-found status and began to grow as the lordship's economic heart. William Peveril died in 1114 and was succeeded by his son, William Peveril the Younger. In the civil war known as The Anarchy between King Stephen and Empress Matilda, Peveril backed the losing side and his fortunes took a downturn. He was captured at the Battle of Lincoln (1141), and later Ranulf de Gernon, 4th Earl of Chester, became convinced that Peveril had tried to poison him; it is uncertain whether Peveril actually attempted to poison the earl, but the two became enemies. In 1153 the future King Henry II accused Peveril of "plundering and treachery" and threatened to confiscate his estates and hand them over to the Earl of Chester. Two years later Henry, now king, followed through on his threat. The Earl of Chester was dead by this time and so the king kept the property for himself. Once under royal control, Peveril became the administrative centre of Forest of High Peak.

William Peveril the Younger died in 1155, and as his only male heir predeceased him it was left to his daughter's husband, Robert de Ferrers, 2nd Earl of Derby, to maintain the family's claim to the confiscated estates. Henry visited Peveril Castle on three occasions during his reign; during the first visit, in 1157, he hosted King Malcolm IV of Scotland who paid homage to Henry after ceding Cumberland and Westmorland to the English king. Henry visited again in 1158 and 1164. When a group of barons led by Henry's sons – Henry the Young King, Geoffrey Duke of Brittany, and Prince Richard, later Richard the Lionheart – revolted against the king's rule, Henry spent £116 on building at the castles of Peveril and Bolsover in Derbyshire. The garrison was also increased; previously Peveril was guarded by two watchmen and a porter, but this was expanded to a force led by 20 knights and shared with Bolsover and Nottingham castles during the revolt. After the revolt ended in 1174, further steps were taken to improve Peveril Castle, and the Pipe Rolls – records of royal expenditure – show that between 1175 and 1177 £184 was spent at building the keep. Building in stone would have been an expensive undertaking, and though Peveril's keep was small, moderate sized stone castles such as contemporary Orford could cost thousands of pounds. Henry II's average income during his reign has been estimated to be around £10,000 per year. The poor survival of documentary sources means it is uncertain when parts of the castle were built, and archaeological investigations have been unsuccessful in dating the stonework. Henry died in 1189 and was succeeded by his son, Richard the Lionheart. Soon after his coronation, Richard granted the lordship of the Peak, including the castle, to his brother John. While Richard was on crusade, John rebelled; on his return to the country, Richard confiscated the lordship.

John ascended to the throne in 1199 after Richard's death. William de Ferrers maintained the claim of the Earls of Derby to the Peveril estates; he paid John 2000 marks for the lordship of the Peak, but the Crown retained possession of Peveril and Bolsover Castles. John finally gave Ferrers these castles in 1216 to secure his support in the face of country-wide rebellion. However, the castellan Brian de Lisle refused to hand them over; although Lisle and Ferrers were both John's supporters, John gave Ferrers permission to use force to take the castles. The situation was still chaotic when Henry III became king after his father's death in 1216. Although Bolsover fell to Ferrers' forces in 1217 after a siege, there is no indication that Peveril was assaulted and it is likely that Brian de Lisle negotiated his surrender. Ferrers only had possession of the lordship until Henry III came of age. When the time came he was reluctant to hand over the property, and after an initial deadlock the Crown took control in 1223. Although records of expenditure at Peveril survive from this period in the form of Pipe Rolls, they do not specify how the money was spent. As a result, it is unclear what constitutes maintenance and what marks substantial construction work; however, Richard Eales who wrote the 2006 English Heritage guidebook suggests that there were two periods of building as sums were larger than usual: 1204–1207 and 1210–1212 when £54 and £67 were spent respectively. Medieval historian Sidney Painter estimated that around 1200 there were only seven magnates in England whose annual income would have exceeded £400 and a knight could easily live on £10 to £20 per year.

The rest of the 13th century was relatively peaceful and records show that Peveril Castle was maintained by the Crown. In 1235, King Henry III visited and the north wall and bridge were repaired in preparation. After significant bouts of work in 1250–52, 1272–1275, and 1288–1290 (when sums of £60, £40, and £151 were spent respectively) it is likely that the castle buildings were complete by 1300. Henry III gave Prince Edward (later King Edward I) Peveril Castle along with Cheshire and the royal holdings in Wales and Ireland. Some of the lands, including Peveril, were made part of Eleanor of Castile's dower, to come into her possession should her husband, Prince Edward, die. At this time, the Peak lordship was worth around £300 a year. At the outbreak of the Second Barons' War in 1264, Peveril Castle was occupied by Robert de Ferrers, 6th Earl of Derby. Simon de Montfort pressured Henry III into giving him Peveril, although it was recovered by the Crown after de Montfort's death in 1265. The castle was returned to Eleanor's dower; as she predeceased Edward I, the lordship remained in royal hands. Its income was used to provide for members of the royal family such as King Edward II's queen, Isabella of France, and their children, and royal favourites such as Piers Gaveston. In 1331, Edward III gave the lordship to his wife, Philippa of Hainault. It was given to John de Warenne, 7th Earl of Surrey, in 1345. After its return to the royal family, the estate was given to John of Gaunt, Edward III's third surviving son, partially in exchange for the earldom of Richmond.

