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The History of Fotheringhay Castle

Fotheringhay Castle site nestled in the swampy lands of Oundle, Northamptonshire, England holds a morbid place in cryptology history as it is where the trial, sentencing, and execution of Mary, Queen of Scots took place. This tragic queen saga is significant as a case study of the importance of encoding messages securely. Her failure to ensure secure encryption resulted in her beheading.

The memory of Fotheringhay Castle has become faded with only a single stone for visitors to see protected by an unwelcoming black iron fence and placard marking the spot. The owner of Fotheringhay removed the furnishings in 1628. The locals began utilizing the falling castle for building materials in the area. All that is a grassy mound of dirt and a few scattered stones dotting the landscape.

The history of this long lost castle begins around 1100 with William the Conqueror. According to the Domesday Book commissioned by William to record all of the holdings in the realm, the lands were given to his niece Judith of Lens.

Later this historic land was bestowed to Maud, Judith's daughter. Maud's marriage to Simon I de Senlis (or Sinliz), the 1st Earl of Northampton and 2nd Earl of Huntingdon resulted in Simon receiving those titles via jure uxoris ("by right of his wife"). Maud held the property via suo jure ("by her own right") as she was a child of Judith of Lens and Earl Waltheof. The tradition of jure uxoris was maintained for centuries until the passing of the Married Women's Property Act of 1882. The 1882 act allowed women to own property and have a say about the sale, rents, and profits for the property they brought into a marriage.

The marriage of Maud and Simon resulted in three children. Notably, the couple founded the Priory of St. Andrew's Northampton between the years of 1093-1100. Simon, I de Senlis spent a great deal of his time on battlefields and in the Kings of England's courts. In 1098 he was captured and later ransomed during the Vexin campaign led by King William Rufus. He witnessed various royal charters, most notably King Henry I's Charter of Liberties. The Charter of Liberties promulgated by King Henry I in 1100 at his coronation. This landmark legislation was the forerunner of the Magna Carta. Simon I de Senlis later followed King Henry I to France and died at La Charite-sur-Loire located in the Bourgogne-French-Comte region of eastern France.

During the Christmas season of 1113, Maud remarried. She married a nobleman nicknamed "The Saint". This nobleman was later crowned David I, King of Scots, in 1124. Maud, 2nd Countess of Huntingdon, the Queen of Scots, died around 1130/31. After her death, the castle was passed down to Scottish princes until 1215, when David, 8th Earl of Huntingdon, rebelled against King John of England. King John confiscated the castle once the rebellion was quelled. He bestowed the fortress to William Marshal, 2nd Earl of Pembroke.

William Marshal later gifted the castle to King Henry III in 1219. The castle was used as part of the dowry of Princess Joan, sister of King Henry III, for her marriage to Alexander II, King of Scots. 1221 found the castle in possession of Hubert de Burgh, the 1st Earl of Kent. The castle changed hands again in the rebellion against King Henry III being captured by William de Forz, 3rd Earl of Albermarle. Fotheringhay Castle was regained a short time later. King Edward III then granted the castle to John of Brittany, Earl of Richmond.

John's granddaughter, Mary St. Pol, was another property owner for this tragic castle as part of her inheritance. This innovative woman founded Pembroke College. Pembroke College is the oldest college in the world that exists on its original site and still maintains its original unbroken constitution. After her death, the castle was given to Edmund Langley, one of the surviving sons of King Edward III. Under Edmund Langley, the castle was renovated and expanded. In 1385, Edmund was given the title of the Duke of York. The castle then became the seat of power for the York family.

The York holding was the birthplace of King Richard III on 2 October 1452. King Richard III was the son of Richard, the 3rd Duke of York, and his wife, Cecily Neville. King Richard III lived his first six years of life at the castle. When King Richard III died at the Battle of Bosworth of 1495, the castle was allowed to decay.

Under the reign of Henry VIII, the castle was once again looked after and maintained. HenryVIII gifted the castle to Catherine of Aragon, his first wife. She spent a small fortune on the castle to renovate the decaying building. Sadly, the castle became the traditional present for each of Henry VIII's wives. All of the eight wives were given the castle upon their marriage to Henry VIII. During this period, the property served as a prison as well. Its location in a marshy landscape made it difficult to access in the winter. These traits made this castle the ideal holding place for Mary, Queen of Scots, during her trial and imprisonment for treason in 1585. Queen Elizabeth I was fearful that the Scots or French would attempt to save her. She needed an easy to guard and difficult to access fortress to hold Mary. This castle met the criteria, thereby giving it the honor of being part of the dark history of cryptology.

Fotheringhay Castle. (2020, July 11). Retrieved July 25, 2020, from

Fotheringhay Church, Northamptonshire - Britain Express. Accessed 25 July 2020.

Fotheringhay Castle: The Final Dark Act of a Scottish Tragedy | The ... Accessed 25 July 2020.

Fotheringhay Castle | Midlands | Castles, Forts and Battles. Accessed 25 July 2020.

Petrovski, Nikola. Fotheringhay Castle: Where Richard III Was Born and Mary, Queen of Scots Was Beheaded. Accessed 25 July 2020.

Fotheringhay Castle King Richard III Mary, Queen of Scots Talbot ... Accessed 25 July 2020.

Dominic Mancini – The History of England. Accessed 25 July 2020.

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