Bolton Castle was built by Sir Richard le Scrope, Lord Chancellor of England to Richard II. The licence to crennelate was granted and building commenced in 1379 and was completed in 1399. The family had raised to prominence a generation before under Sir Henry Le Scrope who was Chief Justice of The Kings Bench, Chief Justice of The Common Pleas and father of Sir Richard. Having said this, a member of the family called Richard FitzScrob – Scrob, being the earliest Norman spelling of the name Scrope – had built Richard’s Castle in Herefordshire in 1050, so the family must have borne some political power well before this time.
Sir Henry had served in the retinue of The Earl of Warwick in France and later with John of Gaunt. His first action was at The battle of Crecy, being Knighted at The Battle of Durham. He fought in every major campaign between 1346 and 1384, when he challenged Robert Grosvenor to his right to bear the Arms ‘Azure, a Bend d’Or’. In 1385, a General Proclamation was made throughout the host that all who were interested in the dispute should appear on 20th August at Newcastle on Tyne. The case took four years to be determined and judgement was given in Westminster Hall, in favour of Scrope. Many of the most interesting and powerful persons of the land gave evidence, including John of Gaunt and Owen Glendower.
He obtained the wardship of the three heiress daughters of Robert, Lord Tiptoft who was reputed to have salvaged King John’s treasure from ‘The Wash’. The three girls were betrothed to Scropes’ sons and are all left legacies in Scrope’s will where he refers to them as ‘my dearest daughters’.
Between 1371 and 1375 he served as Lord Treasurer and was made Lord Chancellor in 1378, which post he held until 1380, but he then served again from 1381 to 1382. The following explanation was given for his having The Great Seal taken from him; “After the death of Edmund Mortimer, Earl of March, and of some other tenants in captive, numerous applications were made to The King for their lands, which fell to The Crown in consequence of the minority of their heirs. His Majesty, regardless of his own pecuniary necessities, having commanded The Chancellor to comply with those requests, Scrope ventured to remonstrate and urged the propriety of keeping the lands in The King’s own hands for the supply of exigencies. Incensed at this behaviour, Richard sent messenger after messenger to Scrope, desiring him forthwith to return The Great Seal, but he “(refused) to deliver it up to any person other than The King himself.”
There is considerable mystery as to the origins of the major Scrope wealth. Henry and Geoffrey Le Scrope reputedly founded the family fortune, however there is a problem with this. They undoubtedly acquired some land holdings, but on a minor scale. Henry also applied for a licence to embattle his manor house at Kirby Fleetham, but his declared remuneration from gifts and fees, never amounted to more than about £80 per annum (Brigette Vale). Richard Le Scrope spent a reputed 18000 Marks on building Bolton Castle between 1378 and 1399, he also bought the Kingdom of The Isle of Man for his son William for a further £10000. This represents about £90 million at today’s prices. He acquired some of his properties by lending money on the security of land. When people were unable to pay back these funds these lands and manors became forfeit to him. The licence to crenellate Bolton Castle was granted in July 1379, although the contract with Johan Lewyn, mason, was made in September 1378. Leland (later – in the reign of Henry VIII) describes in his ‘Itinerary’ how Bolton was 18 years in building and cost 1000 Marks per annum and was completed in 1399. He also describes ‘An Astronomical Clock’ in the courtyard and the way “the smoke was conveyed from the hearth in the hall, through tunnils through the walls and no other louvers”. Sir Francis Knollys describes Bolton as having “The highest walls of any house he had seen”.