The story of Greenhalgh Castle is bound up with two men: Sir Thomas Stanley, who had it built, and his descendant Earl James Stanley whose actions in the Civil War would lead to its destruction. These two men’s stories are fascinating tales of choosing the right or wrong side to be on in a dispute as to who should ultimately rule England.
The Background to the Building of the Castle
When the would-be king Henry Tudor landed in Wales, Sir Thomas Stanley was in a difficult position. As a leading aristocrat of the north-west, he was loyal to King Richard III, but his marriage to Margaret Beaufort meant that Henry Tudor was his stepson. Sir Thomas was allowed to return from London to Lancashire on the provision that he left his son George behind as hostage with King Richard.
As Henry Tudor made his way through the country, King Richard summoned Sir Thomas and his younger brother Sir William to bring their men-at-arms to the forthcoming battle. As the forces drew up to fight the Battle of Bosworth, the Stanleys took up a neutral position between the armies of Henry Tudor and King Richard. When the fighting commenced, the Stanleys did not engage on Richard’s side. The enraged king sent a message threating to kill his hostage, Sir Thomas’s son. Sir Thomas sent back the reply that he had other sons. At the decisive moment, Sir William Stanley sent his men in on the side of Henry Tudor. King Richard was killed, and Henry was crowned King Henry VII on the battlefield. The powerful Tudor dynasty started that day.
Just two years later, King Henry faced an uprising of his own. An imposter, Lambert Simnel, claimed that he was Edward, one of the princes who had vanished while being held in the Tower of London by King Richard. Lambert Simnel landed at Piel Island, Barrow-in-Furness, with 7000 Irish and English soldiers and 2000 Flemish mercenaries. Sir Thomas Stanley was dispatched to deal with the army, which resulted in the Battle of Stoke Field in Nottinghamshire. Simnel’s army was defeated, but the king recognised he had just been a puppet in the hands of powerful rebellious families and he was pardoned.
For his loyalty, Sir Thomas was amply repaid in land by King Henry. This was property that had been previously confiscated from other knights after the two aforementioned battles. From the Battle of Bosworth he gained Sir Thomas Pilkington’s land around Bury, Middleton and Salford (including Bury Castle), plus Sir James Harrington’s land around Preston and Lancaster (including the land that Greenhalgh Castle was built on); from the Lambert Simnel uprising he gained Lord Lovell’s land in West Lancashire and Sir Thomas Broughton’s land in Furness and Cartmel. These were just his major acquisitions, and it was said that there was not a single part of Lancashire where he did not hold some piece of it.
Sir Thomas was also made the First Earl of Derby. The Earls of Derby would be the main enforcers of the law in Lancashire and Cheshire, with court sessions held at Lancaster Castle and Chester Castle.
Greenhalgh Castle is Constructed
In 1490, King Henry VII gave Sir Thomas licence to build a castle. It stated that he was “empowered to all with stone, lime and other material in his manor called Greenall in the parish of Garstang, to embattle, turellate, machioate or otherwise fortify them and hold forever without impediment or instruction”. (Embattle means to make an indented parapet on top of wall, making it easier to defend as soldiers can hide behind parts of it. Turrelate is the addition of a small tower on top of a larger one, to provide a wider view. Machioate is to provide an overhanging parapet on top of a wall with downwards facing slots to defend the base of the wall by hurling objects through the holes on anyone attacking below.) The license also gave Sir Thomas the power to create a deer park which no one could enter without his permission, under a penalty of £20.
The site chosen was half a mile from Garstang, which would then have been a small market town. It would have been chosen because as well as being naturally defendable, it was already the home of Harrington’s confiscated manor house.
The castle was built on a knoll that stood out from the marshy ground surrounding it. The knoll was landscaped to produce a square flat top, with steep slopes around it. The castle may not have had a moat, but the marshy ground would give protection. The only access to it was by a raised causeway, which is the present day Castle Lane. The site afforded good views in all directions, including the nearby River Wyre and its bridge, where a later watchtower was added. Sandstone blocks for the construction were brought from Holkers Quarry in Delph Lane, Barnacre.
The building is termed a ‘Tower Keep Castle’; these are frequently found in the border region around Scotland. It consisted of four walls built in a square, with four towers, one at each corner. The towers were set at an angle to the walls. One would have contained the only entrance to the complex. Accommodation for the inhabitants would have been within the towers. In the central courtyard would have been the buildings essential to castle life: a blacksmith, workshops, storage facilities, kitchen and stables. It was garrisoned by Sir Thomas’s private army, but he did not live there himself, preferring his traditional family residence of Lathom House near Ormskirk.
