The remains of a major medieval northern fortress set in a scenic and undeveloped coastal environment (surrounding land is owned by the National Trust). The towers and walls are in ruins but its defendable position atop of the cliffs is clear.
Gatehouse. Situated on a rocky premonitory, Dunstanburgh Castle was protected by strong natural defences. On the landward approach the castle was protected by elaborate defences with the formidable Gatehouse as the centrepiece.
1. The four castles at Alnwick, Bamburgh, Dunstanburgh and Warkworth were key to the control of the Eastern March. During the Wars of the Roses these castles were also critical to the Lancastrian cause as they allowed reinforcements and/or support to arrive from Scotland and provide a safe enclave for forces to land from the continent.
2. John of Gaunt significantly upgraded Dunstanburgh in part due to the events of the Peasants Revolt. John had been one of the key magnates in the Government of Richard II and feared he would become the target of the rebels. Initially in Berwick, he marched south but was denied shelter in Alnwick Castle by the Earl of Northumberland. This prompted John to ensure he converted Dunstanburgh into his own great fortress in the north.
Notes: Located in a beautiful and undeveloped section of coastline with no vehicular access, visitors are directed to a pay-and-display car park in the village of Craster with a (scenic) 1 mile walk to the castle.
Car Park (Crastor)
A mighty fortress built by one of England’s key magnates following his opposition to King Edward II, Dunstanburgh Castle was later extensively upgraded by John of Gaunt. Besieged multiple times during the Wars of the Roses it was allowed to fall into ruin until the site was re-fortified in the early years of WWII.
HISTORY OF DUNSTANBURGH CASTLE
Around the third century BC, an Iron Age Promontory Fort was established on the land currently occupied by the medieval castle. Pottery finds suggest it continued in use after the Roman Conquest and, certainly by the Medieval period, the land was under arable cultivation. The naturally strong defences, with the north side defended by high cliffs, made it an obvious choice for a castle and it was here in 1313 that Thomas, Earl of Lancaster - grandson of Edward I and cousin to Edward II - built the great fortification seem today.
Unusually for a fortification so near the Scottish border, Dunstanburgh Castle was not built as a response to the threat from the north but due to Thomas' political activities in England. In April 1312 he, along with the Earls of Warwick and Hereford, took action against Edward II's unpopular favourite, Piers Gaveston. Forcing Gaveston’s surrender at Scarborough Castle, he was initially offered safe conduct but on the journey south was intercepted and arrested by the Earl of Warwick. Tried and executed by the three Earls, Thomas built Dunstanburgh Castle as a refuge against the King's anger. Although formally pardoned for this Thomas rebelled against Edward II again in 1322, this time in opposition to his new favourite Hugh Despenser. He was defeated and captured at Boroughbridge in North Yorkshire whilst attempting to seek a safe haven at Dunstanburgh. He was taken to his own Pontefract Castle where he was tried and executed.
Taken briefly into the hands of the Crown and incorporated into the duchy of Lancaster, the castle came into the possession of John of Gaunt. The third son of Edward III, he was appointed as Lieutenant of the Scottish March; a position that placed him in charge of border security. This role, coupled with his experiences during the Peasants revolt where he had been denied a safe haven in Alnwick Castle, led him to significantly upgrade Dunstanburgh Castle into his own fortress in the north.
During the Wars of the Roses, Dunstanburgh Castle was held for Henry VI and the Lancastrian cause. Even after Henry's defeat at the Battle of Towton (1461), the castle held out as it was key to controlling the Eastern March thus enabling reinforcements from Scotland as well as providing a safe enclave for forces to land from the continent. By September 1461 the castle was compelled to surrender although it changed hands several times before finally falling to the Yorkists permanently in June 1464. Thereafter the castle was allowed to drift into ruin.
The site was re-fortified during World War II. Following the defeat in Norway in April 1940, the North East coast was seen as particularly vulnerable to invasion. Embleton beach, directly to the north of Dunstanburgh, would have allowed easy access for a mechanised army advancing from the sea. To defend against this threat a number of pill-boxes were built, including directly adjacent to the castle, to house machine gun nests. A variety of anti-tank and anti-personnel measures were also installed on the beach.