Alnwick Castle

Alnwick CastleAlnwick, like most of the great castles, has had a succession of owners  beginning with Ivo de Vesci who married the granddaughter of Gilbert Tyson, a Saxon killed at Hastings in 1066. The zigzag moulding on the arch in the arch that leads to the inner courtyard reminds visitors that Alnwick has been a fortification for the better part of a thousand years.  The barony of Alnwick and its castle continued in the de Vesci hands until the fourteenth century with intermittent lapses into the hands of David of Scotland and William the Lion although it should be noted that during the reign of Henry I Eustace FizJohn was the castle’s owner.  He married the de Vesci heiress of the period and their son William assumed his mother’s name.

IMG_0237Ivo built a motte and bailey castle from timber – by which we can suppose some hapless Saxons found themselves moving soil and digging ditches. There were two baileys – one to the east and one to the west.  Over the years fortifications were added to the central shell keep and to de Vesci’s two baileys. By 1135 it was one of the strongest castles in Northumberland. In actual fact when William the Lion besieged the castle in 1172 he was unable to capture the castle from William de Vesci. In 1174 the Lion had another go at it and was captured by the English.  Part of the reason why William spent so much time hammering on Alnwick’s doors was that he had originally been the Earl of Northumberland but Henry II had removed it from him some twenty years earlier. Perhaps that was why William joined in the revolt by Henry II’s sons and his queen against Henry II in 1173.  William found himself bundled off to Newcastle and from there to Normandy.  William was forced to recognise Henry II as his feudal overlord and in so doing sewed the seeds of the Scottish Wars of Independence when Edward I insisted on the right to naming the Scottish king and to being the feudal overlord of Scotland.

The de Vescis who did not get on terribly well with King John.  It was only luck that the castle wasn’t razed in 1213.  William de Vesci died at the Battle of Bannockburn the following century without heirs so the king sold it to Anthony Bek, Bishop of Durham who sold it to Henry de Percy.  De Vesci did have an illegitimate son and was able to hand his Yorkshire lands to his natural son.

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The Percys did rather a lot of rebuilding based on the income from the Scottish wars; either loot or ransoms.  The two huge octagon towers that tower above the inner gateway were built sometime around 1350  and this phase of rebuilding included the rebuilding of the keep with seven U shaped towers.  The castle had been successively strengthened by all its owners but this was the time when the Percy family were most wealthy and the reality of having a bellicose neighbour meant that fortifications were a good investment.

IMG_0215The outer wall, around those two baileys encloses something like five acres of ground.  The wall contains several towers and turrets.  One of them houses a water tower and very sensibly it was here that the castle’s laundry was done.  There is also a rather fine well in the inner court yard near the entrance to the keep.  The Constable’s Tower is open to the public

IMG_0224The fortunes of the Percys declined with the Wars of the Roses and the accession of the Tudors.  Margaret of Anjou had garrisoned Alnwick with three hundred french troops in the aftermath of Town in a bid to retain a toehold on her husband’s kingdom. It was a Scot who rode to the garrison’s rescue on that particular occasion so that Margaret’s troops could make good their escape from the forces of the Earl of Warwick.

Put simply they were the over mighty subjects that a strong monarch needed to keep firmly in check. They continued to fulfil their role  on the borders however.  The Alnwick Muster Roll dating from 1513 identifies the men who fought under the Percy colours at Flodden and survived the encounter with the Scots.  When not at war with Scotland there was intermittent raiding.  In 1528, for example fourteen Scottish reivers were hanged in Alnwick.  However, not even their hereditary role of warden was secure any longer nor were the earls necessarily cut out for border warfare.

The Percy family were not as wealthy as they had once been and in 1567 when George Clarkson was commissioned to assess the castle it was deemed unfit for purpose.  Perhaps lack of cash was something that the earl should have considered before conspiring with the Earl of Cumberland and Leonard Dacre to raise the north in rebellion against Elizabeth I.

In 1569 matters came to a head with the Earl of Northumberland revolted along with the Earl of Cumberland in a bid to return England to Catholicism.  The people of Alnwick were caught up in the rebellion.  Although numbers of rebels dwindled rapidly after the initial success of capturing Durham and celebrating the Mass there before marching into Percy’s Yorkshire estates Alnwick Castle did prepare to withstand the Queen’s forces.  Hartlepool was also captured by the rebels with the intention of providing a safe harbour for the Duke of Alva to land Spanish troops. The Spanish Ambassador it should be noted had already told the conspirators that they had not chance of succeeding in their venture.

The arrival of Sir John Forrester  (or Forster depending on the source) the Warden of the English Middle March on the East side of the country was sufficient for earl’s tenants to hand over the castle and hurry to their own homes.  Forrester also blocked the passes so that men who might have joined the rebels could not join with the earls whose thoughts swiftly turned to flight.

There was much rebuilding during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries to transform the medieval fortress into a stately home. It was in the 1750s that it became the main residence for the Duke of Northumberland who commissioned Robert Adam to make the castle more habitable not to mention fashionable.   In the Nineteenth Century Salvin was appointed to create more modifications – the fourth duke liked his castle with a romantic tinge.  It remains the second largest inhabited castle in England and reflects a gothic Italian styles admired by the family at that time.

