TOPCLIFFE, a parish in the wapentake of Birdforth, a part in the liberty of St. Peter's; 4 miles SSW. of Thirsk. In the time of Leland, this was " a pretty uplandish town," and here stood one of the seats of the Percy family. It is now only a village, and the few vestiges of the baronial mansion that remain are called the " Maiden Bower." Here Henry, the fourth Earl of Northumberland, then lord lieutenant of the county. was, on St. Vitalis's day, in 1489, seized by the populace, and murdered, for enforcing a ten per cent tax, imposed in the time of Henry VII. by the advice of Empson and Dudley. Here Thomas Percy, the succeeding Earl, conspired against Queen Elizabeth, and was beheaded at York, on the 22d of August, 1572. In this house Charles I. was a prisoner; and here the £200,000. was paid by the Parliament to the Scotch, for quitting the country, and delivering up the King. The church, which bears evident marks of antiquity (see Churches for photograph), is a vicarage, in the patronage of the Dean and Chapter of York, and is dedicated to St. Colomb; the incumbent is the Rev. R. D. Waddilove, D. D. There is here also a Free Grammar school, founded and liberally endowed in 1549, of which Mr. William Bell is the master. Amongst the modern buildings, which are not very numerous, may be mentioned a Methodist chapel. The population amounts to 659.
Complete extract from Langdale's Yorkshire Topographical Dictionary:
Topcliffe formerly denominated the Jordan of England, because in the year 620, Agustin and Paul baptized in this river Swale 10,000 men in one day, besides women and children. This took place somewhere between Topcliffe and Helperby. Leland calls Topcliffe "a pretty uplandish town." it is most remarkable for having been, in the olden time, the chief residence of the Percies, Earls of Northumberland. Their house was situated about half a mile south of the town, the ruins of which are yet visible, and called " Maiden-bower." The following events appear to have taken place in this house and at Topcliffe. In 948, the states of Northumberland assembled here and took the oath of allegiance to King Edred, the west Saxon. In 1459, Henry, the 4th Earl of Northumberland, then Lord Lieutenant of the county, was murdered in his mansion here, by the populace, whose minds were inflamed, in consequence of a heavy tax being levied by the parliament. Thomas Percy, the succeeding Earl, in 1569, took up arms against Queen Elizabeth, and was nearly taken in this house; he was afterwards executed in 1572. In 1646, the Scotch army were quartered here and in the neighbourhood. Charles I. was a prisoner in this house, and a treaty was carried on for the sale of the King, between the Scots commissioners and a committee appointed by parliament, while he was kept a prisoner. It was agreed that the parliament should give £100,000 which should be paid at Topcliffe and the King delivered up, which was performed; thus, it would seem, as if this was the only market in England for the sale of Kings. --Hutton. The Church was granted in 1206, by one of the Percy family to the See of York.
[Description(s) edited mainly from various 19th century sources by Colin Hinson. ©2010]