Vetusta Monumenta: Ancient Monuments

Plate XXXIX: Tutbury Castle in Staffordshire & Plate XL: Melbourne Castle in the County of Derby



Was very large, commanding the lower Country by its high Situation, it was built on an Alabaster Hill with the little Monastery in it by Henry de Ferrars a Noble Norman to whom William the first gave large Possessions in the County, which were all lost by Robert de Ferrars Earl of Derby upon his second revolt from K: Henry III.d Leland is of Opinion that it was the Palace of OFFA or KENULF Kings of Mercia. Pat.18.Ed.1.m.10. a Grant to Edmund the King’s Brother to found a Chantry in the Castle of Tutbury. The present Owner of it is his Grace the Duke of Devon, but in the Reign of Q: Elizabeth the Earl of Shrewsbury was Constable thereof when this Draught was taken, and now remains in the Office of the Dutchy of Lancaster. Sumptibus. Soc: Ant: Lond: 1733.


Formerly a Royal Mansion, now in Ruins; where JOHN Duke of BOURBON taken Prisoner by K: Henry in the Battle of AGINCOURT (An.o 1414) was kept Nineteen Years in Custody of Nicholas Montgomery the Younger; he was released by K: Henry 
This draught is made from a Survey now in the Dutchy Office of Lancaster taken in the Reign of Q: Elizabeth. Sumptibus. Soc: Ant: Lond: 1733.


Views of Tutbury Castle and Melbourne Castle engraved by George Vertue after two drawings from the reign of Queen Elizabeth. The original drawings belonged to a cache of nine Elizabethan drawings of castles held by the office of the Duchy of Lancaster.


Two medieval castles as they (supposedly) appeared in the middle of the sixteenth century. Tutbury Castle and its gatehouse are surrounded by a curtain wall. The castle’s round keep, surrounded by a mantlet, is clearly visible, as are a turret tower, the North Tower, South Tower and several other towers, the Great Hall and living quarters. The river valley, which Tutbury overlooks, and the River Dove are pictured on the right. The village of Hatton with its parish church can be glimpsed over the hilltop on the right margin of the plate.

The two-storeyed wall that encompasses Melbourne Castle includes a forward-projecting entrance with a doorway. The tall castle is dominated by a great number of round, square and polyangular towers, turrets, chimneys and projecting balconies. The roofline of the buildings inside the castle walls is also visible, as is the cupola that marks the position of the great hall. The town of Melbourne with its church is shown in the background to the right of the castle.

Location and Provenance: 

The ruins of Tutbury Castle are located on a hill with a steep ridge on the north west corner of the village of Tutbury in eastern Staffordshire. The medieval castle was erected on the site of an earlier Norman motte and bailey castle, which was most probably made from timber and earthwork (Hislop et al 88). This earlier motte and bailey castle, built c. 1068-69, belonged to the de Ferrers family until it passed to the Earls of Lancaster in 1266. The castle was frequently under military attack and the original structure was gradually replaced by stone buildings. The architectural character of the castle, as shown in the Elizabethan drawing on which Vertue’s engraving was based, was the result of extensive remodeling in the fifteenth century. Large-scale repairs and rebuilding began after Tutbury, being part of the Duchy of Lancaster, had become a royal property in 1399. Among the parts of the medieval castle that survive today are the motte and parts of the baileys, parts of a twelfth-century chapel, and the North Tower and South Tower, which were built in the fifteenth century. 

The only above-ground remains of Melbourne Castle are a piece of wall and the foundations of a turret, located on a site called ‘Castle Farm’ which lies at the east end of the town of Melbourne on the south-eastern border of Derbyshire. The castle was preceded by a series of manor houses which date back to the first half of the eleventh century. Building work on Melbourne Castle began in 1311 when Thomas, Earl of Lancaster, whose estate also included Tutbury and various other castles, granted his supporter, Sir Robert de Holland, a license to crenellate the older manor house. As part of the duchy of Lancaster, the castle was transformed into a palatial residence over the course of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. It became the property of the Earl of Huntingdon in 1604 and was demolished for building materials in the 1630s.

