Monument record MYO61 - Wheldrake possible castle (?) or fortified manor house


The Lord of Wheldrake built a small castle prior to 1149 when Stephen authorised the citizens of York to destroy it. In 1200 Richard Malbis was licensed to fortify a castle he was building but is completion was prevented at the instance of York. The precise location of this monument is not known, but it is likely to be in the vicinity of Wheldrake Hall and Wheldrake Church


Grid reference SE 6834 4488 (point)
Map sheet SE64SE
Civil Parish Wheldrake, City of York, North Yorkshire
Unitary Authority City of York, North Yorkshire


Type and Period (1)

Full Description

The Lord of Wheldrake built a small castle prior to 1149 when Stephen authorised the citizens of York to destroy it. In 1200 Richard Malbis was licensed to fortify a castle he was building but is completion was prevented at the instance of York. The site probably lies on a spur of high ground near the flood-plain of the Derwent.

After 1200 a manor house may have stood on the site which may have belonged to the Darels who had a manor house here in 1361.

1 VCH E.R. III 1976 122-3
2 C Clay Early Yorkshire Charters II, 1963, 192

Comment on this entry from Philip Davis by email
Philip Davis []
Sent: 21 December 2008 07:09

I presume this is a reference to the 'castle' being constructed in 1199 by Richard Malebisse. Richard was notorious in his own time for his leading part in the massacre of the Jews of York in 1190. The chronicler William of Newburgh thought his name ‘Mala-Bestia’ particularly apt. He had used antisemetic fervour to wipe out his debts to money lenders.
The licence to fortify this 'castle', granted in 1199, was withdrawn before completion. King (1983) writes "Richard Malebisse was given a licence by King John, which was revoked at the request of the citizens of York, to whom such a castle appeared as a threat. The chronicler [Hoveden] is obviously telling the truth, for Richard had acquired an interest in Wheldrake, being licensed to plough up ('frussiare ad cultur') part of the forest there (Rot. Chart., 42b). This is the only licence in the rolls, and John's licence to crenellate was clearly verbal. It does not at all follow that Richard wished to fortify the Stephanic site. See also Holt, The Northerns (Oxford, 1961) 161, n7. Richard, as keeper of the forest of Galtres, had misappropriated 250 of the King's oaks to build his castle. It does not follow that he had actually used them; he had also been selling a lot of the King's timber."

Derek Renn suggested a moated site in Cottingwith CP (East Riding of Yorkshire) at SE71234391 as the location for Malebisse's 'castle' (Most licences to crenellate were actual granted to 'mansum', modest moated sites (Davis 2008 p. 246) so this site is a reasonable suggestion and consistent with the tenurial history given in the VCH. It would be a false assumption to believe either that the licence meant Malebisse intended to build a castle (which he would not have been able to afford to garrison) or that the revoking of the licence stopped him building his house (with some fortifications). The extensive work by Dr Charles Coulson has shown licences to crenellate were mainly issued for matters of social prestige. The revoking of the licence would have mollified the citizens of York and reduced Malebisse's prestige. It was his political power, and ability to stir up the mob, that presented a threat, not his 'castle'.

Whilst clearly Richard Malebisse and his 'castle' are important in the history of the city of York it does seem likely that the actual site was outside York and the Ainsty.

PRO Chancery Miscellanea 11/1(1) (List and Index Society Vol. 7 p. 103 reference to original and described as [temp John] Inquistions as to the sale of wood in Galtres forest by Richard Malebise since the death of Richard I)
Chronica Magistri Rogeri de Houedene [Stubbs, W. (ed),1868 (London) Vol. 4 p. 117 - dated 1200]
Roger de Hoveden (Translated by Riley, Henry T.,) 1853, The Annals of Roger Hoveden Vol. 2 p. 482

King, D.J.C., 1983, Castellarium Anglicanum (London: Kraus) Vol. 2 p. 540n136
Brown, R, Allen, 1959, 'A List of Castles, 1154–1216' English Historical Review Vol. 74 [Reprinted in Brown, R. Allen, 1989, Castles, conquest and charters: collected papers (Woodbridge: Boydell Press)
H. M. Thomas, 1993, ‘Portrait of a medieval anti-Semite: Richard Malebisse’ Haskins Society Journal Vol. 5 pp. 1–15
Davis, P.C., 2008, 'Licences to crenellate' Castle Studies Group Journal Vol. 22 pp. 245-67
Allison, K.J. (ed), 1976, 'Wheldrake' VCH Yorkshire East Riding Vol. 3
Renn, D.F., 1973 (2edn), Norman Castles of Britain (John Baker) p. 344
Le Patourel, H.E. Jean, 1973, The Moated Sites of Yorkshire (The Society for Medieval Archaeology Monograph Series 5)

Second comment from Philip Davis by email
Philip Davis []
Tue 23/12/2008 20:59
Dear Mr Oxley,

Thank you for your prompt and informative reply.

