The Manor of Rabi was one of the lands belonging to the township of Staindrop which was gifted to the Prior of Durham by King Cnut. The King reigned over England, Denmark and Norway from 1016 to 1035 and it is thought that at the time of the Conquest in 1066, Raby was in the possession of Sigurn, reputedly Cnut’s niece. The Nevills were responsible for building the 14th century castle which still stands today and they continued to live at Raby until 1569. The family were devout Roman Catholics and the 5th Earl had been a steadfast supporter of Mary Tudor holding high office during her reign. His son Charles however, was forced to choose between loyalty to his monarch or to his religion when Mary’s Protestant half-sister Elizabeth was on the throne. He eventually decided to join Thomas Percy in leading the rebellion in support of the Catholic Mary, Queen of Scots, which sealed the fate of the Nevills. In 1569, 700 knights assembled at Raby Castle to plot their campaign but the ‘Rising of the North’ ultimately foundered and Charles fled to the Netherlands where he died in poverty.
After the rebellion failed, the entire estate was forfeited and remained in Crown ownership until 1626 when it was purchased by Sir Henry Vane the Elder who was a Member of Parliament and prominent member of Charles I’s household. The Vanes were originally descended from Hywel ap Fane of Monmouthshire and remain the owners of the castle to this day. The castle towers with curtain wall date to the mid 14th century and probably incorporate earlier buildings.
During medieval times, the only entrance to the courtyard of the castle was through the great Neville Gateway. Defended by machicolations above, the Gateway also had a portcullis and features delicate Lierne vaulting (above). Although Raby is a defended home rather than a fortress, it has seen action in battle, notably during the Civil War. It was beseiged in 1648 when it was held by Sir George Vane for the Parliamentary forces but suffered little damage. Sir Henry repaired Raby and carried out various building works but it was not until the 18th century that the first major alterations were made to the medieval structure. The 1st Lord Barnard partly dismantled the castle early in the 18th century but Henry, son of the 2nd Lord Barnard, later began a programme of restoration.
The interior of the south and west ranges underwent the greatest changes under the guidance of the architect James Paine. In 1768, the 2nd Earl of Darlington engaged the architect John Carr to carry out improvements both inside and outside the castle. A carriageway through the entrance hall was constructed at this time and a round tower was built on the south front to replace one that had burnt down earlier in the century. By the end of the 18th century, the castle and its setting were considerably altered with the moat drained, the park landscaped, the high and low ponds excavated and the stables and ancillary buildings constructed. In 1843, the 2nd Duke of Cleveland started the third major period of rebuilding by inviting the architect William Burn to work on the castle. The castle has remained little altered since the late 19th century. Raby Castle is Grade I Listed.