Commentary [KB]

Between 1732 and 1736, Vertue engraved eight sixteenth-century drawings of castles that were under the jurisdiction of the Duchy of Lancaster. The Duchy of Lancaster, whose origins date back to a grant of land which King Henry III made to his son Edmund in 1265, is a royal duchy comprising land, property and assets that are held in trust and provide income for the sovereign. The Elizabethan drawings of Tutbury and Melbourne were commissioned by Ambrose Cave, chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster from 1558 until his death in 1568. Cave included these drawings in a survey of the duchy and its properties that he compiled in the early 1560s (Hislop et al 2011: 106). In Spring 1732, Smart Lethieullier, who had been elected to the Society of Antiquaries in June 1724 (SAL Minutes I: 124) and who remained a highly active member of the Society throughout the 1720s and 1730s, visited the office of the Duchy of Lancaster and came across a cache of nine sixteenth-century drawings of duchy castles. Lethieullier brought the drawings to the attention of the Society of Antiquaries. As the minutes of the Society’s meetings record, on 20 April 1732:

          Mr Lethieullier Reported to the Society that there were in the Office belonging to the Duchy of
          Lancaster Drawings of the following Castles taken about the Reign of Queen Elizabeth and that
          his Grace the Duke of Rutland Chancellor of the said Duchy Seem’d willing to permit the
          Society to Copy and Engrave them. The Castles are as follow.
               Tutbury in Staffordshire. Lancaster. Knaresborough. Pomfret. Sandal. Tickhill the last four
          in Yorkshire. Clitheroe in Lancashire. Melbourne in Derbyshire & White Castle in
               Orders that thanks be Return’d to his Grace and he be Desir’d to give an order for
          Mr. Vertue to have Access to the Original Draughts, and to take Copies of them.
          (SAL Minutes I: 288)

During the meeting of 4 May 1732, ‘[i]t was by Ballot ordered that the several Castles in the office of the Dutchy of Lancaster be engraved by Mr. Vertue’ (SAL Minutes I: 292; White Castle was the only castle that was not engraved). The antiquaries had commissioned series of prints in the past when they were needed to reproduce a single long document. For instance, they ordered six engravings (plates 21-26) that represent different sections of two early sixteenth-century manuscript rolls relating to the Westminster Tournament. However, this was the first instance in which the material for a larger number of prints that were later included in Vetusta Monumenta was drawn from the same archival source. The Duke of Rutland appears to have been an energetic supporter of this project and entertained a cordial relationship with the Society. When in April 1735 Lethieullier presented him with prints from Vertue’s plates of the castles of Pomfret, Lancaster and Knaresborough, the Duke in return gifted the Society ‘three views of Belvoir Castle and one of Avesham Park Seats belonging to his Grace & lately engraved by his order’ (SAL Minutes II: 173).

The engravings of the castles of Tutbury and Melbourne were the first of the set which Vertue completed. They were later included, along with engravings of the drawings showing Lancaster Castle, Pontefract Castle, Knaresborough Castle, and  Tickhill Castle Volume I of Vetusta Monumenta. Two more plates of the castles of Sandal and Clitheroe were included in Volume II, while a series of   five prints of medieval seals also kept in the office of the duchy also appeared in Volume I. As will become clear, the interest which Tutbury held for the antiquaries is easier to account for than their decision to include the print of Melbourne Castle.

