You can see Brough Castle as you travel into Cumbria through Westmorland along the A685. For years it was a key landmark meaning we ‘were nearly there.” Having said that it was many years before I discovered that the name of the little river that runs past Brough is Swindale Beck – and no that’s the moat in the first photograph rather than the beck.
The river runs alongside the flat open space that is very obviously Roman. In fact Brough used to be the Roman fort of Verterae. Unsurprising then that William Rufus chose the site for his own fortifications.
From there the tale of Brough Castle is very similar to many others in the region with the perennial seesawing between the English and the Scots. It was a handy stopping off point as well for English monarchs on their way north to administer justice in Carlisle or to do a spot of Scot-bothering. Edward I and Edward II both stayed in Brough; though clearly the Scot-bothering skills of father and son were markedly different. The village of Brough was burned by the Scots in the aftermath of Bannockburn in 1314.
In terms of ownership, the Castle left royal hands in 1204 when King John granted it to Robert de Vipont along with Appleby Castle and shortly after that gave Robert the title Lord of Westmorland – with the right to be held in perpetuity by his heirs which was of key importance to Lady Anne Clifford’s claim to her estates. Robert’s son was a minor when he died so for a while the castle was held by Hubert de Burgh. De Vipont’s grandson, also named Robert died at the Battle of Lewes in 1264 fighting alongside Simon de Montfort against the Crown which was fine until the following year when the monarchy headed up by Henry III (King John’s son) won the Battle of Evesham and demonstrated how underwhelmed he was by people demanding parliaments by seizing Robert de Vipont’s estates even though he was already dead.
Leaving aside legal wrangles, reforms and negotiations the estates and title were ultimately returned by the Crown to Robert’s two daughters who were co-heiresses. Their names were Isabella and Idonea. Isabella was the younger. Her husband was Roger de Clifford. Idonea was about nine when her father died and she went on to have two husbands but spent most of her life in Yorkshire. Her son pre-deceased her so when she died and was buried in Roche Abbey her entitlement to the lands and estates of Westmorland reverted to her sister and the de Clifford family.
The Clifford family spent time and money making Brough more secure. They built a tower and a hall block.
The Wars of the Roses saw the Ninth Lord Clifford die at Dintingdale the day before the Battle of Towton, Easter 1461, with an arrow in his throat and the flight of his young son and heir into obscurity. During this time the Clifford properties were held by Richard Neville, the Earl of Warwick. Once Henry Tudor defeated Richard III the Tenth Lord Clifford came out of hiding and the Cliffords regained their estates.
Then in 1521 there was a very merry Christmas party – so merry in fact that Brough Castle caught fire and was ruined. I suppose it makes a change from the Scots burning places down for the owners to do it themselves.
Brough was only restored in 1659 when Lady Anne Clifford came into the inheritance she’d been fighting for most of her life. She rebuilt Clifford’s Tower – only for it to burn down again in 1666 which must have been rather irritating for Lady Anne who didn’t die until ten years later. After that and because Lady Anne’s descendants weren’t as keen on old castles as she was it swiftly returned to being a ruin having been used as a sort of quarry to repair Appleby and Brough Mill at various times.
Brough remained in the hands of Lady Anne Clifford’s descendants until 1923. Lord Hothfield handed it over to the Ministry of Works who placed helpful signs on the building:
Salter, Mike. (2002) The Castles and Tower Houses of Cumbria. Malvern: Folly Publications