Pendragon Castle sits on the east bank of the River Eden off the B6259 in the Mallerstang Valley on the way from Yorkshire into Kirkby Stephen. It’s a square, squat ruin of a tower that was once three storeys tall in a beautiful landscape. It stands on a platform of earth and its walls, what remain of them, are over four meters thick.
The chap best known for owning Pendragon Castle is Hugh de Morville and he probably occupied it after Henry II’s campaign in Scotland. The name de Morville might ring bells. In addition to being Lord of Westmorland he’s also one of the four knights who helpfully murdered Thomas Becket in Canterbury Cathedral in 1170 after listening to Henry II ranting about troublesome priests. Instead of the expected reward de Morville found himself kicked out of his properties with a flea in his ear. Ultimately the castle passed through a couple of families beginning with the de Viponts who were de Morville relations before ending up in Clifford hands through the inheritance of Idonea de Vipont.
We know that Robert de Clifford was given permission to crenellate Pendragon Castle in 1309 but he didn’t have long to enjoy it because he got himself killed at Bannockburn in June 1314. The reign of Edward II was not a comfortable one for the English. In addition to the Scots gaining the upper hand in the Scottish Wars of Independence there was also the small matter of several rebellions against Edward II in England. Robert’s son Roger was executed after the Battle of Boroughbridge. (Click on the image in this paragraph to open a new window for my post on the Battle of Boroughbridge) Ultimately it came back into the Clifford possessions but turned to a pile of rubble after an unfortunate accident with a band of Scots and a blazing torch in 1341.
It was 1660 when Lady Anne Clifford turned her attention to rebuilding Pendragon castle “at great cost and charges.” She noted in her diary that she stayed in Pendragon for three nights on 14 october 1661. She went on to renovate Mallerstang Chapel as well as ensuring that Pendragon had all the amenities including a brewhouse and a wash house. Spence records that the hearth returns reveal that there were twelve fire places in Pendragon and that Lady Anne Clifford wrote her will whilst she stayed there.
After Lady Anne Clifford’s time it returned to ruin and even in the seventeenth century during her time it had acquired the tradition of belonging to Uther Pendragon – in one version he died there when the Saxons took the castle. But just so we’re quite clear the ruins on display today were definitely built in the twelfth century as Mallerstang Castle although Westwood and Simpson observe that the de Cliffords might have renamed it during the reign of Edward I when there was a fashion of all things Arthurian.
Cope, Jean (1991) Castles in Cumbria. Milnthorpe: Cicerone Press
Salter, Mike. (2002) The Castles and Tower Houses of Cumbria. Malvern: Folly Publications
Spence, Richard T, (1997) Lady Anne Clifford. Stroud: Sutton Publishing
Westwood and Simpson. (2005) The Lore of the Land: A Guide to England’s Legends. London: Penguin