When the members of the Society of Antiquaries commissioned the print of Tutbury in 1732, one of their main sources about the history of the castle – apart from the information which Lethieullier gathered in the office of the Duchy of Lancaster – was Robert Plot’s Natural History of Staffordshire (1686). Plot’s study, which was discussed at a meeting of the Society of Antiquaries in January 1725 (SAL Minutes I: 137), gives particular attention to Tutbury’s medieval history and to the annual Minstrels’ Court which John of Gaunt, the first duke of Lancaster, established in Tutbury in 1380. The Minstrels’ Court was an attempt to regulate and license itinerant musicians and minstrels. A “king” of the minstrels was annually appointed in a two-stage election process (24 jurors were elected first; these jurors then elected 4 stewards, one of whom acted as king). Plot, pointing to the ‘universal notoriety of the thing’ (Plot 1686: 436), includes a translation of the original charter (written in old French), which includes the following regulations:

          Know ye we have ordained constituted and assigned to our well beloved King of the Minstrells
          in our Honor of Tutbury, who is, or for the time shall be, to apprehend and arrest all the
          Minstrells in our said Honor and Franchise, that refuse to doe the Services and Minstrelsy as
          appertain to them to doe from ancient times at Tutbury aforesaid, yearly on the day of the
          Assumption of our Lady: giving and granting to said King of the Minstrells for the time being,
          full power and commandment to make them reasonably to justify, and to constrain them to
          doe their Service, and Minstrelsies, in manner as belongeth to them, and as it hath been there,
          and of ancient times accustomed. (Plot 1686: 436)

The Minstrels’ Court and the regulations cited by Plot were later discussed by Thomas Percy in his influential ‘Essay on the Ancient English Minstrels’ which formed part of Reliques of Ancient English Poetry (1765). Samuel Bentley’s poem ‘The River Dove: A Lyrical Pastoral’ (1774), clearly influenced by the Gothic revival and the growing interest in the origins of chivalry, tournaments and knight-errantry that Percy’s Reliques stoked, included extensive antiquarian footnotes on the Minstrels’ Court and celebrated Tutbury as ancient seat of chivalry:

          ’Twas here John of Gaunt kept his court, 
              As Tutbury’s legends unfold,
          And chivalry honour’d the fort,
             In festive high tournaments bold. (Bentley 1774: 119)

During the same meeting in which the members of the Society of Antiquaries discussed Plot’s survey of Staffordshire, they also examined a manuscript brought by Peter Le Neve which was ‘said to be of great use to the tenants of Tutbury Staffordshr, where the famous bull feast is kept’ (SAL Minutes I: 137). This bull feast had emerged a few years prior to the foundation of the Minstrels’ Court but was integrated into the festivities of the Court. As Plot explains, the priory of Tutbury (later the earls and dukes of Devonshire) gifted a bull that was released in the town of Tutbury. If the minstrels managed to catch the bull before it crossed the River Dove, the bull became their possession; otherwise the priory reclaimed the animal. Like the Minstrels’ Court, the bull running was a medieval tradition that was still celebrated annually in Tutbury when the Society of Antiquaries ordered the print of Tutbury Castle. The bull-running was brought to an end in 1778 while the Minstrels’ Court remained active until the nineteenth century (Hislop et al 2011: 102, 115). 

Two decades after Vertue produced the engravings of the Duchy of Lancaster castles, another facet of Tutbury’s medieval history caught Lethieullier’s interest. Lethieullier attempted – together with Charles Lyttelton, another prominent fellow of the Society of Antiquaries (elected in 1740; president 1765-73) – to develop a more systematic, taxonomical approach to Saxon and Gothic architectural forms of the Middle Ages (Sweet 2004: 249-50). In 1751 Lethieullier used Tutbury as a case study to illustrate the method he was in the process of devising with Lyttelton: ‘Allow Tutbury to the Age of the Conqueror, – A Part of Waltham Abby to Edwd the Confessor, & a Part of Christ Church to Ethelred’s, & we shall arrive at a sort of series, which by the Rules of Comparison, may lead to Decypher Others’ (qtd. Sweet 2004: 250). Lethieullier and Lyttelton’s comparative study of medieval architecture helped to usher in typological approaches to artefacts. Like Thomas Warton’s more well-known work on the history of Gothic architecture in the second volume of his Observations on the Fairy Queene of Spenser (Warton 1762, vol. 2: 185-98), Lethieullier and Lyttelton’s research was premised on the idea that artefacts – even when they seemed to lacked aesthetic merit – held considerable value because the typological method made it possible to arrange these objects in a sequence that illustrated historical progress. 

