Alnwick castle is another medieval fortress which has been little studied.  The Victorian statement that ‘The history of Alnwick Castle may be read in its masonry' rather nicely sums up an unhelpful disinterest in the historical reality of the site.  Such apathy is barely alleviated by Wikipedia which helpfully chimes in with the ‘fact' that ‘Yves de Vescy, Baron of Alnwick, erected the first parts of the castle in about 1096'.  To support such a notion there is absolutely zero evidence, although the original source for this information may be apparent to the Latin reader.  Hopefully this article will throw some light on this neglected area of history and correct some of the historical errors perpetrated on this poor, much abused castle, whose modern elements are so beloved by visitors.

It is presumed that the castle was first built in the period of Norman penetration into the North of England.  This began in 1070 with the Conqueror's great harrying of the North.  From then on penetration was spasmodic with Norman occupations and Saxon revolts - the latter often in league with Scandinavian and Scottish allies.  Whether a castle existed or not in 1093 when King Malcolm III of Scotland was killed nearby is a moot point.  Contemporary, or near contemporary chronicles have merely this to say about the battle.

The fifth time he [King Malcolm] invaded Northumbria with as large an army as he could collect intending to bring upon it utter desolation, but he was cut off near the River Aln with his eldest son, Edward, whom he had appointed heir to the kingdom after him.  His army either fell by the sword, or those who escaped the sword were carried away by the inundation of the rivers, which were then more than usually swollen by the winter rains... Simeon Durham.

King Malcolm... gathered his army and travelled into England raiding with greater folly than behoved him and then Robert [Mowbray] the earl of the Northumbrians with his men, by surprise trapped and killed him.  Morel of Bamburgh, who was the earl's steward and King Malcolm's godfather, killed him.  With him was also killed his son Edward....  Peterborough Anglo-Saxon Chronicle.

Malcolm King of Scots and his eldest son Edward, with many others, were slain in Northumbria on 13 November.  Florence Worcester.

[In] winter he [King Malcolm] was killed by the men of Earl Robert of Northumberland, rather through stratagem than by power. William Malmesbury, Gesta Regum Anglorum.

No castle is mentioned in any of these more original accounts.  The alleged founding of the castle comes from a family tree of Eustace Fitz John (d.1157) which was drawn up sometime in the year before 7 July 1315 (8 Edward II), ie some 222 years after the event.  This source correctly lists some of the descendants of Eustace and contradicts no known better source.  However, the ancestors given for Eustace are rather less secure.  Nothing else is known of Gisbrit Tyson, who was alleged to have been killed with King Harold, nor is anything known of his alleged son, William, who was anachronistically and almost certainly wrongly said to have been ‘lord of the baronies of Alnwick and Malton'.  According to this tale the Conqueror gave to Ivo Vescy, one of his knights, the daughter of William Tyson by whom he had a daughter called Beatrice.  She married Eustace Fitz John (d.1157) inheriting the baronies of Alnwick and Malton.  This story can be confirmed only in so far as Ivo is recorded as holding [East] Gilling in Rydale [south of Helmsley castle] which he granted to St Mary's York, sometime before 1154.  Unfortunately this does little but muddy the water, as at Domesday East Gilling belonged to Ralph Mortimer (d.1118/36) the probable grandfather of Eustace Fitz John (d.1157).  That Eustace married Beatrice Vescy is confirmed by the charter of their son, William Vescy (d.1183), made to Alnwick abbey for his parents, Eustace Fitz John (d.1157) and Beatrice as well as her father, Ivo Vescy (d.1086+).  How much of the rest of the tale is true is open to question.  All that is certain is that Eustace was operating in Cumberland by 1116 and that Beatrice was dead by 1146 at the very latest when Eustace had married Agnes Fitz William and received the lands of her father, William Fitz Nigel, from Earl Ranulf of Chester (d.1153).  Beatrice had possibly died by 1135 as Eustace's son, William Vescy (d.1183), appears to have been of age in 1157 when he succeeded his father.  Malton appears never to have been held by the alleged Tysons as it was a property owned by the Crown and Count Robert of Mortain in 1086.  Apparently it was granted to Eustace by Henry I.  Therefore there is currently no evidence as to who built Alnwick castle, or when.

Early in 1136 Alnwick castle was captured by King David of Scotland (1124-54).  According to various chroniclers the king, cynically remembering his oath to King Henry I (d.1135), invaded the kingdom of England swiftly taking various garrisons in Cumberland and Northumberland, and advancing on Durham, while bypassing Bamburgh.  During this campaign the northern border fortresses like Alnwick, Norham, Wark and Newcastle on Tyne all fell to David at this time.  King Stephen, when he was staying at Oxford at the end of the festival of the Nativity, was told how:

"King David of the Scots, on pretence that he was coming with peaceful intent for the purpose of visiting you, has come to Carlisle and Newcastle and stealthily taken both".  To this the king is said to have replied, "What he has taken by stealth, I will recover by victory" and without delay the king moved forward his army, which was so mighty and valiant and so numerous that none in England could be remembered like it.  However, King David met him at Durham and made a treaty with him restoring Newcastle, but retaining Carlisle with the king's consent.  David did not do homage to King Stephen because he had previously, as the first of the laity, promised on oath to the Empress... to maintain her in possession of England after the death of King Henry I.  However, Henry, the son of King David, did homage to King Stephen on which he was presented with the borough of Huntingdon by way of gift.

