Barnard Castle

Barnard Castle helps command the major routeway through the Pennines and is roughly half way between Newcastle on Tyne and Kendal.  Further west on this main Roman Road lay Bowes and Brough castles.  Its position was therefore strategic when the east and west sides of the Pennines were held by opposing powers.  This was true in the period 1136 to 1157.  After this the castle became a backwater, some 60 miles south of the Scottish frontier.

Guy Balliol (d.1112/22) is sometimes credited with building the first castle.  A hundred years and more after this event is supposed to have occurred it was recorded that William Rufus had given Guy the barony of Bywell in Northumberland.  This included 2 churches on the River Tyne just west of Prudhoe.  The gift is sometimes supposed to have occurred in 1092 when Rufus invaded Cumberland.  However, a much more likely scenario is that Guy was rewarded with Bywell, as well as Gainford barony, in the aftermath of Robert Mowbray of Bamburgh's rebellion in 1095.  Later Barnard Castle was built within the 4 or 5 knight fees that made up the honour of Gainford.  The history of Bywell barony is better recorded than that of Gainford as the former was held directly from the Crown.  However, what was to become Barnard Castle, although granted by Rufus as the escheat of Earl Robert Mowbray, was on what had been church land since the ninth century.  This had been taken over by the earls of Northumberland and the bishops of Durham fought tenaciously and eventually successfully to gain the overlordship of Barnard Castle.  Such overlordship meant that the Crown had no direct involvement with Barnard Castle and hence its history is at best sketchy and can mainly be followed by examining the Balliol family.

Guy's family originated from Bailleul-en-Vimeu in Picardy, an estate King John Balliol of Scotland (d.1314) was still holding in 1304.  Guy married a lady called Dinoysia, with whom he had a daughter, Hawise.  She married William Bertram (d.1149/52) of nearby Mitford castle, but William did not inherit Bywell or Gainford/Barnard Castle.  Possibly this was because Bertram had been a supporter of Duke Robert of Normandy (d.1134) and was therefore thought to be unreliable by William Rufus (1087-1100) and Henry I (1100-34).  In any case, the Balliol estates passed to Guy's nephew, Bernard Balliol (d.1162).  He was in charge of the lordship by September 1129 and fought for King Stephen (1135-54) at both the battle of the Standard in August 1138 and at Lincoln on 2 February 1141, where he was captured.  The result of the latter battle was that the bishopric of Durham temporarily fell under Scottish control and the ‘Scottish' William Comyn (d.1168+) was intruded into Durham castle.  Bernard apparently changed sides after this and by 1147 was found in Paris, presumably working with the Angevins.  The status of Barnard Castle during this period is obscure, but it might have been under Scottish control, as were Alnwick, Bamburgh
, Wark and the castles of Cumberland stretching right into Lancashire and as far south as Clitheroe.  At some point before 1150 Bernard (d.1162) had granted his church of Gainford, the caput of the 4 knight's fees that went to make up his barony on the Tees, as well as the chapel in his fortress of Barnard Castle, to St Mary's abbey, York.  This grant was made for the souls of himself, Guy, his uncle, his parents and his children both living and dead.  Further it was witnessed by 2 more Balliols, Ingram, who was presumably Bernard's brother and Bernard.  Just possibly this Bernard was Bernard's son and eventual heir.  Balliol's position would have been awkward at this time.  His lands at Gainford and Barnard Castle lay in the bishopric of Durham in England, while his 30 knight fee barony of Bywell lay in Northumberland that was held by the Scots.  Bernard, around 1150, made a grant of a fishery in the River Tweed to Kelso priory, which indicates that he held lands under the Scottish kings.  Possibly he held Barnard Castle of them too at this time, but its status is obscure.  What seems obvious from the castle's name is that he was responsible for its construction as a border castle when County Durham to the east and Cumberland to the west were held by opposing powers.  This would tend to suggest that the castle dated to the 1140s rather than earlier when the Anglo-Scottish border would have been near to, if not at Barnard Castle.

