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King John's Involvement with Scarborough Castle

Photo of the King's Chamber

The King's Chamber from the north.

King John was one of Scarborough's greatest benefactors, although most likely not with the intention of making the town great in the future. He had spent almost 2,291 pounds on the fortress by the year 1212. 1 Most of this money went towards the curtain wall with half-round towers, on the west and south of the headland -- most of which is still there today. (To see pictures of the Curtain Wall.) Also a hall was built against the outer wall of the bailey (called the King's Chamber). 2 (To see pictures of the King's Chambers.)

Photo of the curtain wall

The curtain wall with half-round towers on the west and south of the headland.

In spite of his enthusiastic building, John visited Scarborough only 4 times in 15 years: in 1201, 1210, 1213, and 1216, staying a total of about 9 days. However, no other castle in the north was better maintained or supplied with arms and food during John's reign. This was because John was opposed most strongly in Yorkshire and felt he needed the castle's strength. The northern barons led the revolt that resulted in the signing of the Magna Charta in 1215, and only Scarborough castle and town stayed loyal to the king in the North Riding.

The town of Scarborough was loyal despite heavy taxes and levies, because John let the burgesses pay for charters to raise money for his overseas wars. Charters grant the holder with some kind of privilege, usually increasing their freedom of internal government or gaining them certain kinds of land use -- such as the right to gather dead wood. The Scarborough burgesses paid 60 marks for a tillage, and 40 marks for a confirmation charter. In 1210 John gave 60 acres of Falsgrave Manor to Scarborough, along with its Ramsdale Mill and common pasture rights. This meant that Scarborough had its own arable land and no longer had to rely on trade with its neighbors for barley and wheat. In a reversal of the relationship implied in the Domes Day report of 1086 (which seems by omission to have considered Scarborough a part of Falsgrave manor), Falsgrave was now a part of Scarborough. John's grant made it possible for the constricted town to grow into Newborough, which was at this time newly defended by a dyke linked to the walls of Oldborough which even included St. Thomas Hospital. In the short term John profited from the sale of the charters, while in the long run he gained income from increased taxes on the new prosperity of the town. Because of this rapid growth, John raised the annual farm rent from 33 pounds to 76 pounds. 3

Thanks to John's building projects Scarborough Castle had become the most powerful stronghold on the east coast of England, a situation that forced his successors to maintain the town and castle. During John's reign was also the first time a permanent fleet of royal galleys were reported in Scarborough harbor. 4

Click here for more information about King John.

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