Soak up Skipton Castle’s rich heritage for free

FROM THE AIR: Skipton Castle and, to the left, Holy Trinity Church, the resting place of many of the Clifford clan

Rich history: Skipton Castle

the yew tree in the Conduit Court, planted by Lady Anne Clifford in 1659

First published in News

Skipton Castle has a rich history and this weekend, thanks to the generosity of castle owners, the Fattorini family, the Craven Herald is able to offer all readers the chance to visit this superb historic building for free.

Using the voucher printed in today's Craven Herald, two adults and up to three children can take a tour of one of the finest castles in the north. The voucher is only valid for this weekend.

And, for added interest, the Granary will host an exhibition of original paintings by noted Pendle artists.

Here, reporter Clive White takes a look at one of the castle’s most colourful occupants.

Most of us who live in Craven have all heard of Lady Anne Clifford, or should have, but it’s excusable not to be familiar with her dad, the swashbuckling dandy, favourite of Queen Elizabeth I, George Clifford, 3rd Earl of Cumberland.

While it is admirable that Anne Clifford battled to win her heritage and saved the imposing castle at the top of Skipton High Street which was partly demolished by Oliver Cromwell’s fanatics, it is her father’s antics that make rivetting reading. His life is the stuff of a filmmaker’s action packed, costume drama.

There’s a painting of George by the greatest Tudor exponent of miniatures, Nicholas Hilliard, posing as something of a dandy in all his finery.

He wears a figure-hugging doublet in blue, trimmed with fur and a flared skirt in the same material. His legs look like they are tailored into elaborately etched armour. His hair flows in curls to his shoulders and in his hand he clasps a lance.

George was an accomplished jouster and became Queen Elizabeth’s champion and a Knight of the Garter, in 1592.

Back to the painting. He is standing under a tree on which rests one of his gauntlets, the other is lying at his feet on the grass and nearby is his jousting helmet.

Now let your eyes drift past this magnificent specimen of manhood to the landscaped background. I swear Hilliard was depicting Skipton. Are two of those peaks Flasby Fell and Gargrave Sharphaw? I like to think they are.

Despite his travels, his money-making buccaneering adventures in the Caribbean, George was still a northern lad at heart.

He was once branded in court as “the rudest Earll by reson of his northerly bringen up”. He was probably delighted at that.

He wasn’t the most attentive husband and father, spending much of his life away from home clashing in naval battles with the Spanish and joining with Walter Raleigh in a bit of privateering. He had his own 38-gun ship, aptly called the Scourge of Malice.

This buccaneering earned him a lot of cash, but like all showmen, he lost most of it living the high life, in his case at jousting and horse racing.

Despite his lifestyle – he was away from home frequently and visited Skipton rarely – he was a loving father, calling Anne “Nan”. She was his only child after losing two sons as youngsters.

Towards the end of his life, he wrote to his wife urging her to take “great care of sweet Nan”. Anne likewise was proud of her father, especially in his life as a sailor.

Current castle owner Sebastian Fattorini has a soft spot for the 16th century “David Beckham” whose celebrity following was huge.

“He was so proud of his position as Elizabeth’s jouster that he had his magnificent armour, which was made in Greenwich at the Royal Workshop, etched with her name,” said Sebastian.

“There were two jousts a year and they were a great opportunity for networking and showing off and he was centre stage.

“His family pedigree also meant much to him, the fact that the Clifford family had been close to the monarchs of England for generations.”

The illustrated painting of George (for which Skipton Castle owns the copyright) shows him with a glove in his hat.

“It belonged to Elizabeth,” Sebastian says. “George was an admiral in the war against the Armada. He was first to tell the Queen the good news of its defeat.

“Apparently, Elizabeth dropped the glove and on picking it up to return it, she allowed him to keep it, which he proudly did by displaying it in his hat.”

George was born at Brougham Castle in Westmorland, in 1558, but found his last resting place 47 years later, at Holy Trinity Church in Skipton, where his ornate tomb occupies a significant place at the side of the alter along with a number of his other Clifford clan.

These include John, the 9th Baron Clifford, for ever known as “Butcher Clifford” for his antics during the Wars of the Roses. He died at Towton in 1461.

Across the way is the monumental, black Purbeck marble tomb of Henry Lord Clifford who was born at Skipton Castle and died there in 1542. Also nearby, the small tomb containing the body of Francis, the brother of Lady Anne, who died aged four in 1588.

It was George’s profligacy and his decision to leave the vast majority of his estate to his brother Francis, that forced the redoubtable Anne, and in the early years, her mother, Margaret Russell, to set out on a journey, which would take years, to win back her true inheritance.

After a lifetime’s struggle, Anne regained the Clifford family estate in 1643, following the death of her cousin.

Throughout her later life, Anne, who was widowed twice, was keen to establish her status and to stamp the history of her family’s longevity in the area.

She commissioned two, three panelled paintings, one based in Appleby, in Westmorland and the other kept in Skipton Castle, which deteriorated and had to be destroyed. The Appleby triptych, known as the Great Picture, is now at Abbot Hall art gallery at Kendal.

Anne moved back to the north when she was 60 and spent the rest of her life – she died in 1676 aged 86 – restoring the mostly ruinous family castles to their former glory at Skipton, Pendragon, Appleby, Brough and Brougham.

Anne died at Brougham Castle, in the room where her father had been born.

Anyone wanting to read one of the most comprehensive explorations of Anne Clifford’s life would do well to get hold of Richard T Spence’s biography “Lady Anne Clifford” published in 1997.

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