Dunstanburgh Casle, Northumberland
8 miles North-East of Alnwick
North of Craster
Lonely and ruined, Dunstanburgh is one of the most dramatic and atmospheric castle in Britain. Its low walls hug the rocky coastline, and only the cries of gulls and the roar of the waves disturb the peace. Unlike many other castles, Dunstanburgh was not built on the site of an earlier fortress, but was built in such a remote part of the coast by Thomas of Lancaster, the most powerful baron in the reign of Edward II, with a personal retinue which, in his final years, was fully equal to that of the king.
Occupying more than eleven acres, it is the largest castle in Northumberland, with a great ditch twelve feet deep and seventy feet across, walls nine feet thick and cliffs hundred feet down to the sea. Dunstanburgh was strong enough and large enough for the barons entire army, all the local people and their livestock to take refuge from both Scottish invasions and also the wrath of the King in times of need.
This is one castle where access is not so easy and involves a good walk first of all. The good news its not along the rock shore, but on a flat grassy path which makes this quite an easy stroll. However, as the castle comes into view, the best photo-shots we found were definately from the shoreline.
In its day the castle was massive, but now little more than a shell, with its gatehouse dominating the castle.
As with most castles, its the location and scenery that makes this a must visit for any budding castle-finder.
~ History ~
1269 - Henry III grants an estate here to his younger son Edmund, Earl of Lancaster.
1313 - Edmund's son Thomas begins building the castle following the English disaster at Bannockburn, despite only receiving a licence to crenellate it from his cousin Edward II some three years later, by which time the building is nearly complete. The architect, Master Elias, the mason, had worked under Master James of St George, architect to Edward I's state of the art castle's in North Wales.
Thomas is a staunch and powerful opponent to the King and is constantly at loggerheads over issues of government, and especially over the favouritism shown by Edward to certain members of his court - and in particular; to Piers Gaveston. Thomas orders the brutal murder of Gaveston, for which Edward vowed he would never forgive him. In the turmoil that follows the Scots seize the opportunity to begin a series of raids against northern England.
1315 - 1322 - Despite his enormous wealth, Thomas increases his unpopularity with his tenants by increasing taxes to pay for his his ambitious building program and ever increasing costs of retaining his huge personal army, at a time when harvests are failing, famine is rife and sheep and cow disease is at epidemic proportions. Thomas's men continue to ignore the law and any justice, and take advantage of the military might of their patron to bully their way locally into private fortunes. With the King too weak to intervene or challenge, the North of England is effectively under Thomas Lancaster's control.
1322 - Suspected of being in league with the Scots, Thomas is executed in his castle of Pontefract after being defeated and captured at Boroughbridge by the kings men. Dunstanburgh is handed over to Richard of Embleton, a Newcastle merchant.
1324 - The castle is returned to Thomas's brother Henry.
1326 - Lewis Beaumont, Bishop of Durham, is ordered by the King to fortify the castle against Scottish raids.
1351 - The castle roofs are repaired.
1380 - John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster, visits Dunstanburgh following his appointment as lieutenant of the Scottish Marches. He orders alterations to the castle involving blocking up of the gateway and its conversion into a keep and the provision of a new gateway and inner ward with various buildings. The building work takes four years to complete.
1384 - John invades Scotland from Northumberland.
1385 - The Scots raid nearby Embleton but make an abortive attack on the castle.
1399 - John of Gaunt's son seizes the throne as King Henry IV.
The castle becomes the property of the Crown.
1430 - The castle is recorded as decayed which prompts major repairs over the next twenty years.
1462 - A Lancastrian garrison under Sir Ralph Percy surrenders the castle after a siege to the Earl of Warwick. Percy is allowed to continue to hold the castle for King Edward IV but he betrays it to the Lancastrians just a year later.
1464 - Percy is killed in the Battle of Hexham and Dunstanburgh is again besieged and captured by the Earl of Warwick.
1470 - Apart from minor repairs the castle is left to decay.
1524 - Thomas, Lord Dacre, removes lead from the castle roofs to repair his castle of Wark-upon-Tweed.
1538 - The castle is reported to King Henry VIII as mostly roofless and the curtain walls in need of repair. No such work is carried out.
1604 - King James I sells the castle to Sir Thomas Windebank, who in turn sells it on to Sir Ralph Grey of Chillingham.