Other sources state that King Stephen came to Durham on 5 February and after 15 days received David in Newcastle castle where they made peace with David's son, Henry, paying homage to King Stephen at York for the honour of Huntingdon without Doncaster or Carlisle.  Simultaneously the other castles, viz. Alnwick, Norham, Wark and Newcastle were returned to English control.  Eustace Fitz John then went south with Earl Henry (d.1152) to the Easter celebrations at Westminster.  Here both witnessed a royal document, although it should be noted that Eustace was also the first witness of King David's confirmation of Annandale to Robert Bruce in the period 1136 to 1138.  This suggests a period when both kings were working in harmony.  Eustace in the same period was ordered by King Stephen to right a wrong in Hetherslaw in favour of Durham priory.  This probably occurred early in 1136 for Stephen is said to have arrested Eustace at the end of his visit to Durham in February 1138.  During this same period, before August 1138, Eustace was again with King Stephen in southern England at Clarendon when he witnessed his sister receiving Barking abbey.  He was also rather oddly informed after the bishop of Hereford that the king had accepted the prebends given by the Lacys to the church of St Ouen in Hereford.  Possibly this was done after the death of Eustace's elder brother, Pain Fitz John [Painscastle] on 10 July 1137.

Despite Eustace's defence of Bamburgh in 1136, when Alnwick castle and the rest of Northumberland fell to the Scots, in February 1138 King Stephen forced Eustace to ‘resign his fortress of Bamburgh into the king's hand'.  The predictable result of this was that Eustace joined the Scots and then attacked Bamburgh and did it great damage.  The royalist Gesta Stephani thought that Eustace was an old and loyal friend of the King Henry I and therefore to gain justice and favour as it seemed to him and several others like him, took the opportunity of supporting the Empress.  Another source states that in early May 1138:

Eustace Fitz John, one of the barons of the king of England, who held a heavily fortified castle in Northumberland called Alnwick, who had long secretly favoured the king of Scots, now openly showing his perjury, threw off his allegiance to his lawful sovereign... and with his whole strength gave his aid to the Scots against the realm of England...

Eustace then marched south with his army joined with the Scots to assault Yorkshire with the intention of turning his other castle of Malton over to King David.  However their advance was ended at the battle of the Standard on 22 August 1138.  This resulted in another treaty being negotiated in April 1139 which granted both Northumberland and Cumberland to Scottish control.  Presumably at this point the northern castles including Alnwick again changed hands.  It was probably around now that Eustace was granted 5 fees in the Scottish earldom of Huntingdon to ensure his loyalty to the new regime.  Other than these sparse statements what actually occurred at Alnwick is obscure, but it should be noted that Eustace was powerful enough, like Bishop Henry of Winchester (d.1171), Prince Henry of Scotland (d.1152), Robert Stuteville (d.1186) and Brian Fitz Count (d.1147/51), to issue his own coins.

King David's death in 1153 at Carlisle was followed a year later by that of King Stephen at Dover.  Before this Eustace returned to royal service after the Treaty of Wallingford in 1153.  Around harvest time 1154, Eustace witnessed his last charter for King Stephen at York.  That Eustace was still in favour with the Angevins is seen by Duke Henry around the same time confirming the gifts made to William Vescy (d.1183) by his father [Eustace Fitz John] and all his rights in Normandy and England.  Stephen's successor, Henry Fitz Empress (d.1189) wished to turn the clock back to 1135 when his grandfather died.  He therefore required back from the Scottish king, David's grandson, Malcolm IV (d.1165), the northern counties of England.  Consequently in July 1157, King Malcolm surrendered Cumberland and Northumberland to the king when the 2 met at Peak castle.  Eustace Fitz John, at least 63 years old, was finally killed in 1157 fighting against the Welsh in Henry II's Basingwick campaign. 

The king, entering their borders, after much opposition - through the nature and difficulties of the country - met with a very inauspicious commencement to his designs; for a portion of his army, proceeding incautiously through a wooded and marshy district, was much endangered by falling into an ambush, which the enemy had laid for him on his route, and where Eustace Fitz John, a great and aged person, and highly renowned for wealth and wisdom, among the noblest chiefs of England, together with Robert Courcy, a man of equal rank, and many others, unfortunately perished.

With Eustace's death, King Henry II recognised his baron's son, William Vescy (d.1183), as his heir when William recorded himself as owing the king 100m (£66 13s 4d).  William may have been sheriff of Northumberland for some time and was certainly acting as such by September 1158 when he handed Henry II his first set of accounts from the county after its surrender by King Malcolm of Scotland.  This had been agreed that year when King Henry II, with his army, met King Malcolm at Carlisle by 24 June and, after arguing with him, refused to make him a knight although he did knight, William the son King Stephen and lord of the eastern castle of Eye.  However, this dispute did not lead to hostilities with the young and warlike King Malcolm (d.1165).  On Malcolm's early death at the age of just 23, the Scottish kingdom passed to his younger brother, King William (1165-1214).  William had been earl of Northumberland until 1157 and he had every intention to retrieve this lost county.  In the meantime during 1165 and 1169 William Vescy (d.1183) rendered an aid on 20 knight's fees in Northumberland for 40m (£30).  This probably represented his barony of Alnwick.

