So who really built the castle at Clitheroe?

It has become commonly accepted that the castle at Clitheroe was built by the second Robert de Lacy in 1186, but there is compelling evidence that it was, in fact, built by the first Robert de Lacy between 1102 and 1114, which would make it over 70 years older.

Robert de Lacy (1) was the son of Ilbert de Lacy (1) who was given lands that became known as the honour of Pontefract after the Norman conquest of 1066. Robert inherited these from his father and was also given lands in Blackburnshire which included the honour of Clitheroe after they had been confiscated from  Roger de Poitou in 1102.    It is probable that a castle of some sort already stood here.  It may have been a wooden structure built by Roger de Poitou or even the remains of a previous fort held by Orme the Saxon.

Around 1114 Robert de Lacy (1) was also banished from England by Henry I (possibly for some involvement in Robert de Belleme’s rebellion in support of the imprisoned Robert Curthose and his son William Clito) and the de Lacy lands were given to Hugh de Laval. Hugh confirmed a charter that gave income to the Cluniac priory of St John at Pontefract that had been founded by the de Lacys, and in it he refers to the chapel and tithes of his demesne of the castle of Clitheroe: ‘capellam Sci. Michaelis in Castro de Clyderhow’ – the chapel of St Michael in the castle at Clitheroe.

And as Thomas Dunham Whitaker points out in his history ‘Lords of the Honour of Clitheroe’, it seems unlikely that the land would have been owned for over two generations without a castle being built to administer the estates.

The evidence for a much earlier castle being built soon after the conquest when the lands at Clitheroe belonged to Roger de Poitou can be found in the Domesday Book where it is recorded ‘Berenger de Todeni had held XII car. of land in that place, sed modo est in Castellatu Rog. Pictaviensis’. This would seem to indicate that Roger de Poitou had built a castle. It may have been a wooden structure as most of the early Norman castles were. If it was originally wooden then it was replaced by a stone building at a later date. But whether it was replaced by the first Robert de Lacy before 1114 or by the second Robert de Lacy in 1186 remains open to speculation but I prefer the earlier date.

The main evidence for the castle being built by Robert de Lacy (2) comes from a document called Historia Laceiorum. This was written in the 15th century and was printed by Sir William Dugdale in his Monasticon Anglicanum – a history of all the abbeys and other monasteries in England, written in Latin. (Which isn’t helpful as I have to rely on translations). Dugdale linked this document to Kirkstall Abbey though there is no conclusive evidence that it was written there and other historians link it to Whalley Abbey as most of its information is regarding the Lacy lands to the west of the Pennines.

The Historia does contain some known errors. For example Aubrey (or Albreda) Lisours is confused with her daughter of the same name and it misdates the death of Edmund de Lacy. So, although the document credits Robert de Lacy (2) with the building of the castle at Clitheroe, it could be an error and the writer, working many hundreds of years after the events, could have confused the two Roberts.

Whichever of the two Roberts built the castle they seem to have done a good job. The keep still stands in fairly good repair despite the wear and tear of time and Oliver Cromwell, on whose orders so many castles were pulled down so that they could not be used as strongholds against him. Apart from one gaping hole, blamed on the devil throwing a boulder from Pendle Hill, the remains are currently in good repair and could stand for hundreds of years more.

3 thoughts on “So who really built the castle at Clitheroe?

  1. Robert Lowes ( Robert Earl Clitheroe birth name ) December 7, 2014 — 1:19 am

    I am a adopted Clitheroe age 70 and wanted to learn the history behind my birth name. Even though I found my late brother David Allen Clitheroe after all these years. But I found his daughter, but haven’t met yet, we do email each other. Now the history behind my name is very interesting.
    I’m planning to take a trip to England in the spring. At first I found it hard to believe I was name after Clitheroe Castle. At the moment I am righting a book called lost behind a Castle. Even though I live in Canada.

    1. I hope you find time to visit Clitheroe when you come to England.

  2. Bruce Floyd Mitton November 15, 2011 — 5:34 pm

    Both Arthur Langshaw “Clitheroe`s Thousand Years” and David Bests “Clitheroe Castle” 1992 give credence to a substantial fortification at Clitheroe well before the de Lacy possession of 1102. It is a perfect natural fortification site and almost a “Casino” type impregnable fortress for the times with a commanding view of the surrounding area. I am of the opinion the some type of possible stone fortification was built early on for said reasons during Robert de Lacy tenure from 1102. He needed to secure his new lands taken from Roger de Poitou and building or adding to such a fortification would have been of first order. Perhaps this explains why “Ralph the Red” was granted a manor there as well as the other lands almost immediately upon the de Lacy possession of Bowland and the “Hounor of Clitheroe”. Stone was expensive then so most Norman castles were “motte & bailey” ones and Clitheroe may have been to start but I don`t think for long? “Ralph the Red” may have been the steward on behalf of the de Lacy’s as he is witnessed as the brother of Ilbert de Lacy (2) on the charters and owed ‘knights service”. By the 1120`s Clitheroe Castle was already an important centre for the Blackburn Hundred for administration and as an easily defended military defensive hub for the area giving more evidence to being a substantial fortification early on
    in the de Lacy domain.

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