Famous for its association with the legend of King Arthur, Pendragon Castle was actually built in the twelfth century and, in the years that followed, withstood successive attacks from Scotland. Restored to its former glory by Lady Anne Clifford in the seventeenth century, it later fell into decline and decay.
Pendragon Castle, which is also known as Mallerstrang Castle, dominates a north/south pass through the Pennines cut by the River Eden. Several Roman coins have been found on the site suggesting it may have been fortified at that time. However, the first known fortification was a ringwork castle raised in the late eleventh or early twelfth century. A stone tower was added in the late twelfth century. One of its owners at this time was Hugh de Morville, one of the four knights dispatched by Henry II to murder Thomas Beckett, Archbishop of Canterbury. The castle later passed to the Vipont and then Clifford families.
In the first half of the twelfth century, Geoffrey of Monmouth wrote the 'History of the Kings of Britain'. This imaginative account of British history mixed real events with fictitious stories including the legend of King Arthur. Pendragon Castle became linked with this story as it was suggested that Uther Pendragon, allegedly the father of King Arthur, had owned the castle and been killed there when Saxons poisoned the well. The association with this legend, which was popular amongst the nobility, was perhaps what prompted a substantial rebuilding of the castle by Robert de Clifford circa-1300. Edward II granted a licence to crenellate on 16 July 1309.
The rebuilt castle was a Tower Keep with a roughly square footprint located within the circular earthworks of the earlier ringwork. It was three storeys tall and constructed from local stone rubble with ashlar dressings. The entrance was on the north side.
Pendragon Castle was attacked by the Scots in 1341 and seemingly badly damaged. It was restored by Roger de Clifford in the 1360s and was still in use when visited by the antiquarian John Leland in 1539. Following the Civil War and the restoration of Charles II in 1660, the castle passed into the hands of Lady Anne Clifford along with Appleby, Brough, Brougham and Skipton. She embarked upon major upgrades at all her castles and at Pendragon added structures including an outer curtain wall, a gatehouse and ancillary buildings. However, after her death her successors thought significantly less of the property and in 1685 it was substantially demolished to provide building materials to support other projects.
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Pendragon Castle is small but fascinating ruin in a remote but very picturesque setting. Although situated on private land, free access is allowed during daylight hours noting that care needs to be taken around the livestock.
Pendragon Castle. The castle was originally a ringwork fortification and the some of the earthworks from this phase are still visible as they were incorporated into the defences of the later fortification. As can be seen from the picture, the castle overlooked the River Eden.
Stone Castle. The castle was rebuilt into an elaborate stone fortification in the late thirteenth or early fourteenth century. Its remote location would not normally justify such as impressive rebuilding and it is likely it was the association with the Arthurian legend that prompted it (as at Tintagel Castle in Cornwall for example).
Pendragon Castle. Legend links Pendragon Castle with Uther Pendragon, father of King Arthur. However, the castle was built over 500 years after the period when Arthur allegedly lived. However, Roman coins have been found on the site so it is possible that a contemporary fortification did exist on the site.
Ditch. The deep ditches that once formed part of the ringwork fortification are visible.
Castle Interior. In recent years the interior of the castle has been cleared of rubble.
River Eden. The castle stands in close proximity to the River Eden. During the medieval period this was an important communications artery connecting the remote region with Carlisle.
The impressive view from the castle.