In 1173, after failed negotiations with King Henry II (d.1189), King William (d.1214) threw in his lot with the rebels under the Young King Henry III (d.1183).  He had previously offered King Henry the service of 1,000 knights and 3,000 sergeants for ‘his lawful due... Northumberland'.  Henry's refusal of this generous offer resulted in William leading Scottish armies south into England.  After attacking Carlisle and taking various Cumberland castles, William moved east and laid siege to Prudhoe castle.  There Robert Stuteville (d.1184), William Vescy (d.1183), Ranulf Glanville (d.1190), Ralph Tilly, Bernard Balliol (d.1190) and Odinel Umfraville (d.1182) with a large army allegedly of 400 knights moved against him, forcing him to retire to Alnwick where he commenced another siege of Vescy's castle.  Here he made a classic mistake in dividing his forces in the face of an enemy.  He sent 2 divisions off to lay waste the neighbourhood and kept only a small force at the siege.  The northern English army, reinforced by 60 Yorkshire knights from the archbishop's fee and Roger Fitz Richard who's church at Warkworth had been violated, marched from Newcastle by night to come upon him by surprise at dawn on 12 July 1174.  The king and 500 knights, meantime awaiting the arrival of his main host from their pillaging raid, stopped to dine before the castle.  Alerted by the English battle cries, King William quickly armed and mounted, but was brought down in the first charge and, pinned under his horse.  There he was forced to yield to Ranulf Glanville (d.1190).  With their king fallen the rest surrendered.  With the king went Richard Comyn (d.1179), William Mortimer (d.1187+), William D'Isle, Henry Revel, Ralph Vere, Jordan le Fleming, Waltheof Fitz Baldwin of Biere and Richard Maluvel and many others ‘who voluntarily allowed themselves to be made prisoners, lest they might appear to have sanctioned the capture of their lord'.  Others, like Roger Mowbray (d.1188) and Adam Port of Kington (d.1214), fled.  News of the action soon reached King Henry II (d.1189) that King William of Scots was captured and held in chains at Richmond.

As a consequence of his capture, the earldom of Huntingdon was confiscated and Scotland made a vassal state of England with the 5 major castles, Edinburgh, Stirling, Roxburgh, Jedburgh and Berwick being turned over to Henry II's garrisons who were to be paid from the Scottish king's revenue.  This was all enacted in the 8 December 1174 treaty of Falaise which also stipulated that many of the king's barons should become Plantagenet hostages until the castles were surrendered.  This agreement made Alnwick castle a bit of a backwater with Anglo-Scottish relations pretty much stable until the disasters of the 1290s.  In 1183 William Vescy died aged over 48, and during the time before 29 September 1183, Adam Fitz Robert accounted for an income of £39 16s 2d, though for how long this was after William's death is unknown.  Indeed the next year Adam Carduil accounted for the lands of William Vescy which were not located in Northumberland.  This amounted to £23 11s 10d.  He also paid a farm of £130 7s 8d for the manors of the entire honour for half a year.  In 1185 Hugh Morwich accounted for £317 13s 5d for the Vescy honour for 1½ years.  The implication of this was that Alnwick barony was worth some £260 per annum in the mid 1180s.  In 1186 Hugh Morewich reported a farm for the barony of £387 2d of which he had spent 17s 5d in amending the houses in Alnwick castle.  In 1187 chaplains were paid 12s 3d by the Crown in both Malton and Alnwick castles for the last 2 years.

The stability achieved between England and Scotland was increased by the marriage of Eustace Vescy (d.1216) who came of age in 1190, to Margaret Hythus (d.1218+), the illegitimate daughter of King William of Scotland (d.1214) in 1193.  Alnwick was probably the caput of the 12 fees Eustace was respited tax on in Northumberland in 1212.  The same year it was recorded that Eustace owed 12 fees for his barony of Alnwick and that he also held the vills of Budle, Spindelston and Warner/Warren which Henry I had given to Eustace Fitz John (d.1157), this Eustace's ancestor.  Vescy rebelled the same year and fled to Scotland, leaving Alnwick castle to the king, who appointed Geoffrey Fitz Peter (d.14 October 1213) as custodian.  On 27 May 1213, King John ordered his castle of Alnwick destroyed, although by 18 July Eustace was apparently partially reconciled to the king and on 15 September 1213 the king ordered Archdeacon E of Durham and Philip Oldcoats (d.1221) to return to Eustace the cows and horses and arms they were holding in Alnwick castle.  On 5 November 1214, Vescy was ordered by the pope to cease troubling King John.  This he didn't do, especially after the quashing of Magna Carta.  Consequently the king moved against Vescy, burning the vills of Mitford on 7 January, Alnwick on 9 January, Wark on 11 January and finally Roxburgh on 16 January, although the castles held.  The only one to fall was Berwick castle on 15 January although John pushed as far north as Haddingham and Dunbar.  On 31 January 1216, Eustace's lands were in the king's hand.  Eustace Vescy died the same year, aged 47, shot through the head with a crossbow bolt while attacking Barnard castle with his brother in law, King Alexander II of Scotland (d.1249).

Eustace Vescy, the brother in law of the king of Scots, at the siege of Barnard Castle, while he went around the fortress on horseback in search of weaker places, was slain by a crossbow bolt through the head while raising his helmet.

The barony of Alnwick was then committed to William Dunston and Ralph Norwich, while the castle itself was given to the custody of Bishop Richard Marisco of Durham (1217-26).  Eustace's underage son, William Vescy (d.1253), was given to the custody of Earl William Marshall (d.1219).  He came of age in 26 May 1226 when Constable Everard Tyeis was ordered to turn Alnwick castle over to William Vescy (d.1253) who had recently married a daughter of Earl William Longspey.