Since the VCH is now available online I've been able to look again at the relevant entries. I will try to find a copy of the Clay to look at.

On reflection I suspect the 1149 and 1199 'castles' were the same site and probably at a site near or under the present 'Hall' near the church. I also suspect neither was a particularly 'strong' fortification but were domestic houses. The real military threat came from the men and their political power and destroying their 'castles' (probably decorated with some symbolic crenellations) was a symbolic action designed to proscribed their political power (The resignations of Peter Mandelson come to mind.).

I'm not sure what led Renn to suggest the Storwood moat as the site for Malebis's 'castle'. I suspect that he was influenced by some remains rather than a totally lost site nearer Wheldrake. Generally my experience is that manor houses of C12 date (regardless of being 'castles' or not) are close to the parish church and, I suspect, were often sited on saxon thegnal sites. Supposed tactical consideration are, and were even by contemporary writers, over stated. Clearly the 'tactical' location for a castle to 'control' the approach to York would be Elvington or Sutton upon Derwent (Where Robert Percy got a licence to crenellate his house there in 1293 - with no problem to the people of York). Wheldrake and Storwood are both about 2-3km from the crossing of the Derwent which is not far but far enough to not be visible on rainy days.

In summary
1. Nothing in the primary and secondary sources supports Renn's suggestion for Storwood as either Wheldrake castle.
2. The more usual location would be near to the parish church.
3. The term castle has to be used with much care. The actual LC for Malebis was verbal, but those written in following years don't usually use the term. However Hoveden did use castellum. The cost of garrisons meant real military buildings were few and far between even during the Anarchy. A small 'castle' could readily be lost under 800 years of rebuilding (I've records of 265 such lost castles in England - Selby is an example)
4. Sites have prestige and it is likely that Malbis was rebuilding the earlier 'castle', which, given the evidence of many recorded 'demolished' castles surviving relatively intact, may have been fairly intact anyway.

Please feel free to use my comments as you wish. I'm not a professional academic and have no relevant qualifications although my work on licences to crenellate has been published in the Castle Group Journal.

Best wishes

Philip Davis

Third comment from Philip Davis by email
Philip Davis []
Thu 25/12/2008 10:36

Dear John,

I've managed to look at the charter in Early Yorkshire Charters (vol. xi (11) rather than II). This is a grant of land by Geoffrey Darel 'ante portam castellarii de Queldrik'. This is translated as 'before the gate of the precinct of the castle of Wheldrake'. It is notable that Geoffrey reserves thatching material for his houses in Wheldrake (domos nostras in Queldrike). Thus this charter does not actual mention a castle it mentions a castellarii which might be translated as castlery which itself might mean village (see Abigail Wheatley's The Idea of the Castle (2004, York Medieval Press) p23-4). Darel's dwelling is called a house*. However, castellarii is an unusual term and this suggest that Darel's house and/or manor of Wheldrake was unusual in some way. I suspect, based on general experience, that it was a house dressed up with military symbolism such as battlements and a gatehouse (these symbolic feature would not have been 'sham' but would - since the cost of a garrison is so high - not have been expected to have been used (think super car capable of 150mph+, it can go that fast but not legally in every day use). It was a castle (with some thatched roofs!) but not a 'military' building. The charter implies that the 'castle' was in the village and not some distance away and this is additional evidence to dismiss Renn's suggestion of Storwood as the site.

It is also possible that the 'castle' had been destroyed, as ordered, in 1149 but that the castlery (the land belonging to the castle) remained as a functioning entity.

* it is possible, of course, that Darel's domos nostras were houses he owned and let in the village rather than his personal dwelling.

Early Yorkshire Charters gives John of Hexham, Surtees Society p. 159 as reference for the 1149 destruction of the castle.

You have my permission to use these ideas etc. as you wish.


Philip Davis


Philip Davis, 2009, concatenation of email correspondance re MYO61 (Verbal communication). SYO201.

Sources/Archives (1)

  • --- Verbal communication: Philip Davis. 2009. concatenation of email correspondance re MYO61.

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  • None recorded

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Record last edited

Jan 6 2009 1:37PM


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