In 1157 King Henry II (1154-89) acquired Northumberland and Cumberland back from King Malcolm of Scotland (1153-65) with the result that Bernard began to pay scutage on his barony of Bywell.  This was paid at a rate of £20 in 1162 and 1165, initially under Yorkshire and then under the more normal Northumberland.  He died in 1168 when his fee was amerced £20 for various misdeeds.  After the Anarchy (1136-54), Bernard's brother, Jocelin Balliol (d.1169), was found in charge of the hundred of Mere in Wiltshire.  On his death in 1169 his lands passed to his nephew, Eustace Balliol (d.1215).   It is possible that he was the elder brother of the Bernard Balliol (d.1190) as the 4 brothers were mentioned before 1144, presumably in their birth order, as Ingram, Guy, Eustace and Bernard.  Alternately he may have been a cousin and certainly held the Picardy lands as he appeared in 2 Durham charters as Bernard Helicourt.  Bernard (d.1189) in 1170 made a fine of 200m (£133 6s 8d) for having his lands.  There seems no evidence that these included Barnard Castle and Gainford.  Indeed, these may have passed to Eustace (d.1215) after going through the hands of his 2 purported elder brothers, Ingram and Guy (d.bef.1167).  Bernard Balliol (d.1190) fought at the battle of Alnwick in 1174 and helped capture King William I of Scotland (1165-1214).  After his death in the Spring of 1190 his lands, which included Ingleby, previously held by Guy (d.bef.1167) together with Hitchen in Essex, certainly passed to Eustace, while the rights to the wapentake of Sedberge, which contained Gainford and Barnard Castle, were exchanged with King Richard I (1189-99) by Bishop Hugh Puiset of Durham during a negotiated settlement.  The bishop paid 10,000m (£6,666 13s 4d) for having the county of Northumberland and also 600m (£400) for the exchange of Saberge.  In 1196 Eustace was recorded as lord of Gainford, which he might have been since 1168 and which he held under the bishop of Durham.  In 1200 Eustace was recorded as the heir of Bernard Balliol (d.1190) and was holding Bywell in Northumberland.  Further unpublished documents show that around the same time Barnard Castle briefly passed into the hands of the bishop of Durham as security for debt.

Eustace must have been of some age by the reign of King John (1199-1216), possibly having been born before 1145.  It may have been for this reason that he soon passed at least Bywell and Hitchen on to his son, Hugh Balliol (d.1229).  Hugh was in possession of the first by 1202 and the second by 1204.  On 10 April 1213, Archdeacon Aimery of Durham and Philip Ulecot, the custodians of the bishopric of Durham, where informed that Hugh Balliol:

has come to us... and you are mandated to return to him without delay his castle called Castrum Bernard and his other lands and chattels.

It is uncertain why the castle had been seized by the custodians as the bishopric of Durham had been vacant and under their control since April 1208.  Possibly Balliol had been implicated in the disturbances in the North during 1212, but just the previous year in 1211, he and his brother, Bernard Balliol, were recorded as being amongst the evil councillors of King John.

Eustace died before 2 October 1215, by which time King John had taken Eustace's land of Mere in Wiltshire into his own hands.  On 30 January 1216 the king spent a single day at Barnard Castle.  Presumably he was guest to Hugh Balliol at the time, for in his own castle John granted Hugh the castle of Whorlton (Hwernelton) with its lands formerly held by Robert Meynell (d.1202).  It is unknown if Hugh Balliol was in residence when Barnard Castle underwent its great siege in 1216, although it was recorded that Hugh and Philip Oldcoats (d.1220/21) held the castles they had custody of in Northumberland violently against the Scots.  Two independent chronicles contain notices of the siege:

In the month of August, King Alexander of the Scots, came to Louis at Dover with a large army on account of his fear of King John and there he did him homage for his right, which he ought to have held of the king of the English; but, as he came towards Louis, while he was making a passage past Barnard Castle, which was in the fee of Hugh Balliol and situated in the province of Haliwercfolk, the king with the great men of that country, circumnavigated the fortress to see from which quarter it might be best assaulted; a certain crossbowman from within the castle, shot a bolt which struck Eustace Vescy, a noble and powerful man, driving a hole into is brain causing him immediately to breath out his last breath; this Eustace was married to the sister of the king of Scots, who, with his barons, were greatly disconcerted.  The king then, having done his homage as related, returned to his own land.
Eustace Vescy [Alnwick], 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.

A brief mention in the Melrose chronicle adds nothing to the story, but that it occurred soon after the fall of Carlisle town on 8 August 1216.  In any case the castle survived the siege which may have been brief.  On 5 June 1216, King John had ordered Philip Oldcoats (d.1220/21) to hand control of Durham, Norham, Mitford, Prudhoe, Newcastle upon Tyne, Bamburgh and all the other castles which he had in bail over to Hugh Balliol who would munition and guard them.  Presumably this was immediately before Barnard Castle was attacked.

Hugh Balliol, lord of Bywell, Stokesley, Ingleby and Kirkby in Cleveland as well as Hitchen in Essex and Gainford with Barnard Castle under the bishops of Durham, died a little before 19 April 1229, leaving his eldest son, John Balliol (d.1268) of age to inherit.  At this time John's half uncle, Ingram Balliol (d.1244), was lord of Urr in Galloway and Dalton Piercy just outside Hartlepool in Teeside.  Similarly the descendants of John's uncle, Henry (d.1215+)b were lords of Bingham in Nottingham and went on to found the Balliol house of Cavers in Scotland.  John Balliol, as lord of Bywel and Gainford with Barnard Castle, was soon drawn into Scottish politics.  In 1233 he married Devorguilla (d.1290) the daughter and one of the heiresses of Alan of Galloway (d.1234).  This marriage would have fateful consequences for the fortunes of the family.

