Friday 6 October 2023

Dunstanburgh Castle


Dunstanburgh Castle is 14th century castle on the Northumberland coast between the villages of Craster and Embleton, about 7 miles from the market town of Alnwick. The castle can only be accessed on foot and is a 1.3 mile walk along a grassy path from Craster. Alternatively it can also be reached from the village of Embleton. The name Dunstanburgh is thought to come from a combination of the local village of Dunstan, and the Old English word "burh", meaning fortress. The castle is owned by the National Trust and is open to the public. 

Dunstanburgh Castle was built between 1313 and 1322 by Thomas, the Earl of Lancaster on the site of the existing earthworks of an Iron Age Fort. Thomas was a powerful English baron and the second richest man in England after the king. He had a difficult relationship with his cousin King Edward II and had been a ring leader in the capture and killing of Piers Gaveston in 1312. It is thought that Thomas built the castle as a secure retreat away from Edward's forces in the south. By the time the castle was completed in 1322 it was the largest castle in Northumberland, with a massive gatehouse and six towers around the outside. A harbour was built on the south side enabling access from the sea. Although Thomas made little use of his new castle in 1322  when Cicil War broke out between Edward and the barons he attempted to flee the south of England for Dunstanburgh. He was intercepted en route by royalist forces and in the resulting Battle of Boroughbridge was captured and executed. The castle subsequently passed to the Crown and was considered to be a useful fortress for protection against the threat from Scotland. 

In 1362 the castle was acquired by John of Gaunt, the third son of King Henry III through his marriage to Blanche of Lancaster, the granddaughter of Henry of Lancaster. Gaunt was extremely wealthy and became the Lieutenant of the Scottish Marches, visiting his castle in 1380. Following the Peasant's Revolt in 1381 Gaunt expanded the defences and blocked up the entrance in the gatehouse to turn it into a keep. The castle was attacked unsuccessfully by a Scottish army in 1384. The castle remained part of the Duchy of Lancaster but In 1399 when Gaunt's son, Henry IV became King the Duchy was annexed to the Crown. 

Over the next few decades the castle fell into disrepair until Henry VI became King in 1422. Numerous repairs were undertaken to the buildings and outer defences. During the Wars of the Roses the castle was initially held by the Lancastrians until it was surrendered to the Yorkists in 1461. Sir Ralph Percy, one of the castle's constable's had defended the castle until it was surrendered to the Yorkists but in 1462 switched backed to the Lancastrian side after Henry VI's wife Margaret of Anjou landed at Bamburgh with a French army. Dunstanburgh was immediately besieged by the Yorkists and surrendered. Percy remained at the castle defending it for the Yorkists, but in 1463 once again switched sides returning it to the Lancastrians. Percy died at the Battle of Hedgeley Moor in 1464 and following a short siege the Earl of Warwick reoccupied the castle. 

In 1470 Dunstanburgh was used as a base for piracy and by the 1520's its roof had been robbed of lead to be used at Wark-on-Tweed Castle, and lead and timbers taken to be used for the moot hall in Embleton. By 1538 the castle was described as being in "a very ruinous state" and although some repairs were carried out by 1543 it was still in a poor condition. From 1594-1597 Alice Craster, a wealthy widow occupied the castle, living in the gatehouse, carrying out restoration work and farming the surrounding estate. 

In 1604 the castle was sold by King James I to Sir Thomas Windebank, Thomas Billott and William Blake, who then sold it the following year to Sir Ralph Grey, a nearby landowner. In 1625 Ralph's son William, Lord Grey was affirmed as the owner of the castle. In 1704 following a law case Dunstanburgh passed into Lady Mary Grey's side of the family. The lands around the castle and outer bailey were used to grow barley and oats and stone was taken from the walls for building work. A small settlement called Nova Scotia was built on the site of the old harbour. 

In 1869 Mary's descendants, the Earls of Tankerville sold the castle to the trustees of the estate of the late Samuel Eyres. The passageway through the gatehouse was modified and reopened in 1885. In 1905 a golf course was built alongside the castle, and in 1919 the estate was sold to Sir Arthur Sutherland, a wealthy shipowner, who opened an additional golf course in 1922. Unfortunately the cost of maintaining the property was too much and in the 1930's he placed the castle into the guardianship of the state. During the Second World War the castle was occupied by a unit of the Royal Armoured Corps and used as an observation post. The surrounding beaches were defended with lines of barbed wire, slit trenches and square weapons pits with concrete pill boxes to the north and south of the castle. In 1961 Arthur's son, Sir Ivan Sutherland passed the estate to the National Trust. It remains under the ownership of the National Trust and is managed by English Heritage. The site is part of a site of Special Scientific Interest and the lands around the outside of the castle remain waterlogged to enable the conservation of amphibians and bird species. 

Other Castles Nearby
Bamburgh Castle

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