Notes: The castle stands tall over the village of the same name and can be easily found. The castle has its own car park and there is a (free) Council owned Long Stay directly opposite.
WHAT IS THERE TO SEE?
Although Bamburgh looks the ‘perfect medieval castle’, much of what is visible dates from the nineteenth century. Nevertheless some elements are older and the impressive siting of the castle offers superb coastal views. Lindisfarne Castle can be seen on a clear day as can the Peel Tower on the Farne Islands.
1. Robert de Mowbray, Earl of Northumbria rebelled against William II in 1096. He was quickly captured but his wife refused to surrender Bamburgh Castle. The King however compelled her by threatening to blind and castrate Robert. Following her surrender Robert was imprisoned for life and dispossessed.
2. When besieged and taken by Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick in 1464, Bamburgh Castle became the first fortification in Britain to fall to cannon fire.
A border fortress of both Anglo-Saxon Kings and the Normans, the site of Bamburgh Castle has been occupied for thousands of years. Following the rebellion of Robert de Mowbray, Earl of Northumbria the castle was taken into Royal ownership and remained an important stronghold until the Union of the Crowns in 1603.
HISTORY OF BAMBURGH CASTLE
Situated on an outcrop of basalt rock, the site of Bamburgh Castle has been occupied since pre-historic times. At the time of the Roman invasion it was occupied by the Votadini tribe but there is little evidence of Roman military presence on the site. However, perhaps later in the Roman era, a beacon was established and it is possible Bamburgh acted as part of the warning system associated with the Saxon Shore defences (Scarborough Castle hosted a similar function further down the coast). Archaeology also suggests a fortified area was built around the late fifth/early sixth century and this is supported by the first reference to a stronghold on the site; in AD 547 it was captured by the Anglo-Saxon King Ida. Thereafter it became a centre of regional power and hosted numerous monarchs including King Oswald who converted the area to Christianity (and led to the foundation of the monastery at Lindisfarne). The castle was sacked by the Vikings in AD 993 and totally destroyed.
William I established a Norman castle at the site in 1070 and his son, William II (Rufus) later granted this and the surrounding area to Robert de Mowbray, Earl of Northumbria. Robert used the castle as a base to secure the north against Scottish incursions; in 1093 he rode from here to the first Battle of Alnwick where he mounted a surprise attack on Malcolm III and killed the Scottish King. But in 1096 Robert rebelled against William II who promptly besieged the castle (building his own siege work - the 'Malvoisin' - earthworks of which remain visible). Even after his capture Bamburgh Castle held out though - led by Robert's wife she mounted a spirited defence until she was compelled to surrender when the King threatened to mutilate her husband. The castle was then retained in Royal ownership with a Great Keep being raised circa-1120 at the cost of £4.
During the Wars of the Roses, Bamburgh was one of four castles that were key to the Lancastrian cause. Along with Alnwick, Dunstanburgh and Warkworth it enabled control of the Eastern March with the associated benefits of a secure landing place for foreign mercenaries as well as support from Scotland. For this reason it was besieged in 1464 and, despite holding out for nine months, ultimately had to surrender.
After the Union of the Crowns in 1603, Bamburgh's function as a border fortress ceased and it was granted to the Forster family. It remained with them for a hundred years until bankruptcy forced a sale; purchased in 1704 by Lord Crewe, Bishop of Durham it was stripped of materials. The remaining shell was allowed to deteriorate into a ruinous state but it continued in a variety of uses including as a hospital, school and later hospice for shipwrecked sailors. In the late nineteenth century it was purchased by a wealth industrialist, Sir William Armstong, who 'restored' and remodelled the remains between 1894 and 1905 into the Victorian ideal of a medieval castle.