After William's death, his son, John Vescy (d.1289), took a reformist stance in the Barons' War of 1263-67 and at the end of hostilities held Alnwick castle against King Henry III (1216-72).  Consequently Prince Edward (d.1307), after crushing resistance in the Isle of Ely marched on Alnwick and took it.  Edward then took John Vescy (d.1289) to his father, the king, in London and asked mercy be granted to him.  King Henry consented for John to buy back Alnwick and his lands under the terms of the Dictum of Kenilworth.  This was one of the last acts of the war.

Alnwick castle passed out of Vescy control with the failure of the main Vescy line in 1297 when it was worth £475 9s 6½d pa.  Consequently on 17 August 1297, Bishop Anthony Bek was granted seisin of the lands of William Vescy as he had been enfeoffed by William at the king's licence.  On the death of William's elder brother, John, before 10 February 1289, this had been described as the castle of Alnewick and its appurtenaces.  At the time an inner and outer gateway were mentioned, both defended by ditches and drawbridges.  After holding the fortress for 12 years Bek sold it to Henry Percy before 26 October 1309.

By the end of September 1315, it was recorded that the manor and town of Alnwick was held by Isabel, the widow of William Vescy, in dower, but belonged to Henry (d.1352), the son and heir of Henry Percy (d.1314) and that John (d.1345+) the son of Arnald Percy (d.1303+), aged 30, was the next lawful heir of William Vescy of Kildare (d.1295).  On the death of Henry Percy before 10 October 1314, it was recorded that he held Alnewyk castle, barony and manor in chief for the service of 3 knights and that his son was under age, being 13 years and 9 months.

In August 1327 King Robert Bruce (d.1329) crossed the frontier and besieged Henry Percy's well munitioned castle of Alnwick for a fortnight and then Warkworth and other Northumberland fortresses, but the attack concluded in a peace agreement where David (d.1371), King Robert's son, was married to King Edward II's sister.  According to the fourteenth century chronicle of Alnwick abbey, Henry Percy (d.1352) was responsible for repairing the castle.  Possibly this was after a second attack on Alnwick and Warkworth launched by Bruce at the year's end.

After the rebellion of the Percys against Henry VI (d.1413), Alnwick with their other castles were taken by the king in 1405 with only minimal resistance, the garrison of Alnwick stating they would capitulate the moment Berwick did.  On 1 June 1434 Henry Percy (d.1455) was given permission to strengthen and build a wall around his whole town of Alnwick and machicolate and otherwise fortify it as a great part of the town had recently been burned by the Scots with impunity.

The castle saw more fighting in the Wars of the Roses.  In July 1461, after the Lancastrian defeat at the battle of Towton, Lord William Hastings (d.1483), Ralph Gray and their men, besieged William Tailboys (d.1464) in Alnwick castle.  He surrendered it on being offered free passage by the Earl Richard Neville of Warwick (d.1471) for himself and his garrison with their lives, members, goods and harnesses that September 1461.  In reply Tailboys took the castle back in November1461 and held it until July 1462 when William Hastings and John Howard retook it.  During October 1462, Queen Margaret (d.1482), returned from France with 6,000 French soldiers.  She first took Bamburgh castle and then besieged and took Alnwick in November, placing Lord Peter Breze, Lord Hungerford and Robert Whittingham within the fortress, while the duke of Somerset, the earl of Pembroke and Ralph Percy remained to defend Bamburgh.  In December 1462 both castles and Dunstanburgh were besieged by Edward IV (d.1483).  On Christmas eve both Bamburgh and Dunstanburgh surrendered on the garrisons being granted their lives and members.  Richard Percy was given control of Dunstanburgh.  Alnwick held under Ralph Percy was relieved by a Scottish army under Earl George Douglas of Angus and Peter Breze on 5 January which had swept Warwick's siege away.  However, the bulk of the garrison withdrew with the Scots and what remained surrendered on 6 January 1643.  The earl of Douglas died soon afterwards on 12 March 1473, suggesting he had suffered dysentery on the campaign.  John Astley was then placed within Alnwick castle as Yorkist constable, but in March 1463 was captured and the castle reverted to Lancaster under Ralph Percy.  Somerset and Tailboys were executed after the Lancastrian defeat at Hexham on 15 May, while King Henry VI was captured and his family fled to Scotland and France.  Consequently on 23 June 1464, Alnwick surrendered to the earl of Warwick due to the threat of his siege guns which later smashed Bamburgh castle into submission.  With this Alnwick settled back into a more peaceable condition under the Nevilles and from 1470 the Percys again.

Without any evidence it is alleged that the bulk of Alnwick castle, viz, the barbican and gatehouse, Abbot's Tower, Falconer's Tower, Armourer's Tower, the D towers of the shell keep, the octagonal towers of the inner gateway and the curtain
wall towers were all built after 1309 and before 1400.  To support this widespread claim no evidence is ever brought forward other that such a conclusion is patently obvious judging from the style of the masonry.