On 11 April 1234, Balliol's barony of Gainford gained one of its few oblique references.  On that day King Henry III (d.1272) ordered John Balliol to perform homage to Bishop Richard of Durham for the 5¼ knight's fees that pertained to the custody of Newcastle upon Tyne castle which were held by him in the wapentake of Sadberge.  This referred to Gainford and Barnard Castle and probably resulted in John being fined 20m (£13 6s 8d) for ‘transgressions done to Bishop R of Durham'.  This was pardoned on 14 July 1235.  A year later in 1236 the fortress became home to Thomas Galloway (d.1298), who was held prisoner there by his Balliol brother in law and his descendants for the next 60 years, only being freed in 1296 on the overthrow of King John Balliol of Scotland (1292-96).

In 1252 John Balliol (d.1268) with Robert Roos of Wark (d.1269) were nominated guardians of Scotland by Henry III.  On 13 August 1255, Henry wrote angrily to Balliol concerning his relations with the bishop of Durham.  Before that date John had seized with an armed force the church of Long Newton with a consequence that 40 days later the bishop had excommunicated John's men who had been responsible.  Then Eustace and Jocelyn Balliol, John's brothers, with others ambushed the bishop and his retinue in a wood and ‘basely and irreverently' insulted them with swords and other weapons taking 4 of his retainers prisoners to Barnard Castle where they still remained.  The king therefore ordered John to release the bishop's men from his castle and make recompense, otherwise the king would compel him to do so by other means.  Presumably this was related to the king's complaint against John's actions as Scottish guardian.  The accusation against the guardians had come from Master Reginald of Bath, a physician, who had been sent to Scotland to tend for the king and queen.  He had reported back to Henry III that the guardians had ‘conducted themselves unfaithfully and dishonestly towards the kingdom of Scotland and the king and queen...'.  He then died, allegedly of poison.  The royal displeasure against John was soon seen in the king transferring Carlisle castle from Balliol's keeping to that of Robert Bruce (d.1295).  Balliol soon made his peace with the king ‘with money of which he had abundance'.  Roos however was chased by Henry III with a vehemence which translated into a 100,000m (£66,666 13s 4d) fine which was only dropped in 1259 at the instance of the barons of England who regarded Roos, like Balliol, of being innocent of all transgressions made against the king's daughter and her husband, King Alexander III (d.1286).  On 14 August 1257, the king remitted all his anger against John Balliol for the trespasses he had committed against King Alexander of Scots and Margaret his wife, the king's daughter, on him agreeing a fine of £500, of which £100 was immediately paid and the rest paid and pardoned by 15 March 1258.  In that same spring of 1258 John was in favour enough to be sent again to Scotland on royal business and on 8 September was thought to be ready to seize the 17 year old king of Scots, only to be met by him protected by his feudal host.

In the meantime the great baronial rebellion against the autocratic and incompetent rule of King Henry III began.  Despite the spat of 1255-57, John proved himself an ardent supporter of royal rule and had Peak castle committed to him by Henry III on 15 November 1261.  Six months later he received Nottingham castle with the sheriffdom of the adjoined counties and was rewarded for his ‘laudable service' on 21 February 1262.  In 1263 he took time out from politics and founded Balliol college at Oxford as well as having his son, Hugh, swear to the king that they both would observe the provisions of Oxford made in 1258.  Then on 15 May 1264 he was with his king at the battle of Lewes when both he, Robert Bruce (d.1295) and John Comyn (d.1277) were captured by the barons and their Scottish men at arms largely slain.  John's price of freedom was granted the same night with him handing Barnard Castle over to the barons for his freedom.  He then set off for the North where he and King Alexander III of Scotland conspired against the victorious barons. 

John seems to have regained Barnard Castle before 8 January 1266 when his barony included lands within Newcastle on Tyne.  He had certainly seized Cressewell from the rebels ‘in time of war'.  Further on 30 May 1266, the king granted him 300m (£200) in recompense for his losses sustained in the royal service, while Prince Edward granted John a charter in his own fortress of Barnard Castle on 13 April 1267.  On 19 June 1268, he granted the land of Lauder to Dryburgh abbey and died soon afterwards, sometime before 27 October 1268, after he had attended the York parliament that September.  His wife had his heart preserved and carried it with her until both of them with the heart were buried together in her new foundation in Galloway, Sweetheart abbey.

