The house of Neville held the manor of Raby from the 13th century, and although the family had no formal title from 1295 they were summoned to Parliament as Barons of Raby;
Ralph Neville, 1st Baron Neville de Raby, was the first to be summoned to Parliament. His heir, John Neville (1299/1300–1335), became a member of Thomas, 2nd Earl of Lancaster's household, beginning the family's link with the Earls of Lancaster. Raby was the family's caput, their seat of power, and there may have been a fortified house on the site of the present building from around 1300. In the second half of the 14th century the Nevilles began rebuilding several of their properties in northern England, including Raby Castle between roughly 1367 and 1390. In the closing years of the century the Nevilles were becoming one of the most powerful families in northern England, comparable to the House of Percy, who had been made Earls of Northumberland in 1377.
In 1378 Thomas HatfieldBishop of Durham granted John de Neville a licence to fortify his property at Raby. John died in 1388 and was succeeded by his son, Ralph. Almost nothing of the family's papers survive from this period so there is little documentary evidence of Raby Castle's construction. The dating is based mostly on architectural details. In the words of historian Anthony Emery, the work "converted it from a defendable house into a palace-fortress".
Ralph was created Earl of Westmorland on 29 September 1397 by Richard II as a reward for his loyalty in the face of political unrest. However his family's traditional association with the Earls of Lancaster meant that when Henry Bolinbroke of the House of Lancaster invaded in July 1399 Neville sided with Bolingbroke. Neville helped persuade Richard II to abdicate and Henry was crowned as Henry IV. Neville was made Earl Marshal of England on the day of Henry's coronation and a Knight of the Order of the Garter in 1403.
A painting by J.M.W. Turner of Raby Castle and its landscape in the early 19th century. The Walters Art Museum.
After the Rising of the North the castle became the property of the Crown for more than forty-three years before being bought by Henry Vane the Elder. He was impressed by the size and lands, contrasting with Barnard Castle, which was hemmed in by the surrounding town. The House of Vane was responsible for much of the modernising of the castle, especially the interior. This included renovation of the medieval chapel and drawing room.
The family drove a carriageway though the castle, causing much damage to its medieval fabric. Architect William Burn carried out alterations to Raby Castle between 1843 and 1848, including adding new roofs to the great hall and the chapel and adding a drawing room to one of the towers in Jacobean style. The present family is responsible for the great collection of art in the castle.
Christopher Vane, 10th Baron Barnard divested himself of all but 1,713 acres (693 ha) of the 53,000-acre (21,000 ha) Raby estate. Raby Castle is open to the public every year between May and September and at Easter. In 2007/08 about 26,000 people visited the castle.
A panorama of the castle showing the towers and defences from the north east
A plan of the castle from J. D. Mackenzie's The Castles of England: their story and structure
Raby Castle has an irregular plan, with nine towers along its perimeter. The main entrance was in the west through the four-storey Neville Gateway. Access to the gatehouse was via a drawbridge, since replaced by a flagged causeway. The gatehouse originally contained three portcullises, as is shown by the still-visible grooves used to work them. Two smaller towers beside the gatehouse have no defensive function and were added during the renovations of Henry Vane, 2nd Earl of Darlington.
Access to the gatehouse is via a door through the curtain wall, which rose to a height of thirty feet from the waters of the moat. It is strengthened periodically by buttress towers and formed the second line of defence, the moat being the first. The passage along the parapet was the ancient chemin de ronde (allure) on which guards were posted. Similar passages can be found at York Castle and around the city of Oxford. The castle buildings surround a central courtyard. Forming its east side is the great hall, also known as the Baron's Hall. The interiors of the medieval kitchen and keep are mostly intact.
There are some fine paintings in the library, including two architectural capriccios, one by Marco and Sebastiano Ricci and the other by Antonio Joli. A number of portraits include two paintings by Sir Peter Lely of Lady Mary Sackville and Louise de Kerouaille, a portrait of William Bankes by Pompeo Batoni and others of the family, including Sir Henry Vane the Elder and Sir Henry Vane the Younger, the latter at one time Governor of Massachusetts.
The pictures in the ante-library are chiefly of the Dutch and Flemish schools of painting and include works by Pieter de Hooch and David Teniers the Younger. The dining room contains some of the Castle's most impressive paintings, including works by Sir Joshua Reynolds and Sir Anthony van Dyck. The paintings in this room are mostly portraits of members of the family or associates.
^ abcHodgson, J.F. (1880 to 1895). English Medieval Architects; J.F. Hodgson, 'Raby in Three Chapters'. Durham, UK: Transactions of the Architectural and Archaeological Society of Durham and Northumberland. pp. Vols II and IV 1 et seq.Check date values in: |date= (help)
^ abcHammond, Peter W. (1998). The Complete Peerage or a History of the House of Lords and All Its Members from the Earliest Times, Vol. XIV. UK: Sutton Publishing. pp. 30–32. ISBN978-0-7509-0154-3.
^ abcdScott, Owen Stanley (1906). Raby: Its Castle and Its Lords. Barnard Castle (UK): A & E Ward, Printers. pp. 1, et seq.
^ abcEmery, Anthony (1996). Greater Medieval Houses of England and Wales, 1300–1500, Volume I: Northern England. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. p. 123. ISBN978-0-521-49723-7.
^ abSurtees, Robert (1820). The History and Antiquities of the County Palatine of Durham: volume 2 – Describes the 21 parishes and chapelries of Chester ward in the north of the county, including Gateshead, Jarrow and other parts of present-day urban Tyneside. London, UK: Institute of Historical Research. p. 220.
^ abcdEnglish Heritage. "Raby Castle". The Listed Building Register. English Heritage. Retrieved 20 December 2011.