Of more use than wishful thinking is the 1567 survey carried out by George Clarkson for the Percys. This found that:
Alnwick castle is a very ancient large beautiful and portly castle, situated on the south side of the River Aln upon a little motte.  The circuit thereof by estimate about the walls 276 yards [828']; containing in itself 114 rods [1,881'], in the which is 3 principal wards.  And in the outer ward, where is the entry from the town, is a fair gatehouse covered with lead with 2 pair of wooden gates and on either side is a porter's lodge of 2 house height about which is now ruinous and in decay by reason the floors of the upper house is decayed as well in door mounts and joists as in boards and very necessary to be repaired.  Without which gates there is a very fair turnpike double battlemented about with a pair of wood gates in the uttermost part thereof.  Between which turnpike and the great gates it seems there has been a drawbridge, but it is now filled up and paved.  From the said gatehouse towards the north is a curtain wall of length 7½ roods [124'] and between it and a tower standing on the north-west corner called the Abbot's Tower.  And in the said curtain wall on the inner part is a turret covered with free stone which is upon the wall 2 houses high.  The said tower called the Abbot's Tower is of 3 house heights; the west house is the Armoury.  From the Abbot's Tower towards the east is another curtain wall joining onto the wall of the donjon containing in length 24 rods [396'] and in the same as in the middle between it and the donjon is 2 little garrets.  From the easternmost garret having a chamber, to the donjon, the said wall has no battlement to walk upon.  On the other part of the gatehouse towards the south is a curtain wall of length 42 yards [126'] to a tower called the corner tower.  In the middle between the gatehouse and the said corner tower is one garret in the wall; in the upper part whereof is a little chamber; the nether part serving for a buttress to the wall.
        Between the said corner tower and the middle gatehouse, turning east, is a curtain wall of length 70 yards [210'] in the which is 1 tower raised of 8 yards [24'] square of 3 houses height, called the Auditor's Tower.  The underhouse is a stable and the other houses 2 fair chambers covered with lead and in good repair.
        Within the said outer curtain is one house of 2 house height, standing on the left hand at the parting of the gate called the Checker House, the under houses serving for lodgings, the upper house for the court house, covered with slate and in good repair.  And in the same court on the other hand of the gate, standing north and south is another house for a stable of 2 house heights; though under part only serves for stables, the over part thereof is to be lofted and serve for keeping of grain now newly built.  Another like house, a stable, stands on the right hand between the gates east and west covered of late with slates and in good repair.
        The gatehouse tower for the middle gate is a tower of 3 house height and in some part 4 house height, on the left hand one strong prison and on the right a porter lodge.  All the houses above are lodgings, wherein is contained hall, kitchen, buttery, pantry and lodging for a constable or other gentlemen to keep house in.  From the same tower is going a curtain wall to the corner tower on the south-east part of length 117 yards [351'] in which is raised one tower at the end of the gardeners of three house height and of length ...... yards square.  Wherein is on the ground a stable, the middle house for hay, the overmost a chamber and betwixt the same, which is covered with lead and the said corner tower is raised 2 little garrets in the wall; the nether parts serve for buttresses to the wall; the other parts serve only for privies and are covered with stone.  The said corner tower is on three parts round, the inner part square without wall, containing in the round thereof 17 yards [51'].  The same tower is raised no higher than the battlement of the wall and is of 2 house height all together in height and serves for a part of the curtain wall.
        Between the same round tower, turning towards the north-west to a tower called the Ravine Tower is a curtain wall of 14 yards [42'] length; the same tower is covered with lead, in good repair; the tower itself is so rent it is like to fall; it is also of 3 house height; the nether serves for a stable, the middle for a chamber and in decay without loft, the overmost a chamber well repaired.  The tower is in 3 parts round and the fourth part square, containing in the whole 26 yards [78'].
        Between the said tower and a tower called Constable's Tower is a curtain wall of 30 yards [90'] length.  The said Constable's Tower is 3 parts round, the fourth square containing 36 yards [108'] and is of 3 house heights; the nether part serves for a buttery, the other 2 parts serve for 2 fair lodgings and it is covered with lead which would partly be helped in all other things it is in good repair.
        Between the said tower and the Postern Tower is a curtain wall containing 23 yards [69'] in length and the same Postern Tower is raised 36 yards [108'] square and is of 3 house height; the nether part serves for a through passing of the postern; the other for 2 fair chambers.  The same is now covered with lead since my L entered and is in good repair.  And in the north-west corner of the said tower is raised a garret above the battlement thereof and right over the gate of the said postern.  And from the said tower to the donjon there is a single curtain wall without battlement of length....
        Within the said inner curtain, betwixt the said tower of the middle gate and said little four squared tower towards the east is raised one house upon the curtain wall, of 3 house height, well covered with lead and is of length 25 yards [75']; part therefore now serves for 2 stables for my lord's horses; the other part for 2 gardeners.  The same house in all things is in good repair.
        At the east end of the said gardener is built one little house of 3 cooples and 1 gavill of stone and joined upon the said little square tower and is covered with slate needs in nothing but pointing with in which is one horsemill now in decay and serves for nothing.
