South Kesteven’s Surprising Heritage Sites – A blog series, part three : The Siege of Castle Bytham!

January 17, 2024
Village scene showing the earthworks of Bytham Castle rising up behind stone built houses and partially obscured by trees

In the third of our blogs on the surprising and lesser-known heritage sites in South Kesteven, we are headed to Castle Bytham, a beautiful village of limestone houses, close to the A1, approximately nine miles north of Stamford.

Now a peaceful and idyllic village, in the early 13th century Castle Bytham was the stage for a rebellion against an English King, at a time when the crown sat precariously on a very young head.

Following the death of King John in 1216, his nine-year-old son inherited the throne, and a kingdom on the brink of war.   Threats to young Henry III came from revolting English barons, and from the French Prince Louis who was attempting to claim the English Crown.

Henry III secured his throne following the Second Battle of Lincoln in 1217, and in the negotiations which followed, Henry ordered that lands which had been awarded by his father to noblemen who had supported him during the Barron’s Revolt were handed back to their previous owners.

This included the castle and estates at Castle Bytham, which King John had awarded to William De Fortibus.

William De Fortibus refused to comply with the order from his King. He fortified his castles at Mount Sorrel and Rockingham (both in Leicestershire) and Castle Bytham, and began to prepare for open rebellion.

William surrendered his estates in Leicestershire in June 1220, having been persuaded by a royal army at his door, and settled into an uneasy peace with the King.

However, by Christmas of that year he was still refusing to give up his lands at Castle Bytham, and had begun preparing to battle with Henry once more: raiding surrounding villages, kidnapping men and holding them to ransom, and preventing merchants from trading on his lands without paying fee, all to add to his war chest.

In punishment, he was excommunicated by the Pope, as was any nobleman who assisted him.

Henry could not allow such open rebellion to continue, and so on 28th January 1221, the 13-year-old King, his regents, and his army marched from London. Messengers were dispatched to summon the fighting men of other baronies, and taxes were levied across the country.

It took just eight days for the King to arrive at Stamford, where he sent to York for all the money in the treasury to support the siege.

One day later, on the 6th February, Henry, his army, and his siege weapons were at Castle Bytham – but William de Fortibus was not.  He had escaped to York leaving Vasallus Foillis in command of the garrison.

Henry’s army swiftly seized their victory. It took less than two weeks for the siege engines to be constructed and the timber-built castle to be destroyed.

With no place to find shelter the rebels fled and were killed or captured. King Henry ordered the castle to be burnt, and later paid John de Standon 23 shillings and 8 pence to ensure that none of the structure was left standing.

William de Fortibus quickly appealed to the Archbishop of York and the Pope for their forgiveness and backing, after securing both he gave his submission to the King.  Remarkably – although his lands and titles were seized, he and all the barons that supported him were given a full pardon.

Like many noblemen of the time, William De Fortibus pledged to take part in a crusade in restitution for his actions. He died in 1241, while traveling to the Holy Land.

Henry III returned the lands to their previous owner, William De Colville who built a new, stone, castle, but this too has been lost to time.

Among the many notable residents of the castle include Lady Alice Basett, grandmother to Henry V,  Sir Thomas Malory – author of Le Morte d’ Arthur, the  English foundation for the legends of King Arthur, and Henry Bolingbroke, who would later become Henry IV.
One of the last residents of the castle was Sir Willoughby de Eresby who built nearby Grimsthorpe castle.

By 1554 it was recorded the castle was in ruins, much of its stone being robbed away for use in local buildings, and by 1906 earthworks were all that remained.

Bytham Castle earthworks, grass covered mounds. The central mound appears like a hill with a flat top, and is surrounded by a ditch and bank.

The earthworks that made up the motte and baily castle are on private land often used to graze livestock, but they can be viewed from a public footpath which runs through the field (accessed over a stile).  A sign near the footpath lists some of the most notable residents – including links to both Robert the Bruce and George Washington.

Visitors are asked to respect the Countryside Code and must remain on the footpath at all times.  If visiting with a dog, please keep it on a lead at all times.

 

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