John's heir, Hugh Balliol, only held Barnard Castle for 4 years, dying before 10 January 1272.  Once again it was found that the head of the Balliol family held the little cluster of vills around Newbiggan on the coast as well as Bywel barony.  His heir was his brother Alexander Balliol who hurried back from Crusade to take up his inheritance.  He too died young before 13 November 1277 leaving Bywel barony, held for the service of 3 knights in the king's army and doing guard duty at Newcastle upon Tyne.  Although, as a fief of the bishop of Durham, Barnard Castle was not mentioned, it too passed to the 30+ year old John Balliol by November 1279 when he agreed to satisfy the king if he had done any trespass in doing homage to the bishop of Durham for Barnard Castle if it was found that this homage belonged to the king.  Quite clearly it didn't as no more is heard of the affair. 

In 1278 King Alexander III (1249-86) visited his second cousin, Dervorguilla Balliol at Barnard Castle.  There he found her living in mourning for her husband.  She had his heart in an ivory and silver casket placed on the table at each meal and served a portion of each dish, which was then taken out to feed the poor for their prayers for his soul.  With her lived her half brother, Thomas Galloway, a prisoner since 1236.  In 1286 John Balliol (d.1314) tried to release him back to Scotland and sent him from Barnard Castle to Norham, but he was not allowed to go free by the barons of Scotland.  Dervorguilla herself only died on 28 January 1290 at Barnard Castle.  She was buried at her own foundation of Sweetheart abbey and given an epitaph which ran:

Thy peace of king of kings may we implore,
For noble Dervorguilla now no more,
Give her among the sacred seers a place,
Uniting Martha's faith with Mary's grace.
This stone protects her and her husband's heart,
So closely knit that not even death could part.

King Edward I charged John Balliol £3,289 14s 1½d relief for his mother's lands in Scotland, but on 8 May 1293, when John was king, Edward ‘by his special favour' pardoned £3,000 of this, the remnant to be paid off at £40 per annum.  In 1291 Balliol put himself forward as claimant to the vacant Scottish throne.  This claim was successful and so on 19 November 1292:

John Balliol, by consent of the king of England, assumed by a formal decree, the privileges and the crown of the kingdom of Scotland, on condition of himself and his successors swearing fealty and doing liege homage to the king of England.

That homage was paid on 26 December 1292 for the whole realm of Scotland after Bishop Anthony Bek of Durham (1283-1311) and John St John, standing in for the underage Earl Duncan of Fife (d.1353, the probable builder of Tantallon castle), crowned the king at Scone.

In 1295 war came to Great Britain.  First Gascony was seized by the French in 1294, then Wales and Scotland revolted from the rule of Edward I when he asked them to send military aid to France.  Several contemporary chronicles are woven together in the chronicle now known as Flores Historiarum.  Two separate ones are contained in this work under the year 1295.  The events of the first may follow the second or may be in opposition to it.  The first runs:

The Scots having broken the covenant of peace which they had made with their liege lord the king of England, made another treaty with the king of France which is preserved in an authentic document drawn up by both parties and preserved to be read plainly by all who wish; and having thus made a confederacy, they rose in insurrection against their king, despising his simplicity and disdaining his superiority.  And leading him into the inner districts of Scotland, they shut him up there in a certain castle which was surrounded by abrupt mountains, appointing knights to guard their helpless king.  After this, they elected, after the fashion of the French, 12 peers, 4 bishops, 4 earls and 4 barons, by whose orders all the affairs of the kingdom should be settled.  And all this was done by way of insult to the kingdom of England, because, in spite of the secret murmurings of some of the Scots and the open objections of others, John Balliol had been appointed king of Scotland by the king of England.

The second comes some folios later and has obviously been written up anachronistically because Edward I was certainly not in Flanders in the years 1295-96 when the Scottish alliance was formed with France.

King John of Scotland, forgetful of his homage and vow of fealty, sent as ambassadors to the king of France, Bishop William of St Andrews, Bishop William of Dunkeld with John Soulis [Liddel] and Ingelram Umfraville, knights, King Edward being at that time in Flanders [1297-98] and secretly made an alliance against the king of England; asking as a confirmation of the business, that a marriage might be contracted between his son Edward and Joanna daughter of Charles, brother of the king of France.  He undertook that he would be willing to attack the king of England with all his power and to prevent him from waging war against the king of France as is more fully contained in the documents drawn up between the 2 kings by whom, as they both thus agreed to this treason, the king of England, being ignorant of it, was greatly deceived; and when he had earnestly asked for aid in his war and had received a doubtful answer, then suspecting the state of the case, he demanded that their castles should be put in his hands as security till the end of the war, namely those of Berwick, Edinburgh and Roxburgh, promising to restore them after the war, if he found the Scots faithful to him.  But as the Scots refused to do this, the king, being now more certain of their treachery, marched with his army towards Scotland and determined to subdue it by force, unless they desisted from the attempts which had been reported to him, and unless they could legitimately excuse themselves with reference to these designs, which were proved to be in progress.

