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Photo of King Henry II

Henry II. 1

Henry II's Involvement with Scarborough Castle

While William le Gros, count of Aumale, may have started the castle on the headland during the troubled reign of King Stephen, Scarborough Castle as we see it now was built by King Henry II after 1155. 2 Henry, the son of Empress Matilda and the first king of the line of Anjou, was crowned in 1154, soon after he traveled to York to gain back royal control over Yorkshire. William le Gros, Earl of York, was reluctantly persuaded to give Henry all royal lands that he held. 3 Henry had a policy of destroying castles built without royal authority, but he did not have Scarborough destroyed. In fact, Henry made Scarborough a royal castle and built the 100-foot-high keep, the grand remains of which can still be seen today. (To see pictures of the Keep.) He also enclosed the inner bailey with a wall and ditch on the east side. Henry spent almost 683 pounds on the fortress.

Click here for more information about King Stephen.

Photo of the keep from west of barbican

The ruins of the keep seen from west of the barbican.

The 12th century chronicler, William of Newburgh, says that Henry built a new tower on the headland because the old one (built by William le Gros after 1138) was falling down due to age. This is a very good indication that William's keep was made from wood, which had succumbed to the weather of a stormy headland. The pipe rolls (records of royal expenditures) show that Henry started construction in 1157-58 and finished around 1168-69. Probably one of the reasons that Henry decided to make Scarborough into one of the most powerful fortresses in northern Yorkshire, was because of his desire to counter William le Gros' power in the area. 4

Henry made Scarborough a royal borough, granting the town the same rights, customs, and privileges as York. Henry's grant of a charter to the town (like that of York) greatly enhanced the town's prosperity, as well as establishing a new borough outside the old. Many laborers of all types were needed both to build and to maintain the castle; a much larger community grew up under the castle than had been there previously. By the end of Henry's reign there were thriving merchants in the town. Householders in the town had to pay a gable tax (husgable), and by 1163 the Sheriff of Yorkshire (the local crown tax collector) received 20 pounds per year from the farm of Scarborough. 5 The governors of Scarborough castle were now appointed by the crown. 6 In fact, this governorship was such a prestigious position that powerful nobles and church officials sought it. 7

Click here for more information about Henry II and national politics in this period.

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