CHILLINGHAM CASTLE, NE66 5NG
Postcode: NE66 5NG
Lat/Long: 55.526089N 1.904979W
Notes: The castle is found off an Unnamed Road running south from Chatton off the B6348. It is a major tourist attraction and is well sign-posted. There is a dedicated car park to the right once you’ve entered the grounds.
WHAT IS THERE TO SEE?
A fourteenth century castle built as a border fortress but later extensively modified into a comfortable residence. The castle boasts an impressive garden designed by Sir Jeffrey Wyatville in the nineteenth century.
Defensive Wall. Part of the original defensive wall is visible in front of the castle.
Originally a fortified manor, Chillingham Castle was transformed into a significant border stronghold in the mid-fourteenth century. It was attacked by the Scots in 1513 and by English rebels in 1536 but was later transformed into a lavish Tudor residence.
HISTORY OF CHILLINGHAM CASTLE
The first castle at Chillingham was built in the twelfth century on the site of a former monastery. Consisting of a tower and curtain wall, this structure was little more than a fortified manor house. Built by the Grey family, descendants of the Croys (kinsmen of William the Conqueror), they had taken over the manor to augment their wider holdings in the region at Heton, Horton and Wark. Of particular interest at Chillingham was a large herd of wild cattle which was seen as a ready use food source. These animals, originally enclosed by the Romans who had used them for pagan sacrifices, were prized in the volatile border region as an 'unstealable' resource - their fierce nature precluding cattle rustling.
In 1297, following the rebellion of John Balliol and the start of the first War of Scottish Independence, Chillingham was attacked by Sir William Wallace. Earlier that year he had defeated the English at the Battle of Stirling Bridge, been appointed 'Guardian of Scotland' and had overrun the country. He raided over the border and Chillingham town was badly damaged although the castle survived. The following year the castle hosted Edward I as he rode north to deal with the rebellion ultimately defeating Wallace at the Battle of Falkirk (1298).
Edward III granted Sir Thomas de Heaton a licence to crenellate Chillingham in 1344. He made substantial upgrades to the structure significantly improving its defences. The curtain wall was enhanced to make a quadrangular enclosure with the existing tower guarding one corner whilst a further three were added on each of the others. A moat surrounded the entire structure. The new fortress proved timely for in 1345 David II led a large Scottish army into Northumberland. His invasion came to an abrupt end with his capture at the Battle of Neville's Cross (1345) but there followed a period of 250 years where the entire region became a lawless area dominated by border reivers. Chillingham, along with the other substantive castles in Northumberland, acted as secure bases from which the Marcher Lords attempted to control this troublesome region.
Chillingham Castle was badly damaged in 1513 when it was attacked by an invading Scottish army under James IV acting in support of Louis XII of France who was under increasing pressure from Henry VIII's military campaigns on the continent. With an army perhaps as large as 60,000 men strong, supported by extensive artillery, he quickly reduced the key border strongholds at Norham and Wark. By contrast to those fortifications, Chillingham was a much weaker structure that was never intended to withstand an assault by such a force. Unsurprisingly, after a short bombardment, the castle’s garrison surrendered. But Scottish control did not last long; Thomas Howard, Earl of Surrey mustered a northern army at Alnwick Castle and decisively defeated the Scots - and killed King James IV - at the Battle of Flodden (1513). The Greys, who fought alongside Surrey at Flodden, were soon back in control of Chillingham.
The castle saw an attack of a different kind in 1536 during the Pilgrimage of Grace, a rebellion against Henry VIII's reforms to the English church. The castle withstood the attack albeit with some damage prompting rebuilding work in the subsequent years.
Following the death of Elizabeth I in 1603, James VI of Scotland ascended to the English throne as James I. This led to an end of the regular border warfare between the two nations and the military requirement for Chillingham Castle ceased. Throughout the next 250 years the castle was slowly converted into a comfortable residence with its defensive features reduced or removed. The moat was filled in during the mid-seventeenth century and large windows added to the corner towers. The improvements to the castle were lavish enough to secure Royal visits - James I and Charles I both stayed at Chillingham.
In 1695 Sir William Grey was created Earl of Tankerville but he died 6 years later without leaving a male heir. The castle and title passed to Charles Bennet, through his marriage with Lady Mary Grey, whose family would hold the lands until the twentieth century. They continued the transformation of the castle employing Capability Brown to landscape the grounds in 1752 and later Sir Jeffrey Wyatville, who had been responsible for work at Windsor Castle, to create the impressive gardens in 1828. Chillingham Castle was sold to Sir Humphry Wakefield, a descendant of the original Grey family, in 1982.