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Castles, pele towers and bastle houses on the borders.

castleCastle building began with the Normans –  motte and bailey affairs – or in straight forward terms a huge pile of earth topped off with a wooden crown of  wall and keep.  The aim was to dominate the landscape and afford themselves protection (keeping their fingers firmly crossed that no one turned up with the equivalent of an early medieval box of matches).

The key to Cumberland is Carlisle Castle which was begun by William Rufus during the eleventh century.  It’s history reflects the political upheavals of the medieval period as well as the fact that the border between England and Scotland was sometimes apt to shift quite dramatically!

In 1122 Henry I ordered that it should be strengthened with stone.  By the time of his death it was still unfinished and making the most of the civil war between Stephen and Matilda, King David of Scotland moved into Carlisle and finished the building.  He died in Carlisle Castle in 1135.  Carlisle was regained by the English.

Henry II commanded that there should be further strengthening which was just as well because William the Lion of Scotland  attacked Carlisle twice with a large force in an attempt to regain the territory that his brother had lost.

King John stayed in the castle on several different occasions reflecting the fact that having lost his continental possessions he was the first Plantagenet king who really turned his attention to the north and the northern English barons – it wasn’t a happy relationship leading as it did to rebellion and for a time Carlisle ending up in the hands of the Scottish again – the town made no resistance to Alexander III but the castle garrison did.  It fell to the Scottish because miners sapped the south curtain wall.  The Scots also bombarded it with missiles but when John died in 1216 the Scots withdrew.  The fact that the roof of the castle needed repair by the mid thirteenth century demonstrates that the borders did undergo a period of peace.

That all changed with the death of Alexander III.  Edward I visited Carlisle many times, eventually dying at Burgh-By-Sands on his way to yet another campaign against the Scots.  The next two hundred and fifty years were pretty turbulent if you happened to live on the border and this is reflected once again in the Castle’s history.

July 1315 – Robert Bruce besieges Carlisle but it is ably defended by Sir Andrew Harclay who tried to establish peace but got himself hung, drawn and quartered for his efforts.

It was during this period of increased militarization that Hexham Goal was built and also Thirlwall Castle which used dressed stone from a rather large nearby wall… It is situated near the Tyne-Irthing Gap a way used by Scottish raiders so its strategic position is immediately obvious.  Some miles down the road, Aydon Castle turned from being a manor house into a fortified manor with its own barmkin wall.

In fact, those who could fortify their dwellings did so on both sides of the borders.   Peles or peel towers dot the border region and the Eden Valley.  They were not built to stop raiders they were built to keep families and their livestock safe during incursions.  They tend to be rectangular with a barrel-vaulted basement and two further stories above including a roof with a beacon to summon help.  The Vicar at Corbridge had his own pele tower and there’s one in the grounds of Carlisle Cathedral.  In other locations churches included fortified protection for local villagers in their design creating a landscape of romantic looking ruins today but which reflect the difficulties of living on the border until the two kingdoms came under the rule of one monarch.

Bastle Houses are very similar to peels but built on a smaller scale – they tended to be owned by better off tenant farmers. Most of them were built in the Sixteenth Century and lie within 15 miles of the border.

Carlisle Castle and medieval Scots

david_malcolm151aIn 1092 William Rufus (William II) established a motte and bailey fortress in Carlisle.  The castle was strengthened with stone during the reign of Henry I but fell into Scottish hands during the reign of King Stephen.  He was somewhat occupied in a nineteen year-long civil war with his cousin the Empress Matilda, the daughter of Henry I and heir nominated by him.  These years were the years of the nineteen long winters.

King David I of Scotland came into the war on his niece’s side- he knighted Matilda’s son, the future Henry II in Carlisle.  The Scots strengthened the city’s defences as well as those of the castle.  He died in Carlisle Castle in 1153 and was succeeded by his grandson, Malcolm (known as Malcolm the Maiden), who lacked the strength to hold the Cumbrian and Northumbrian lands that he grandfather had maintained.

Scottish claims to the castle didn’t die with David though even though they signed the Treaty of York in 1237 giving up their claims to Cumberland and Northumberland.

1174 William the Lion crossed into England with up to 80,000 men and besieged the castle for three months.  Thanks to his grandfather’s building work, the castle remained in English hands.

1216 King Alexander II of Scotland took Carlisle from King John who was having problems with his barons at the time.  Upon the accession of Henry III, Alexander gave the castle back once he had been suitably compensated.  Carlisle castle has remained in English hands there after with one or two slight hiccoughs.

In 1596 Kinmont Willie Armstrong, a notorious border reiver, was rescued by the Bold Buccleuch much to Queen Elizabeth I’s irritation.

 

Following the fall of Carlisle in 1645 after a year-long siege during the English Civil War the city and castle were occupied by a Parliamentarian force  led by General Leslie and his Scots.There was also a brief occupation in 1745 by Bonnie Prince Charlie.