Another historical resonance which Tutbury held for members of the Society of Antiquaries was its association with Mary, Queen of Scots. During Elizabeth’s reign, large-scale repairs were made at Tutbury, mainly on the curtain wall, the keep and the lodgings. Elizabeth ordered Mary to be moved from Bolton Castle to Tutbury in January 1569 where she stayed until April of the same year; she returned three times (for roughly two months in the autumn of 1569; for four months in the spring of 1570, and almost the entire year of 1585). When the members of the Society of Antiquaries commissioned the engraving of Tutbury, they were probably familiar with accounts, such as Richard Baker’s Chronicle of the Kings of England (1670), that stressed the fact that Mary’s move to Tutbury marked the beginning of her imprisonment and a shift in her status from royal guest to prisoner. Materials relating to Mary were sometimes discussed at meetings of the Society. At a meeting in March 1725, Vertue presented an engraving of Mary that was based on ‘the picture at Ld Carltons’ (SAL Minutes I: 153). Henry Boyle, Lord Carlton, was secretary to Queen Anne. The portrait, which later became known as the ‘Carlton Type’ is a full-length, life-size portrait of Mary (Exhibition of the Royal House of Stuart 1889: 19). Peter le Neve brought a manuscript relating to Mary’s trial and execution to a meeting in June 1725 (SAL Minutes I: 164) and another manuscript relating to Mary’s imprisonment (likely at Tutbury Castle) to a meeting in July of the same year (SAL Minutes I: 168). While early eighteenth-century travelogues make little of Tutbury’s association with Mary, later eighteenth-century accounts often cast Mary as Elizabeth’s unfortunate victim and describe Tutbury as a gloomy prison-like space. For instance, Bentley describes Mary’s confinement at Tutbury in his aforementioned poem ‘The River Dove’: 

          Here Mary, unfortunate Queen!
             The loss of sweet liberty knew:
          Immur’d thy strong turrets between,
             With liberty full in her view:
          She view’d it beneath in the mead,
             The herds there cou’d liberty boast;
          There bounding at freedom the steed,
          Reminded her what she had lost. (Bentley 1774: 121)

A late eighteenth-century history of Tutbury, John Jackson’s Description of the Castle and Priory of Tutbury Historical (1796) similarly notes that ‘the scenes of festive revelry in those old times were now [under Elizabeth] changed to gloomy melancholy, and its solitary walls became the prison of unfortunate royalty’ (Jackson 1796: 26-27).  

The history of Melbourne Castle, situated just twelve miles east of Tutbury, has always been closely linked to that of Tutbury – a fact that probably contributed to the Society’s decision to include Vertue’s print of Melbourne alongside the one of Tutbury in the first volume of Vetusta Monumenta. The attractiveness of the print may also have played a role in this decision: with its multitude of turrets, chimneys, polyangular towers and the majestic cupola, Melbourne appears to have been an exceptionally imposing palatial residence during its brief heyday. Thomas, Earl of Lancaster, licensed the crenellation of a manor house on the site of the later Melbourne Castle in 1311; he turned the manor house into a castle in 1313-14 in order to guard the eastern approach to Tutbury as well as the eastern part of his land holdings (Hislop et al 2011: 96). In the fifteenth century, Melbourne served for many years as prison for the Duke of Bourbon, who had been captured by Henry V at the battle of Agincourt. The history of Melbourne Castle is not often discussed in seventeenth- and early eighteenth-century chronicles and chorographies. In the rare cases in which the castle is mentioned, for instance in Edmund Gibson’s second edition of Camden’s Britannia (1722) or in Robert Morden’s The New Description and State of England (1701), it serves as little more than a backdrop to accounts of the Duke’s confinement.

