History of Kimbolton Castle

The history of Kimbolon Castle near Kimbolton in Huntingdonshire, UK


It is probable that Geoffrey Fitz Piers, who married the elder daughter and co-heiress of William de Say in 1185 and was created Earl of Essex in 1199, was the original builder of the castle. There may have been a small castle here at Castle Hill thrown up during the anarchy of Stephen's reign before this date, but the existing site, there can be little doubt, dates from the time of Geoffrey Fitz Piers. The castle was certainly built before 1201, when the Earl received King John in his manor here. John was evidently so much enchanted with the place that in 1205 he granted lands in Brampton and Alconbury to be held by the service of providing fish, wine and hay once yearly when the king should wish to visit Kimbolton,and visited it again in 1213. William, brother and heir of Geoffrey son of Geoffrey Fitz Piers, forfeited Kimbolton, and on its restoration in 1217 we have the earliest direct mention of a castle. It was attacked in 1221 by the Earl of Albemarle, who was ignominiously repulsed. Although it had its constable in 1236 and its seneschal in 1243 and is called a castle, it is described in 1279 as a fortalace (forcelet'), which implies something less than a fully developed castle. While held by Humphrey de Bohun, who fell at the battle of Boroughbridge in 1322, and whose wife was Elizabeth, daughter of Edward I, the castle was garrisoned and provisioned by the king. Edward II visited his nephew John, Earl of Hereford, in 1326 at Kimbolton, and Edward III was there in 1334.

It is said that Anne, Duchess of Buckingham (d. 1480), rebuilt the greater part of the inner court of the castle and in 1463 considerable expense was incurred for lead for roofing brought from Derbyshire. The castle is described in 1521 as

'a right goodly lodging contained in little room, within a moat well and compendiously trussed together in due and convenient proportion, one thing with another, with an inner court, for the most part builded within sixty years by Duchess Anne, wife of Duke Humphrey, slain at Northampton field. There are lodgings and offices for keeping a duke's house in stately manner'; but, 'by occasion of the old maintill wall, the hall there well builded is likely to perish; and through the said castle is and will be great decay, by occasion there is no reparations done.' Outside the moat was 'a convenient room for a base court, now used like a gresse close'; in it were 'a fair barn and goodly houses fit for stables.'


In 1522 the king gave the castle to Sir Richard Wingfield, and the next year he granted him leave to take stone and lead from the ruined castle of Higham Ferrers for the rebuilding of this castle. A few years later Leland tells us:

'The Castelle is double diked and the building of it is metely strong. . . . Syr Richard Wingfield builded new fair lodgyns and galeries upon the olde foundations of the Castelle.'


The double dykes were probably something like the double moat at Cretingsbury, because the date of building was rather too late for a motte-castle.

The story of Queen Katharine's unhappy sojourn here in 1534 has already been told. It does not seem to have entailed any structural alterations, and probably Sir Richard's building stood unaltered when, in 1615, the castle came into the possession of Sir Henry Montagu. Inventories of furniture taken in 1642 and 1687 tell us that it had a great hall with screens, a long gallery, a chapel, dining room, drawing room, upper round chamber, lower round chamber, Queen's Chamber, and many other rooms, a gatehouse, stables, 'the Castle Court,' 'the Dyall Court,' 'the Great Garden,' 'the Little fountain Garden.' Unfortunately the inventories give no indication of the position of any of these rooms, but it is possible, from various sources, to locate a few of them. The great hall was the present White Hall, but included the site of the present drawing room (once the billiard room); the sixth Duke found the feet of the ancient rafters still remaining in the walls of the latter room. A bow window of this room, of which mention is made, was probably the great bow window of the dais of the hall. The screens would be at the other end; and the withdrawing room occupied part of the position of the present green drawing room. The long gallery occupied the site of the saloon, but was probably longer at each end, and it did not project beyond the general line of the front wall as the saloon does. Next to it were Queen Katharine's bedchamber and closet, which are said to have survived unaltered, but it is obvious that they had new windows and doors inserted in 1707, and apparently other alterations have been made. The chapel and the archway adjoining it doubtless still occupy their original positions, and the gatehouse, we may assume, stood away from the castle proper, on the western side of the outer moat.

