Knaresborough is mentioned in the Domesday Book as Chenaresburg, meaning 'Cenheard's fortress'. Knaresborough Castle dates from Norman times. Around 1100, the town began to grow and provide a market and attract traders to service the castle. The present parish church, St John's, was established around this time. The earliest name for a Lord of Knaresborough is from around 1115 when Serlo de Burgh held the 'Honour of Knaresborough' from the King.
The town was granted a Royal Charter to hold a market in 1310, by Edward II. A market is still held every Wednesday in the market square.
During Edward II's reign, the castle was occupied by rebels and the curtain walls were breached by a siege engine. Later, Scots invaders burned much of the town and the parish church.
In 1328, as part of the marriage settlement, Queen Philippa was granted "the Castle, Town, Forest and Honour of Knaresborough" by Edward III and the parish church was restored. After her death in 1369, the Honour was granted by Edward to their younger son, John of Gaunt, the Duke of Lancaster and since then the castle has belonged to the Duchy of Lancaster. After the accession of Henry IV the castle lost much of its importance in national affairs, but remained a key site in regional administration for another century.
During the Civil War, following the Battle of Marston Moor in 1644, the castle was besieged by Parliamentary forces. The castle eventually fell and in 1646 an order was made by Parliament for its destruction (but not carried out till 1648). The destruction was mainly done by citizens looting the stone. Many town centre buildings are built of 'castle stone'.
Knaresborough House on the High Street houses Knaresborough Town Council.
The town was used in the opening election sequence in the first episode of the ITV comedy series The New Statesman and some exterior shots for the series were filmed around Knaresborough.
Sights in the town include the remains of Knaresborough Castle, Mother Shipton's Cave, the House in the Rock, and St Roberts Cave (dating from the Middle Ages).
St Robert, a 12th-century hermit whose cave can be found near the River Nidd.
Ursula Southeil, known as Mother Shipton, was a medieval seer said to have been born in a cave south of the town.
John Metcalf, known as "Blind Jack", lost his sight in childhood and was a violin player, local guide, bridgebuilder and roadmaker. A public house in the market square bears his name.
Robert Aagaard, a Knaresborough manufacturer, founded the youth movement Cathedral Camps.
Eugene Aram, the 18th century scholar and murderer lived here.
Squadron Leader James Harry "Ginger" Lacey DFM & Bar, Second World War RAF fighter pilot, attended school in Knaresborough.