Built on the site of a Roman Fort, Brough Castle commanded a key route around the Pennines and was attacked unsuccessfully by Scottish forces on numerous occasions. Confiscated from the Clifford family during the Wars of the Roses it was ultimately restored to them but latter suffered a catastrophic fire that rendered it uninhabitable.
The first fortification at Brough was a Roman fort called Verterae built to guard a key line of communication through the Pennines which connected Dere Street and the Brougham/Carlisle Road - the two major routes that ran north/south on both sides of northern England. The nearest neighbours to Roman Brough were Bowes (Lavatris) in the east and Kirby Thore (Bravoniacum) in the west. All three were probably established around AD 79-80 as General Cnaeus Julius Agricola completed the conquest of the north and built a network of forts to encircle the troublesome Pennine region. Configured in a standard Roman ‘playing card’ shape, its listing in the late fourth/early fifth century Notitia Dignitatum suggests it was occupied until late in the Roman era.
The first medieval castle, an earth and timber motte-and-bailey, was built within the ruins of the Roman fort in the late eleventh century by William II (Rufus) as he sought to wrestle control of Westmorland and Cumberland from Scotland. Successive Scottish monarchs sought to reclaim the territory and in 1174 King William the Lion attacked northern England. After leaving a force to besiege Carlisle Castle, he took Appleby Castle and moved onto attack Brough. A spirited defence was mounted but Scottish troops gained control of the outer defences forcing the garrison into the partially timber Keep; they were then compelled to surrender when the Scots set fire to the structure. William was later defeated and captured at the Second Battle of Alnwick.
The ruined castle was rebuilt in stone in the latter years of the twelfth century including constructing the Great Keep seen today. The layout of the re-built structures closely mirrored the original fortification. In 1203 the castle was granted by King John to Robert de Vieuxpont who had recently built Brougham Castle. He upgraded the defences further although by the mid-thirteenth century the castle was reported as being in a poor state of defence.
The castle passed through marriage to the Clifford family in 1268. They made numerous upgrades that ultimately served the area well; in the early fourteenth century, as the north of England suffered from Scottish incursions, the castle successfully sheltered the local populace from raids. Furthermore the defences were sufficient to repel a Scottish attack in 1388 during which both nearby Appleby and Brougham Castles fell.
During the Wars of the Roses the Clifford family sided with the Lancastrian cause. Thomas Clifford was killed in the first Battle of St Albans (1455) fighting for Henry VI. When that King was overthrown following the Battle of Towton (1460), the strategic locations of the former Clifford owned castles, including Brough, meant they were granted by the Yorkist Edward IV to one his key supporters, the Neville family. However the Cliffords re-established themselves in the north following the end of the Yorkist era after the death of Richard III at the Battle of Bosworth Field (1485). Their re-occupation of Brough Castle was brief though; in 1521 a major fire gutted the castle and destroyed many of the outbuildings. The castle was subsequently abandoned until 1659 when Lady Anne Clifford renovated the property and converted it into a suitable home. She owned four castles in Westmorland - Appleby, Brough, Brougham and Pendragon - and although Appleby was her primary residence she took an extensive interest in all four. However, after her death Brough was neglected with some of its stonework was removed to repair other structures with the castle allowed to drift into ruin.
Allen, R (1976). English Castles. Batsford, London.
Breeze, D.J (2002). Roman Forts in Britain. Shire Archaeology, Oxford.
Campbell, D.B (2009). Roman Auxiliary Forts 27BC-AD378. Osprey, Oxford.
Creighton, O.H (2002). Castles and Landscapes: Power, Community and Fortification in Medieval England. Equinox, Bristol.
Emery, A (1996). Greater Medieval Houses of England and Wales. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.
Fields, N (2005). Rome’s Northern Frontier AD 70-235. Osprey, Oxford.
Gravett, C (2003). Norman Stone Castles (1). Osprey, Oxford.
Hobbs, R and Jackson, R (2010). Roman Britain. British Museum Company Ltd, London.
Jackson, M (1990). Castles of Cumbria. Carel Press & Cumbria County Library, Carlisle.
Johnson, P (2006). Castles from the Air: An Aerial Portrait of Britain’s Finest Castles. Bloomsbury, London.
Liddiard, R (2005). Castles in Context: Power, Symbolism and Landscape 1066-1500. Macclesfield.
Thompson, M.W (1987). The Decline of the Castle. London.
The remains of a major medieval castle. The Keep stands to nears its full height and there is access to a roof top view from the structure. Also visible are the earthworks of the (much larger) Roman fort which provided the stone for the later castle.
Keep. The Keep was still partially timber in the late twelfth century as the castle was taken when a Scottish force set fire to it. The Keep was re-built in stone soon after.
Verterae Roman Fort. The earthworks of the earlier Roman fort are visible. It was one of many that encircled the Pennines which, in the first and second century AD, seem to have been an area of insurgent activity against the conquest.
Located just off the A685 the castle is sign-posted but is also clearly visible from the main road as you approach. Car parking is available in the vicinity of the castle.