On 26 April the rebel Scottish army was defeated by troops under Edward I at the battle of Dunbar.  This led to the surrender of the main Scots force the next day when Dunbar castle surrendered.  Edward advanced north when King John Balliol, who had not been at Dunbar, made his submission.  On 10 June 1296 he was stripped of his title and eventually, after imprisonment in the Tower of London, withdrew to Picardy in 1299 when Edward I married Margaret of France.  Here he based himself on his ancestral estates based upon Helicourt castle.  With his revolt against King Edward I of England in 1295, Barnard Castle had been seized by Bishop Anthony Bek of Durham (1283-1311) as his direct overlord for Gainford barony of which Barnard Castle was a member.  Apparently in 1296 the same bishop who had:

seized all the lands which John Balliol held of the fee of St Cuthbert; and upon these lands at Barnard Castle he caused a prisoner of the same John [aged] 88 to be brought out of filth, had him shaved, gave him a change of clothing and set him at liberty, besides restoring to him the lands of which he had been deprived.

As the Lanercost chronicler was violently anti-Balliol in outlook the idea that John, who had tried to free Thomas, now kept him inhumanly, is probably to be dismissed.  So too is his idea that Balliol was a descendant of the Hugh Morville (d.1173+) who killed Thomas Becket, as this was his second great grand uncle and not his third great grandfather, another Hugh Morville (d.1162).  Lanercost's account of Balliol's surrender, however, does have a more authentic ring about it.

And when it had been lain down by the Scots to their king that he was neither to offer battle nor accept peace, but that he should keep in hiding by constant flight, King Edward on the other hand, strengthened his resolve that neither the ocean should bear him away, nor the hills and woods hide him.  Rather than that, having him surrounded by land and sea at Kincardine, he compelled him to come to Montrose, subject to King Edward's will and judgement.  There he renounced his kingly right and, having experience of dishonest counsellors, submitted to the perpetual loss of both his royal honour of Scotland and his paternal estates in England.  And, having been sent to London with his only son, he led an honourable, but retired life, satisfied with the funds allotted to him from the king's exchequer.

In 1302, with a case of lese-majeste going against Bishop Anthony Bek in his absence at the papal curia, King Edward I (1272-1307) took the bishopric of Durham into his own hands.  This now included Barnard Castle.  The problem of palatine and regal rights was partially settled in 1303 and the bishopric was returned to Bek.  However, further offences against royal messengers meant that Edward seized the palatinate again in December 1305, after calling for persons wishing to bring pleas against the bishop from the districts Durham, Sadberg, Hartlepool, Barnard Castle, Norham and Darlington to come before his justices at the end of March 1305.  With Barnard Castle and the rest of the palatinate in his hands, King Edward, on 4 February 1307, granted to Earl Guy Beauchamp of Warwick (d.1315) an extension to his grant to him of the lands of John Balliol, the king's rebel, of Barnard Castle with the armour, crossbows and other goods within it for its defence.  The full grant had been made on 2 February 1307 and stated that Guy was to have the castle and town of Barnard Castle and the manor of Middleton within Durham bishopric with the manor of Gainford and the other lands within the bishopric which Agnes (d.1310) the widow of Hugh Balliol (d.1272) and Eleanor (d.1310) the widow of Alexander Balliol (d.1277), held in dower unless Edward or his heirs decided to restore Edward, the son of John Balliol, in which case the king would recompense Guy elsewhere.  On 6 May 1307, the king noted the payment by Earl Guy of Warwick of £200 given by him for Barnard castle and its appurtenances, forfeited to the king by reason of the enmity of John Balliol, sometime king of Scotland and sold to the earl by the king.  Despite this the bishops of Durham claimed the castle and Gainford barony as belonging to their lordship in 1311 and 1316.  On 11 November 1312 the bishop requested Earl Guy to pay his share of the money paid to King Robert Bruce to stop him sacking Barnard Castle and other places.

On Earl Guy's death in 1315, King Edward II gave custody of the castle to John le Irreys.  He promptly raided Bowes castle and abducted Matilda Clare (d.1327), the widow of Robert Clifford (d.1314) of Appleby.  He then raped the lady within Barnard Castle, probably as a prelude to marriage.  However, a royal rescue force arrived, deprived le Irreys of his command of the castle and set the lady free.  Matilda then married a knight in her rescue party, Robert Welles (d.1320).  In 1327 the district around the castle was invaded by the Scots who nearly fought a battle there with the young King Edward III.  Afterwards, it is thought that after coming of age in 1329, Earl Thomas Beauchamp (d.1369) or his son, another Earl Thomas (d.1401), modernised the great hall and modernised the kitchens and other service buildings of the inner ward.

The fortress then remained with the Beauchamps until 11 June 1446 when Earl Henry Beaumont of Warwick died without heirs of his body.  Richard Neville then became earl of Warwick as he had married Earl Henry's half sister in 1434.  Warwick the Kingmaker, as he came to be known, then held the castle until his death at the battle of Barnet in 1471.  The castle
subsequently passed to his son in law, Duke Richard of Gloucester.  In 1483 he became King Richard III and Barnard Castle became a royal fortress.  Richard planned to found an ecclesiastical college within the castle, but he was killed on 22 August 1485 before this was done.

