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History of Bishopthorpe Palace immediately below York
By Michael Ford
The Home of the Archbishops of York

The Archiepiscopal Palace at Bishopthorpe

The Palace was originally built in 1241 for Archbishop Walter de Grey with the undercroft being constructed using stone from an old manor house which was demolished nearby. The Great Hall, which was rebuilt during the 17th century and the Chapel from that time still remain today. The Palace is set in nine acres of beautiful grounds with many rare and ancient trees.

In 1364 Archbishop Thoresby started to make additions to the house and in 1483 Archbishop Rotherham added the north range in diapered brickwork.

After the Civil War the building fell into disrepair and was sold to a Colonel White during the Commonwealth period. With the return of the monarchy Archbishop Accepted Frewen took up residence and rebuilt the Great Hall between 1660 and 1664.

During Archbishop Drummond’s residency he had the stables and the Gatehouse built between 1761 and 1765. The latter reused stones taken from the ruins of Cawood Castle further to the south above Selby. It incorporates the Royal coat of arms on one side and those of Archbishop Drummond on the other. The large blue faced clock was moved here from the stables. In 1766 work started on a Gothic block to the west and on the main entrance hall and the drawing room, all of which was completed in 1769.

In 1835 further rooms were added by Archbishop Vernon Harcourt.

On entering the house the striking Strawberry Hill Gothic architecture can be seen in all its glory in the entrance hall. A small Elizabethan stained glass window showing Archbishop Grindal’s coat of arms appears above the doorway. From here a door leads into the beautiful drawing room with its finely decorated ceiling, fireplace and doorway all in the pure Georgian style. The old exterior wall of the 17th century front of the Palace can be seen from the Gallery passage. The Great Hall rebuilt in the 17th century but based on that of the original 13th century room has rich plasterwork in the ceiling and the deep frieze. The windows have coats of arms of various Archbishops in colourful stained glass. Archbishop Richard Scrope was tried for treason here in the Great Hall in 1405 before Henry IV. Having been found guilty he was beheaded and was the only Archbishop in England ever to be executed. The Chapel, although having been restored by Archbishop Maclagan in 1891, retains much of its original fabric from 1241, in particular the walls and lancet windows. The attractive blue ceiling was inserted in Archbishop Vernon Harcourt’s time to allow rooms to be built above.

The Palace is not generally open to the public but may be visited, during weekdays, by groups of ten or more by prior arrangement for a guided tour.

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