        And a little from the said house is there another 2 house of 2 house height and is of 4 coople of timber with 2 stone gavills, covered with slate and newly pointed, which serves only for the keeping of hay.  Towards the east, joining to the said house is there a little garden, on the one side enclosed with the said curtain wall and the others of a wall made of stone; containing in length 12 yards [36'].  And this garden is kept by Ralph Graye, who has the fee of 20s by year for the same besides the profit thereof.  So that the lord is here charged with more than needs; for the profit thereof would be sufficient for his pains.  And from the north-east corner of the said garden, right over to the said ruinous tower in ancient time has been fair and trim lodgings, where now be nothing; the stones thereof taken away and put to other uses in the castle; the place now void would be a trim garden; it joins upon the said Ravine (rovinte) Tower.  In the south-east part of the said curtain wall, with small changes, would be made a fair banqueting house with a fair gallery, going from the same towards the north of the said Ravine Tower.
        There is near the said curtain wall, which is betwixt the said Constable's Tower and Ravine Tower, is built one fair chapel of 7 yards [21'] height and 7 yards [21'] of breadth, covered with slate, the windows well glazed, in all things well repaired, the sylong thereof only excepted.  Betwixt the said chapel and the said curtain wall is built one little house of 2 house height of length 8 yards [24']; the nether part thereof is called the vestry (revestry); the other part thereof a chamber with a stone chimney, wherein the lord and lady, with their children, commonly used to hear the service; the same is covered with slate; the loft thereof would be repaired.
        And before the said chapel door is one conduit set with stone and a chest (chiste) of lead; which chiste is 3 yards [9'] in length and 18" broad; the cistern thereof covered with lead; whereunto comes a goodly course of trim and sweet water from one well called Howling Well in pipes of lead. The same well covered with a house made of stone.  And the water of the same conduit runs in pipes of lead to the brew house only and cannot be brought to have course to any other houses of office, but such as are built and to be built without the donjon.
        And betwixt the said Constable's Tower and Postern Tower stands a fair brewhouse well covered with slate and is in length 20 yards [60'], in breadth 9 yards [27']; wherein there is a copper set in a furnace equipped (ekid) with a crib (crybe - basket) of clapboard [small split pieces of oak imported from Germany for use as barrel staves] which will hold liquor for the brewing of 24 bolles of malt [ie about 1½ tons]; and in the same brewhouse there is all manner of vessels to serve for brewing of the said quantity of malt newly made and repaired.  There would be one appointed to keep the said crybe copper in the furnace.  All the said vessels for brewing with pipes and hogsheads pertaining to the same, sweet; and the theight...
        And joining upon the said Postern Tower stands the bakehouse south and north; being in length 15 yards [45']; in breadth 8 yards [24'], well covered with slate.  In the north end thereof there be 2 ovens and in the south end one boultinge house well colleryd with wainscote, the window thereof glazed and would be repaired.  And to the south end of the said bakehouse are built 2 houses covered with slate and of 2 house height; the nether part serves for a slaughter house and a store house; the over part of the one for a hayhouse, the other for chambers for the launderers and are in length.... feet.
        And joining upon the west side of the said 2 houses is the site of the chaunterie house; and the said storehouse and chambers above it did serve the priests for their cellars and chambers and now nothing left but one wall going from the said storehouse to the entry of the .... side of the donjon gate which is in length 33 yards [99'].  And the ground between the wall, houses and donjon is used for a wood enclosure (garthe).  And from the west side of the said entry to the tower called the middle ward is another small parcel of ground enclosed for a wood enclosure with a little stone wall of 16 yards [48'] of length.  And from the said tower, called the middle ward, is a single curtain wall joined to the said donjon of 21 yards [63'] in length.
        The donjon is set of a little moate made with men's hands and for the most part as it were square.  The circuit thereof measured by the brattishing contains 225 yards [675'].  It is of a fair and pretty (pathe) building with 7 round towers, 4 garrets.  Betwixt the same garrets and towers, lodgings; besides the gatehouse which is 2 towers of 4 house height, is of stately buildings; and the other towers be all of 3 house height and well covered with lead as is likewise the said gatehouse and other lodgings.  Round about the same donjon upon the said leads is a trim walk and a fair prospect and in 6 parts thereof are passages and entries to the same leads.  In the which donjon is hall, chambers and all other manner of houses of offices for the lord and his train.  The south side thereof serves for the lords and ladies lodgings and underneath them the prison, porter lodge and wine cellar, with the scullery.  On the west side for chambers and wardrobe.  The north side chambers and lodgings.  The east side the hall, kitchen, chambers, pantry.  Underneath the same hall a marvelous fair vault which is the buttery, in length 17 yards [51'], in breadth 6 yards [18'].  And underneath the same kitchen a larder and at the end of the said buttery a draw well of long time not occupied.  Within the same donjon is a proper little court (coortinge) for the most part square and well paved with stone.  All the chambers and houses of office within the said donjon in good repair and have in the same the implements, boards and bedsteads pertaining thereunto ans appears by indenture.  There is raised on the west side of the said donjon one little square tower called the Watchtower above the leads 14 yards [42'] wherein is placed for a watchman to watch (ley) and a beaken to be set or hinge.  For that the north part of the donjon is the outermost part of the castle on that side, it would be good the single curtain wall, which is built from the donjon westward to the easternmost garret of the double curtain wall were taken down and a double curtain wall made by the ground of the moat of the said donjon from the said garret right over to the corner of the said Postern Tower.  The same should then be a strength for that part of the castle and serve for divers other good purposes; the length thereof is 70 yards [210'].
        And because through extreme winds the glass of the windows of this and other my lord's castles and house here in this country do decay and waste, it were good the whole lengths of every window at the departure of his lordship from lying at any of his said castles and houses and during the time of his lordship's absence or others lying in them, were taken down and laid up in safety and at such time as other his lordship or any other should lie at any of the said places, the same might then be set up of new with small charges to his lordship where now the decay thereof shall be very costly and chargeable to be repaired.