After the fall of King Richard the fortress remained a royal castle.  In the 1530s John Leland found it:

a part of Gainford parish, where the head church is 6 miles lower on the Tees and in the bishopric.  The castle of Barnard stands stately upon the Tees.  The first area has no very notable thing in it, but the fair chapel where there are 2 chantries.  In the middle of the body of this chapel is a fair marble tomb with an image and an inscription about it in French.  There is another in the south aisle of the chapel in freestone with an image of the same.  Some say that they were Balliols.  The inner area is very large and partly moated and well furnished with towers of great lodging...

The castle therefore seems to have survived intact until its destruction during its second and final siege in 1569.  That November the earls of Westmorland and Northumberland, with the Dacres of Dacre, led the so-called Rising of the North.  The rebels assembled at Brancepeth castle and marched on Durham.  Their intention was to release Mary Queen of Scots from Tutbury castle and crown her queen of England in place of Elizabeth I (1558-1603).  The plot failed partially due to George Bowes (d.1580), the constable of Barnard Castle, quickly munitioning the fortress with some 100 well mounted well armed light horse from both sides of the River Tees, armed with plate coats and spears as well as 100 of his own light horse.  These were backed by 200 able men armed from Barnard Castle lordship as well as Bowes' own tenants.  They were armed with plate coats, jacks, bows and arrows and bills as well as 20 of his own corslets and 30 arquebuses.  His request to the earl of Sussex to use this force to attack the rebels forming at Brancepeth was refused and by 14 November the rebels had taken Durham.  After George rescued his children from school where the rebels attempted to kidnap them, he complained on 29 November that he was short of supplies and that he needed hasty relief from Sussex as he had not the money to buy further provisions which required 3d per day for each man.

The constable next wrote to Sussex on 1 December that the rebels had surrounded him and driven his forces from the town.  They had summoned him to surrender, but he had fired his pistol over the summoner's head in answer and ordered his men to have no parley with the rebels.  He sorely needed the 300 shot which were at Berwickfor with them he could retake the town.  He estimated that 1,200 horse were all within range if had had the ammunition.  Instead he had seen 5 enemy guns which he guessed the besiegers planned to bring to bear against him during the night.

On 6 December 1569 George stated that a sally was made from the west gate [presumably the sallyport] by 200 of his cavalry of whom 2 were slain and 30 prisoners taken.  These were stripped to their doublet and hose and had their horses stolen.  The end then came quite quickly. 

I found the people in the castle in continual mutinies, seeking not only by great numbers to leap the walls and run to the rebels, but also by all means to betray the place and with open force to deliver it and all in it to the rebels...  In one day and night 226 men leapt over the walls and opened the gates and went to the enemy, of which number 35 broke their necks, legs or arms in the leaping.

The traitors then gave the intelligence to the besiegers that the besieged were short of water and helped them cut the last water supply to the fortress.  This final act forced the constable to surrender his charge under the terms that he could march away with his men, armour, weapons and horses leaving the victors just the bare castle.

The time Bowes and his men had bought for his queen allowed the earl of Sussex to muster a royalist army and force the rebels to disband and flee by 26 December 1569.  After the siege Bowes wrote to his queen stating that during the siege he and his garrison survived on ‘a very hard diet and great want of bread, drink and water'.  Even worse he had lost much during the rebellion and his losses were only partially made good by his parsimonious queen.  Consequently he had to sell much of his land in 1570-71.

The bishop of Durham, writing in May 1570 stated that the earls had intended to take York, but lacking cannon had been persuaded to take Barnard Castle instead as the rebels of Durham bishopric feared leaving Sir George Bowes armed and to their rear.  The result was that by the time they had taken the castle they had lost 4,000 men, presumably by desertion, rather than as casualties.  The bishop later stated that of the 300 rebels ordered executed in County Durham, 20 of these were men who had leapt the wall deserting the garrison of Barnard Castle.  He also stated that the ‘number of offenders is so great that few innocent are left to try the guilty'.  In the actual fighting Bowes on 10 October 1573 claimed that 5 men were killed in the fighting - 3 within and 3 without!  In addition, during a night skirmish, 67 of the defending garrison were wounded by arquebus fire.

On 23 October 1590, Sir George himself wrote to Lord Cecil concerning Barnard Castle.  This he said stood:

at the foot of the great wastes and mountains, all open without enclosures to the very ground of Scotland... and a great part of the principal wall undermined and shaken in the late rebellion is now fallen flat to the earth....

