The various religious upheavals of the first half of the sixteenth century, during the reigns of Henry VIII, Mary and Elizabeth, affected the people of Knaresborough who were generally loyal to the Catholic faith. They were conservative in their religion and slow to accept new ideas, especially if imposed from above by a distant monarch. In addition, most of the local landowners and lords were of the Catholic faith. After the unsuccessful Rising of the North in 1569 services were still being secretly held but the Protestant religion gradually became established. In 1580 a great effort was made to suppress recusancy (the refusal to conform) and an Act of Parliament the following year made this a crime punishable by a fine of £5 a week.
At this time the parish church became firmly established as the church of St John the Baptist, having previously sometimes been known as St. Mary’s (a more Catholic name)and the Parish Register was begun in 1561 with the recording of 41 baptisms, 12 marriages, and 21 burials in its first year. Thatched Manor Cottage at the bottom of Water Bag Bank (up which ponies carried bags of water from the river to the town) dates from this period. Effigies of the Slingsby family in the parish church are worthy of note and include the recumbent Francis Slingsby who died in 1600, cavalry officer to Henry VIII, with his wife lying on his right hand side as she was from a higher born status of the Percy family. Other notable tombs are those of Sir Henry Slingsby, executed under Cromwell in 1658, and Sir Charles Slingsby who drowned in 1869. The church also contains a fine late Jacobean font-cover.
Knaresborough Castle As restored in 1590 by order of Queen Elizabeth. Image from an old postcard kindly lent by Pat Wood.
During the civil war Knaresborough was a Royalist stronghold. The castle remained loyal to King Charles but was taken by Cromwell’s soldiers, after a short siege, on December 20th, 1644. A popular story tells (see e.g. The Knaresborough Story) how a Mrs Whincup successfully led a group of people to plead with the commander for the life of a boy found taking food to his besieged father. The castle suffered little damage at this time but in 1648 was a victim of an Act of Parliament ordering the demolition, or “slighting”, of several Royalist castles.
Sir Henry Slingsby, MP for Knaresborough, who had been expelled from the House of Commons for his Royalist tendencies in 1642, remained determined to restore the monarchy. He was arrested in 1654 and charged with high treason. Being found guilty, he was beheaded on Tower Hill on June 8th, 1658 and his headless body returned to Knaresborough for burial.
The early 17th century saw the establishment of King James’s School in the town, its charter being granted in 1616, beginning a long tradition in the town emphasising the importance of education. Originally this was an all-boys school, endowed with £20 per year by Rev. Dr. Robert Challoner, who was born in Goldsborough, and boys from Knaresborough and Goldsborough were to be admitted free, with fee-paying scholars admitted at the discretion of the governors. By 1820, however, there had been no free scholars for over twenty years. In 1971 it became a large mixed comprehensive school, still bearing the name of King James.
The Charity School was established at the bottom of the High Street by Thomas Richardson in 1765. It was to accommodate “thirty boys and girls of the township of Knaresborough, and for putting them out to apprenticeship”. Several Sunday Schools provided elementary education for all denominations.
It was in the latter half of the sixteenth century that Knaresborough’s reputation as a spa town began with its recommendation as a base for taking the newly discovered waters of Tewit Well. Many eminent travellers of the day, including Celia Fiennes (1697) and Daniel Defoe (1717) visited Knaresborough at a time when Harrogate was still only two small hamlets – Low and High Harrogate. Inns and hotels were being built in High Harrogate but the tradition at this time was to stay in Knaresborough and travel to the Harrogate area to take the waters.