After 1750 the fortress was heavily restored by the first duke of Northumberland when it was turned into a palace under the oversight of James Prince and Robert Adams.  It suffered a further period of heavy restoration in the Victorian period under Anthony Salvin who removed some of the pseudo-Gothic work.  Finally, Capability Brown filled the moat and landscaped the grounds.

Alnwick castle commands the crossing of the River Alne in a similar manner to how Norham and Wark guard the Tweed, Warkworth the Coquet, Morpeth and Mitford the Wansbeck and Newcastle the Tyne.  The original fortress was large, apparently covering almost the same area as the current Georgian palace.

The first castle masonry seems to consist of well cut, almost square blocks of the local yellow sandstone, while the later, allegedly fourteenth century work consists of much larger stones well cut and well laid, viz. the face of several towers, Clock, Constable, Middle Gatetower, as well as the outer gatehouse and barbican.  The eighteenth and nineteenth century work appears well cut to almost ashlar quality, but the stones are an intermixing of colours, viz. various towers like Abbot's, Postern, Ravelin, Warder's and the bulk of the inner ward.  Even so these deductions are suspect and a full review of all the masonry of the castle, coupled with archaeological investigation is the only true way to proceed with discovering a possibly correct chronology for the current palace and its fantastic buildings.  Before this can be done only a guess can be made here, but thankfully a plan of 1650 survives which strengthens the 1567 survey.  With these it is possible to discern what little of the castle buildings are still vaguely original.

The entire castle is roughly pentagonal, pointing towards the east and at its maximum extent about 430' north to south by 770' long at its maximum.  In 1650 it was still surrounded by a wet moat around the 2 outermost walls to the south and west as was the inner ward to all directions but the north.  This entire north front was covered by the scarp down to the River Aln.

Outer Ward
The castle originally appears to have been equipped with a large, rectangular outer ditch surrounding the exposed 3 sides of the enceinte of the outer and middle wards.  The north side was covered by the River Aln.  The main approach to the castle seems to have always been via the outer gatehouse and its famed barbican.  The barbican consists of 2 long walls with a gate, but no portcullis within between 2 turrets which rise to corbelled out small, square towers.  This may be somewhat similar to how the barbican at Abergavenny may have been.  It is noteworthy that the outer arch is Romanesque and obviously modern, while the barbican inner arches are pointed early English.  The lack of any drawbridge paraphernalia may also suggest the whole is largely rebuild since the traces of a drawbridge, already destroyed, was recorded within the barbican in 1567.

At the east end of the barbican was a large twin towered gatehouse 50' north to south by 45' east to west, with semi-octagonal towers like those found at Carreg Cennen.  The west face of the gatehouse houses a Romanesque entrance arch, but at its summit are the remains of a single apex stone of the original, probably more pointed arch.  The stonework above the arch is more reminiscent of early Norman work throughout the castle, although at first floor level where there is a replacement window to the constable's chamber, the masonry is made of larger ashlar blocks.  The battlements appear modern as too does the portcullis groove, set well forward in the Romanesque gate arch.  To the rear in the older masonry are 2 fishtailed crossbow loops.

The gatehouse gave entrance to a rectangular bailey about 380' from north to south.  Centrally in the east wall of this stood the inner ward of which virtually nothing original now remains.  The gatehouse to the middle ward lay some 260' from the west curtain wall of the outer ward.

To the north of the outer gatehouse ran a relatively thin curtain wall which consists of typical early masonry, consisting of even courses of small, well laid, stone.  At the summit of the wall is a possibly fourteenth century wallwalk totally rebuilt in the modern era.  Half way along this wall is a turret or garret as it is wrongly called at Alnwick.  A garret is a watchtower designed for long distance viewing, obviously these low turrets overlooked by much of the castle do not perform this function.  Internally the lower portions of this turret may be original although the Romanesque doorway is probably late.  There is an odd string course at first floor level and probably a different medieval build above this, although the summit of the tower and its external face are almost certainly late.  The curtain summits on either side are also certainly late and differ in height.  Externally the curtain north of the turret has a string course which marks it out as different to its southern compatriot.

At the north-eastern extremity of the ward lies the remnants of the eighteenth century rectangular Abbot's Tower.  In 1650 this was D shaped.  The modern tower has a spiral vice in its north-east corner and a rib vaulted basement set upon a twin sloping stepped plinth.  The multiple twin lights all appear modern, but a single lancet to the south may be from the medieval build as may be the ground floor crossbow loops which are simple slits.  The battlements of the tower and ‘garret' are definite modern additions.  From the tower an early thin, wallwalkless curtain ran back to the inner enceinte of the keep, though all trace of this after the eighteenth century Falconer's tower, has been destroyed by the later landscape gardening.  The fact that there is no access to the wallwalks from the tower further indicates its very late provenance and again proves the adage that you cannot definitively date structures by their design or build.

Within the ward, north of the path leading from outer to the middle gate was the ‘Checker House', later used as a court house for the barony.  To the south of the path were stables and storage which were all cleared away in the eighteenth century.

To the south of the gatehouse the curtain has been destroyed and replaced with eighteenth century work as the thinness of the wall and total lack of wallwalk indicates.  At the south-west corner of the ward stands the Clock Tower, the outer portion of which standing to first floor height would appear to be original.  Some half way along the southern enceinte of the outer ward stands the D shaped Auditor's Tower.  This had a twin stepped sloping plinth like the Abbot's Tower and has been much ‘upgraded' and its battlements renewed.  In 1567 its lower storey was a stables - there is now no way that a horse could enter the structure.  Indeed the rear of the tower is as obviously fake as the upper storeys at the front.  However a single long crossbow loop facing south from the tower in the early masonry has some appearance of being original.