In the second half of the sixteenth century, Cave’s survey of the duchy castles reached the conclusion that Melbourne was in a poor state and should not be retained. The castle was briefly considered as a potential place of confinement for Mary, but Mary was never moved there. In the late sixteenth century, the administration of the Melbourne estates was largely managed through Tutbury (Hislop et al 2011: 107). By 1597, Melbourne was used as a cattle pound (Stroud 2002: 9) and Gibson’s edition of Camden’s Britannia notes that by 1607 the castle was ‘decaying apace’ (Camden 1722, vol. 1: 587). What remained of the ruin of the castle was demolished and taken away as building material in the 1630s (Emery 2000: 422). 

By the early eighteenth century virtually nothing remained of Melbourne Castle. While Tutbury Castle was also in ruins at this time, travelers could still see large parts of the castle as it had been remodeled in the fifteenth century, as well as some newer structures dating from the 1630s when repairs and building work had been carried out under Charles I (Hislop et al 2011: 112-13). Tutbury’s picturesque position above the valley of the river Dove and its eventful history attracted travelers and antiquaries alike. Richard Pococke, who visited Tutbury in 1751, explored Tutbury’s ‘Gothic arches’ and its outer wall and gatehouse, describing it as ‘the finest stonework and masonry I ever saw’ (Pococke 1888: 219). The keep had fallen down and been sold off for building materials, but Pococke could make out the mound as well as remains of the ‘a Gothick building of the Middle Ages’ – presumably parts of the living quarters that were rebuilt in the fifteenth century. He also witnessed the destruction of a large building that had been erected in the 1630s to house royal guests, noting that ‘this building is now taking down, and there are great heaps of the white plaister floors of the rooms’ (Pococke 1888: 219). In the late eighteenth century, Lord Vernon, who leased the castle from the crown, had a folly ruined tower erected on the original motte to improve Tutbury’s picturesque silhouette (Shaw 1798: 49). The castle remained a popular stop for travelers and tourists for the rest of the eighteenth and into the nineteenth century – so popular, in fact, that a ticketed entry system was introduced in 1847 (Hislop et al 2011: 116).


Baker, Richard. 1670. A Chronicle of the Kings of England, From the Time of the Romans Government Unto the Death of King James. London.

Bentley, Samuel. 1774. Poems on Various Occasions. London.

Camden, William. 1722. Britannia, or A Chorographical Description of Great Britain and Ireland … Revised, digested, and published, with large additions, by Edmund Gibson. London. Vol. 1.

Emery, Anthony. 2000. Greater Medieval Houses of England and Wales, 1300-1500: Volume 2: East Anglia, Central England and Wales. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Exhibition of the Royal House of Stuart. 1889. London: The New Gallery.

Hislop, Malcolm, Mark Kincey and Gareth Williams. Tutbury: ‘A Castle Firmly Built’: Archaeological and Historical Investigations at Tutbury Castle, Staffordshire (= Birmingham Archaeological Monograph Series 11). Oxford: Archaeopress, 2011.

Jackson, John. 1796. Historical Description of the Castle and Priory of Tutbury, with An Account of the Borough and Abbey of Burton upon Trend, in the Country of Stafford. London.

Percy, Thomas. 1765. Reliques of Ancient English Poetry. London.

Plot, Robert. 1686. The Natural History of Staffordshire. Oxford.

Pococke, Richard. 1888. The Travels Through England of Dr. Richard Pococke, ed. James Joel Cartwright. London: Camden Society. Vol 1.

Shaw, Stebbing. 1798. The History and Antiquities of Staffordshire. London. Vol. 1.

Society of Antiquaries of London.  1718- Minutes of the Society’s Proceedings. 

Stroud, Gill. 2002. ‘Derbyshire Extensive Urban Survey Archaeological Assessment Report: Melbourne’, Archaeology Data Service. 

Sweet, Rosemary. 2004. Antiquaries: The Discovery of the Past in Eighteenth-Century Britain. London: Hambledon and London.

Usher, Howard. 1991. ‘Melbourne Castle’, Derbyshire Miscellany 12: 126-132.

Warton, Thomas. 1762. Observations on the Fairy Queen of Spenser, 2nd edn. London. Vol. 2

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