George had thought of repairing it, but had been far too busy.  Three decades after the siege it was reported that the damage done to the castle during these turbulent days had not been repaired.  After this moment of glory the castle was allowed to rot away, the process being hastened after March 1640 when Henry Vane (1589-1655) dismantled parts of the fortress and used them to improve his other castle at nearby Raby.  By the 1700s the castle wards were being used as meadows.

Barnard Castle would appear to have been a virgin site when founded by the Balliols, nearly 8 miles west of their Durham caput, Gainford.  It stands on a cliff above the River Tees and consists of a deeply ditched inner ward and 3 outer wards, running from north to south, called the town, middle and outer ward.  To the north of the castle was a steep gully that contained the Roman Road that ran between the old Roman forts of Binchester and Bowes.  The castle therefore guarded a strategic position across the Pennines.  It is also truly massive being some 900' north to south by 450' deep.  Therefore it is hardly surprising that it is divided into 4 wards.

The Outer Ward
As is normal in such castles the outer ward is the largest, covering some half the castle area.  This area contained the castle farm and to the north-east had a large twin towered, rectangular gatehouse, the slight remains of which are incorporated into later buildings.  This massive tower was apparently 50' square and lay mostly internal to its curtain in an early fashion.  A little south-west of this lay St Margaret's chapel which is claimed to be the same as the chapel granted by Bernard Balliol (d.1168) to York abbey before 1150.  If correct this would suggest that the outer ward existed by this date.  The chapel remnants are now built into stables.  The ward was defended by a deep ditch to the west that possibly continued to the south where modern housing now stands.  The west side was built upon the river cliff.  The whole was once walled but now only scanty fragments remain, but an old plan shows that the east wall was equipped with buttresses presumably similar to those found around the town ward.  To the south and to the west, set on the cliff top, the walls consist of small, flat, locally quarried stones.  The south wall has also been rebattlemented and has a central, hole in the wall gateway.

The Middle Ward
North of the outer ward lay the middle ward.  This is now mostly reduced to foundations.  It was entered from the outer ward from the south-west via another massive twin towered, rectangular gatehouse.  This again was some 50' square and is now called the Constable Tower, presumably due to this having been his residence in the castle's heyday.  The tower fragment, still standing 3 storeys high, lay at the southern end of a cliff of rock above the Tees.  It projected boldly forward into the ditch that protected the south side of the middle and town wards.  Unlike the outer ward gatehouse, the twin towers of the middle ward gatehouse were divided into 2 unequal portions, with a square chamber forwards and a smaller chamber behind.  At its base on the Tees side it has a fine sloping plinth, while the top of the first and second floors are marked by a single chamfered offset.  On the ground floor each chamber had a single loop over the river.  The first floor only had a loop in the forward chamber as did the uppermost floor where the loop was much wider and longer, but still a loop rather than a window.  Internally the 2 small loops in the smaller, southernmost chamber both had Romanesque embrasures, but these are heavily robbed out.  The upper floor window appears to have had one too.  The ground floor appears to have had vaulted or paved floors, while the upper floor lay on jousts.  At the base of the forward chamber is a Romanesque opening over the Tees.

The south wall of the ward and east tower of the Constable Tower are reduced to buried foundations, but just east of the gatehouse are traces of a peculiar rectangular tower which offsets the curtain to the north-east.  This odd tower is mirrored in the town ward by the Dovecote Tower.  Where the town ward begins along this front the middle ward curtain cuts out at right angles to the north-west and then curves in a 2 uneven lengths over the inner ward ditch to butt against the inner ward curtain.  That this wall butts against the inner curtain and the town ward curtain would suggest that it postdates both.  As such the middle ward and town ward may once have been one.  Within the junction of the middle ward with the town ward wall was an 80' long rectangular building with another, smaller chamber to its north, again running along the middle ward curtain.  This is only shown in old plans.  Beyond this what looks like a projecting rectangular gatehouse projects into the middle ward ditch to allow access to the town ward.

Other buildings seem to have occupied the now open interior.  Incorporated into the curtain wall were at least 2 other towers at the south end of the east wall.  That at the join of the middle and town wards projected beyond the middle curtain and was rectangular.  Only a heavily battered plinth now remains surrounding and possibly stabilising the older tower within.  What remains shows that both were built after the other 2 curtain walls.   Just north of this other walls project out towards the middle ward ditch, one of which forms the base of a cistern which has been rebuilt with machine cut voussoirs.  North of this is a later gate linking the middle and town wards across the ditch.  This projecting gatetower was added to the curtain and had powerful buttresses to north and south and a drawbridge over the wet moat.  In this it somewhat resembles the barbican at Grosmont.