Middle Bailey
The south-east corner of the ward is filled with the large rectangular gatehouse to the Middle ward.  This is about 35' east to west by 65' north to south.  The north-western corner of this is equipped with a single D shaped projecting tower.  In 1567 this contained a prison in its basement.  On the south side was a porter's lodge joined to a thick south curtain of the outer ward, the inner face of which has the small squared stones of early work.  The upper portions of the gatehouse are undoubtedly refaced at the least and the medieval partial fourth floor has been removed.  The 2 ground floor loops to the west are also obviously modern as are all the windows on this front.  This gatehouse led into the middle ward via a modern Romanesque gate passageway equipped with a portcullis.

Once through the gateway an irregular pentagonal ward is entered, some 230' north to south by 360' east to west at its maximum extent.  Some of the irregular walls to north and south, particularly those on either side of the Constable's Tower and around the east turret [garret in Alnwick parlance], appear to be original early work.  However, the rest is probably eighteenth century fabrication.

At the southern point of the ward is the 1854 Warder's Tower which allows an entrance from the town via an irregular twin towered gatehouse with Romanesque arches.  Nothing of this build is original, although the wall between it and the main ward gatehouse appears as old as the middle gatehouse.  Running east from the Warder's Tower is a modern wall which morphs into the old style walling which straddles the turret called the east garret.  This has a slightly different masonry style to the old wall on either side, but above wallwalk level is totally modern.  The internal Romanesque doorway is also probably modern.  Externally the lower portion of the wall is built of good ashlar masonry that may well be medieval.

At the east apex of the site stands the eighteenth century ‘Ravine Tower', allegedly built from the remnants of the original Ravine Tower which was D shaped and whose site seems now to be marked by the gap called the Bloody Gap some 40' east of the modern ‘Ravine Tower'.  The 2 window seats between this and the modern ‘Ravine Tower' are likely the remains of an internal building.  The small turret between the Ravine and Constable's Tower is now called Hotspur's Chair.  Its masonry style suggests it is older than the opposite ‘east garret'.  Beyond this the lower 10' of the internal curtain would appear to be original work, but above this is later medieval work with a projecting string course.  Above this the battlements and wallwalk are, as ever, modern.

The Constable's Tower is D shaped and its basement was once a buttery, with lodgings on the upper 2 floors above.  It is suggested that the masons' marks in the upper 2 storeys of this tower make it contemporary with parts of Dunstanburgh and Warkworth castles.  Clearly the basement and ground floor have the smaller stones of the early work, although the external crossbow loops look strongly like replicas, especially the upper storey ones.  The triple stepped base also looks suspect.  Next to the tower are a flight of replaced steps to the wallwalk.  In the south-west corner is a low, odd gabled stair turret.

Between the Constable's Tower and the Postern Tower to the west is another small turret like Hotspur's Chair.  The Postern Tower is square and shows signs of being much altered in the eighteenth century.  All the loops within the tower are obviously modern, although the inner postern gate and basement may be medieval.  The upper storey like the battlements and misplaced garret are undoubtedly modern.  Further there is no trace of the curtain running from the tower to the inner ward.  Instead there is a broad platform now mounting cannon.  This was made in the eighteenth century and remodelled in the 1860s.

A variety of free standing buildings stood in this ward, including a chapel facing the Constable and Ravine towers.  This was 57' long, 21' wide and 21' high and was still in good condition as late as 1588.  This together with a brewhouse and a bakehouse close to the postern were removed when the castle was made into a palace.

Inner Ward
The inner ward, often erroneously called the keep, apparently consisted of a series of 7 towers with 4 garrets which were mostly demolished in 1764.  These were set around a small enceinte of roughly 80' diameter.  This is now dominated by the 1854 Prudhoe Tower.  The Record, Caterer's and Water towers were built upon the line of the destroyed curtain, leaving as the only surviving medieval parts of the original inner enceinte the twin towered gatehouse to the south-east and the D shaped tower at the N end of the hall to the east.  However it should be noted that the gatehouse seems to be more aligned with the scarp running some 30' south of the current enceinte and that the original enceinte may therefore have been somewhat larger.  The original moat has been filled in, but the surviving D shaped tower and the general line of the enceinte stand on a definite rise of ground of between 8' and 15' height.

The original gateway seems to have consisted of an internal rectangular gatetower about 40' by 30' externally.  To the north this had a Romanesque arch with lozenge and zigzag mouldings.  The 2 flanking octagonal towers on the external face have obviously been added, possibly in the thirteenth or fourteenth centuries.  In 1567 these were recorded as 4 storeys high.  High up under the string course of these are a series of stone escutcheons displaying the arms of Tyson, Vescy, Clifford, Percy, Bohun, Plantagenet, Warenne, Arundel, Umfraville and Fitz Walter.  The 2 central shields display England and France.  As Henry Percy (d.1352) only married Idoine Clifford a little before 1320 it suggests these date to well after this date, although the lack of weathering suggests that they are Victorian replacements.  The entire structure was much rebuilt in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.  Within the inner gatehouse, behind the early gateway, is a recess in the wall which apparently once housed a well.

Why not join me here and at other Northern English castles this year?  Please see the information on this and similar tours at Scholarly Sojourns.


Copyright©2020 Paul Martin Remfry