A Second Imposter Intervenes
In 1491, a second imposter challenged Henry VII for the crown. This was Perkin Warbreck, who claimed to be Richard, the younger of the two princes in the tower. Sir Thomas’s brother, Sir William Stanley, became convinced that this was a genuine claimant and supported him. Unfortunately this led to King Henry executing Sir William for treachery. Sir Thomas was not under suspicion though, and just five months later received the king at his home of Lathom House.
Sir Thomas’s descendants did not live at Greenhalgh Castle, although it remained an important property for the Stanley family. We turn now to how it was lost, some 150 years later, under the ownership of the 7th Earl of Derby, James Stanley. For the first time, its defences would be tested.
The Civil War and Earl James Stanley
At the outbreak of the Civil War, Earl James Stanley was loyal to King Charles I and his Royalist forces. He fought at the Battle of Read Bridge (where he was defeated and fled), and attacked Lancaster Castle and set fire to the town. From there, he moved to Greenhalgh Castle before leading an attack on Preston, in which his Royalists took it back from the Roundheads. Teaming up with Prince Rupert (who had seen off a siege on Earl James’s house at Lathom), the two then went on to mount one of the most notorious attacks of the Civil War, that of the storming of Bolton.
After this, Earl James was asked by the king to go to his ancestral seat on the Isle of Man, and hold it for the crown. This was a key strategic base, as any forces coming from Ireland could use it as a jumping-off point in an attack on the mainland.
The Siege of Greenhalgh Castle
In 1644, Sir Thomas Fairfax ordered the siege of the Greenhalgh Castle. This was carried out by Colonel Dodding with his Furness cavalry regiment and Major Joseph Rigby’s company. The troops were billeted in Garstang, on the site where the Royal Oak now stands. The town, being mainly Catholic, was not overly co-operative with the Parliamentarians. Their sympathy lay with the castle’s governor, Nicholas Anderton of Lostock (who had previously trained as a Catholic priest in Europe). Governor Anderton was not overly bothered by being besieged. He regularly sent men out to attack the Parliamentarians and to gather supplies. In one account, the castle’s garrison “vexed the countryside thereabout extremely, fetching in, in the night, many honest men from their houses, making a commoditie of it. They sallied out often upon the Leaguiers and killed some. They stood it out, stoutly all that winter”.
The Parliamentary force tried to dig underneath the castle and put gun powder into the tunnel to blow up part of the castle wall. This plan did not work, and the defending garrison was able to capture five barrels of gunpowder.
The next year, Governor Anderton died. The Royalists must have felt the tide was turning against them in Lancashire and so asked for peace terms. The condition they requested was that each of them should be able to return home safely. This was agreed to, and almost immediately the Parliamentarians destroyed parts of the castle so that it was no longer defendable.
Earl James Stanley returned from the Isle of Man to Lancashire to fight for King Charles’s son, who would become the future Charles II. After a number of battles Earl James was caught, put on trial at Chester and sentenced to death. He gave a moving speech on the scaffold at Bolton and then the order was carried out.
What Remains Today
Demolition of Greenhalgh Castle began as soon as the surrender occurred in 1645. The walls were breached so that they were no longer defendable. Timber and lead was sold off and the money made from this was used to pay a special tax imposed on the parts of the country that had resisted Parliament. Some of the stone would have been used locally, and Castle Farm contains a lot of blocks from the castle.
In 1780, Roger Dewhurst made a sketch of the one remaining tower. A Mr. Haliwell visited three times, the last time being in 1890. He noted that the walls on the whole south-east and two-thirds of the south-west of the tower had collapsed between his visits.
The main part of the ruin today is this one remaining western tower. It stands at around 30 feet tall with 5 feet thick walls. It retains its arrow slits, a first floor window and a fire place. Internal marks reveal there was a wooden floor 10 feet off the ground and there would have been two more floors above this one.
The ruins stand in a private field, but there are good views of it from the surrounding hedge by the public footpath. There is also a short interpretation board installed by the council. It is not currently safe to approach any closer. The site remains an impressive one, and Greenhalgh Castle is still a very dominant landmark in the Garstang countryside, and worth a visit.
Site visited by A. and R. Bowden 2019. This page written 2020.
There is a public footpath up to the field where Greenhalgh Castle stands, which affords good views of the castle. From Garstang town centre head down Castle Lane. There is an interpretation board by the edge of the field. The castle stonework is unstable and should not be approached.
Greenhalgh Castle Garstang and The Earls of Derby, Ernest Collinson (1993). Published by the author, printed by Colin Cross, Garstang. Copies are available second hand.
The Civil Wars in Lancashire 1640-1660, Stephen Bull (2009) Carnegie
Interpretation board close to site of the castle. Note the dates on the board are wrong – the Civil War occurred in the 1600s, not the 1800s as stated on the board.