Apparently Charles, 4th Earl, erected a range of rooms with a staircase and passages, chiefly to improve the communications, in the courtyard, against the old south wing. In 1694–5 he rebuilt the inner wall of the north wing to correspond, although he probably did not add any new rooms or passages on this side. About the same time the inner walls of the east and west ranges were rebuilt. In 1707 the old south wing fell down, with the exception of Queen Katharine's bedchamber and closet, and Sir John Vanbrugh was called in to rebuild it. He replaced the long gallery with a large saloon, which projects in front of the main wall and has an outer door in the centre with a flight of steps down to the garden, and he faced Queen Katharine's rooms to match his new work. This rebuilding was finished early in 1709; and within the next few years the remaining fronts of the castle were rebuilt, a large portico being erected on the east side in front of the White Hall.

Kimbolton Castle

Kimbolton Castle (circa 1911)

Kimbolton Castle (circa 1911)


The castle as it stands to-day has on the east front, which now constitutes the state approach, a large portico with Doric columns and a large flight of steps; the rest of the front, flanking the portico, has plain windows with segmental heads. The south or garden front has a large doorway in the centre, with flights of stairs to the garden, and the remainder, which is very plain, has large windows like those on the east front. The west front, which was the original approach, has a large carriage archway in the centre, and similar windows to those of the other sides; the north and south ranges project beyond the main line of this front, and they also rise slightly above it, giving it a more interesting character than the other fronts. The north front has similar windows to the rest; the middle portion stands on an arcade of five elliptical arches with rusticated piers, and has an added story which brings its parapet up to the level of those of the angle buildings. The whole of the fronts are faced with stone; they have rusticated angle pilasters and coarse embattled parapets. The walls facing the central courtyard are faced with red bricks and the windows and doors have stone architraves. The great hall, on the east, has three large windows and a doorway, the latter with a segmental pediment and surmounted with the Montagu arms and supporters; the wall is divided into bays by four Corinthian pilasters, and a stone staircase with iron balustrades leads up to the door. The other three sides have three tiers of windows, and that on the west has a round-headed carriage archway.

Inside, the principal rooms are all on the first floor. The White Hall has Ionic pilasters flanking the doors, a deep cornice and a coved ceiling. The saloon has Corinthian columns and pilasters, frieze and cornice, and a panelled ceiling. Queen Katharine's bedchamber is panelled with panelling of 1709. The walls of the chapel are panelled, and at the gallery level are three semicircular arches. The great staircase, much modernised, has some richly carved screenwork and arches. Many of the other rooms have 17th-century panelling and beams. One of the thick walls on the ground floor of the south range has a 16th-century doorway with four-centred arch and moulded jambs, and also a blocked window. Another similar doorway on the ground floor is at the southern end of the old east wall of the courtyard. Many other old walls and features must remain, but are covered by later plaster and panelling.

The moats have been entirely filled up, and their position cannot be identified. The grounds round the castle were laid out with terraces on at least three sides, and on the south was a great garden having a lawn flanked by two rows of lime trees, beyond which was a large elliptical pond with shrubberies on each side, and beyond this was another piece of ornamental water; all this was enclosed on the two sides by brick walls ornamented with sixty-six stone flowerpots. Judging by Vanbrugh's letters, it is probable that the gardens had been made not long before 1707; but there is now little left of them. An avenue of trees on the east side led to a gate and drive connecting with the high-road.

The gatehouse opening on to the south end of the town street was built by Robert Adam about 1766. It consists of a central archway between two rusticated windows, the wall flanked and divided by Doric pilasters supporting a frieze and cornice. On each side are wings, each divided into bays by shallow pilasters between which are semicircular arches each containing a plain window. At the end of the wings are buildings of one bay each, somewhat similar to the central part. It is very doubtful if this building stands on the site of the old gatehouse. The stone gateway with iron gates at the north end of the gardens was built by Adam at about the same time.

Victoria County History  - Huntingdonshire Published in 1932