John was the richest nobleman in England; with a host of castles at his disposal, Peveril was relatively unimportant. He decided not to maintain Peveril Castle and in 1374 gave orders to strip the lead from the buildings for reuse at Pontefract Castle. His ownership marked the start of Peveril Castle's decline. It was inherited by his son Henry Bolingbroke, later crowned Henry IV; since then it remained in royal control, administered by the Duchy of Lancaster. As the 15th century progressed, Peveril became less important as administrative duties were moved elsewhere. Although other castles administered by the Duchy of Lancaster were repaired in 1480, there is no indication this happened at Peveril. A survey in 1561 conducted for the Duchy revealed that Peveril was already in a state of decay, and as a result along with Donnington was one of two castles that would be abandoned. The castle hosted local courts until 1600. A survey in 1609 found that Peveril was "very ruinous and serveth for no use". At one point, the castle was used to house animals. With the advent of the railways in the 19th century, the area became a tourist attraction. The Duchy of Lancaster undertook maintenance in the 19th century to ensure the castle's condition did not deteriorate further, mostly clearing rubble and adding mortar. Sir Walter Scott's 1823 novel Peveril of the Peak featured Peveril Castle; set during the mid-17th century, the novel described the castle ruins.

In 1932 the Duchy gave custody of the castle to the Office of Works while retaining ownership. The site is today cared for by English Heritage, the successor to the Office of Works. The surrounding landscape has been protected as a national park since 1951. The castle is a Scheduled Monument, which means it is a "nationally important" historic building and archaeological site which has been given protection against unauthorised change. It is also a Grade I listed building (first listed in 1985), and recognised as an internationally important structure. It has been described as "perhaps the finest medieval landmark of the Peak District", and architectural historian Nikolaus Pevsner remarked that it is "By far the most important castles in the county – in fact the only one of importance".


Peveril Castle is roughly triangular in shape, about 90 by 65 m (300 by 213 ft), sitting on top of a hill overlooking the Hope Valley. The land slopes steeply away from the castle's perimeter, almost forming a sheer face to the south east, and the winding approach from the north marks the most practical approach to the castle. Not only was the site naturally defensible, but its prominence would have allowed the castle to be a highly visible symbol of the builder's power. The castle would have used the nearby town of Castleton to provide supplies. It commands views of Hope Valley below and Treak Cliff, Mam Tor, Black Tor, and Lose Hill. The castle was entered through the gatehouse to the east. Its design was simple, 7 m (23 ft) wide with a gatepassage 2.5 m (8 ft 2 in) across. Little survives, although earlier drawings contain details of mouldings that suggest the structure was built in the 12th century, perhaps by King Henry II or John.

The curtain walls enclosing the castle bear testament to the multiple phases of construction at Peveril, with stonework from the Norman period – differentiated by the use of opus spicatum – to modern repairs. The walls were surmounted by walkways, which next to the gatehouse would have stood about 5 m (16 ft) above the ground level immediately outside the castle. In the 12th century, a tower projecting less than 2 m (6 ft 7 in) was added to the north wall. In the opinion of Eales, it "would have been of limited military value, compared with the boldly projecting towers of later castles" which allowed defenders to deploy flanking fire along the base of the walls. The land within the castle slopes downwards from west to east. Water storage would have been a concern for the garrison of the castle, but how they procured water is uncertain.

The southern curtain wall is a modern replacement along the line of the medieval wall. There are the remains of two round or semi-circular towers projecting from the wall. One survives to such an extent that it is possible to discern the use of Roman tiles in the construction, probably from the fort of Navio 2 mi (3.2 km) away. It is uncertain when these towers were built, although it is thought they may date from the 13th century. Foundations mark the position of buildings abutting the south wall, probably the old hall and a chapel. A document from 1246 recorded a chapel at the castle; the remains of the easternmost building against the south wall are assumed to mark the site of the chapel as it is oriented roughly east–west. Foundations at the west end of the north wall mark where a large building would have stood; given its size it was probably a hall where the lord of the castle would have eaten and entertained high-status guests. It is unclear when the new hall was built, probably replacing the old hall in the south of the castle, although an "old hall" was mentioned in a document of 1251, implying there was also a new hall by that time. The kitchen and food stores would have stood at the east end of the hall, although little remains of these structures. Buildings were also built against the west curtain wall, probably high-status apartments. Although the main approach to Peveril Castle was from the north, there was also a gate in the west. A bridge spanned the gorge, linking the castle with an enclosure on the other side. As it has not been excavated the exact form the enclosure took is uncertain. Its purpose is also a matter of speculation, whether it was an elaborate outer bailey for defence or used for storage and stabling.

The keep occupies the southern corner of Peveril Castle. Construction probably began in around 1176, instigated by Henry II. Its plan is square, measuring less than 12 by 12 m (39 by 39 ft), and the parapet is 15 m (49 ft) above the keep's base; as the ground is uneven, on the other side it rises 10.5 m (34 ft) above ground level. It is small in comparison to contemporary royal keeps such as those found at Dover and Scarborough Castles. Today the exterior is course, but originally the facing would have been smooth; the south-east side, where the keep was protected from theft by the steep natural slope, gives an idea of how it once may have appeared. A projection in the south-east face of the keep housed a garderobe. As was usual with Norman keeps, Peveril's was entered through the first floor and was accessed by a staircase. This entrance level would have been a large public room and the basement used for storage. A narrow staircase in the east corner allowed access to the basement and wall walk around the top of the keep.


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