The Town Ward

This roughly rectangular ward is about 350' square and includes the inner and middle ward ditches to the west within its enclosure.  The later entrance from the middle ward has been noted.  Another lay through a small probably quite late postern to the north-east, while the main entrance was to the gully and Roman road to the north.  This north gate was an odd structure.  It has been claimed that the wall to either side of it had no wallwalk, the walls themselves being too thin to carry one.  However as the remains of a set of steps are clearly seen leading from the upper chamber of the east tower of the north gatehouse to what was presumably the wallwalk one must have existed.  Possibly they were corbelled out at a higher, now destroyed level.  The gatetower was of at least 2 storeys and projected to both front and rear of the curtain, although the forward ashlar sections have been largely destroyed apart from their scars on the curtain walls.  Probably they were merely buttresses like those found at Carlisle inner ward or Prudhoe barbican.

Within the gatehouse were 2 unequal rectangular chambers, now little more than foundations.  That to the north was entered via the gate passageway and contained a fireplace.  As such it was probably the guardroom.  The chamber to the south was entered via the courtyard and probably allowed access to the chamber over the gate passageway.  This was most likely a constable's chamber as the surviving, rebuilt window above the gate suggests.  The internal gate arch underneath too looks like a rebuild internally, although the external ashlar looks original.  However the gate arch looks more like an ecclesiastical chancel arch than a military structure with neither portcullis nor drawbridge.  In all likelihood the 3 upper windows and gate arches with inserted Romanesque arch are all late work.

The curtain to the north-east had internal buildings all along this front and is pierced by 3 crossbow loops with fish tailed oillets and Romanesque embrasures.  The ashlar these are constructed with seems similar to that of the north gate.  After an unflanked near right-angled turn to the east are 2 more loops on slightly differing levels and with differing embrasures.  These are not Romanesque, ie the arches make a third of a circle and not half circles like a Romanesque arch.  Oddly this section of 2 lengths of curtain running to the Brackenbury Tower have no external buttresses, although old plans suggest there should be 3 in this section. 

The Brackenbury Tower was a rectangular structure of which only 2 storeys now remain.  Why it bears the name of Richard III's lieutenant, Robert Brackenbury (d.1485) is unknown.  The tower lies predominantly within the enceinte which suggests an early date and appears firmly meshed to the curtain on either side.  Its basement is barrel-vaulted, although this appears to be an insertion.  Internally it contains a fireplace, deeply splayed window to the east, cupboards and even a garderobe.  This appears to have been inserted as it has chamfered jambs and appears to break the internal string course at head height.  Externally its exit consists of a large rectangular opening with a single large lintel.  There is a second such latrine exit in the south-east corner suggesting a garderobe here on the floor above.

Access to this basement was gained from the floor above via a straight mural stair in the south wall.  This may be an insertion as the ground doorway has chamfered jambs.  The upper chamber contained another fireplace, 2 garderobes and 2 crossbow loops, the north one with a cupboard and an east facing window with seats.  The ashlar work around the embrasures seems similar to those already described in the town ward, but the surviving embrasure roofs are shallow set arches not in the Romanesque style.  The tower bears some resemblance to the West Tower at Berkhamsted, while the entire fortress has a somewhat similar plan, with a large ward and internal divisions, to Berkhamsted castle in general - although of course there is no motte.

Beyond this tower the curtain is gone for some 100' then restarts with 2 loops with similar non-Romanesque embrasures to the northern section of the east wall and a single surviving external buttress.  Old plans of the castle show the entire east wall bristling with buttresses, though this is the only one that certainly can be said to have actually existed.  At the southern end of this wall fragment is an internal wall junction suggesting that an internal building once stood here.  This must have been demolished when several rectangular internal buildings were built.  These have all vanished apart from some slight remains excavated within the south town ward curtain.

The southern wall of the enceinte stands on a pronounced bank and has a fine ditch to the south.  The remaining portion contains the remnants of 7 external buttresses, but no loops.  Presumably the buttresses were ashlar judging from the scanty ramains.  Sadly the junction with the outer ward is covered in vegetation, but the whole stands on a foundation on a slightly different alignment at points.  This may suggest it replaces an older wall.  Within the ward were at least 5 independently standing rectangular buildings, of which only the southern 2 have any remnants above ground.  They were formed around a cobbled courtyard containing a well and a pond. 

On the other side of the ward, south-west of the north gate, are 2 odd structures.  First is a solid half round turret giving the gate some flanking.  This has clearly been rebuilt as the south side has a slight sloping plinth under a moulded projecting string course.  The north side has neither of these features and a clear fissure divides the turret in two.  Presumably it held a fighting platform on its summit for use of the defenders of the southern tower of the gatehouse.  South of this D shaped turret is an odd square tower which gives flanking towards the gate to the north, but is coeval with the curtain to the south running to the inner ward. 

The Dovecote Tower mimics the supposed other tower at the opposite side of the castle in the middle ward.  The tower is currently of only 2 storeys.  Externally at ground floor level the tower has a chamfered string course that continues round the east face of the tower onto the north curtain wall and then runs about 15' eastwards before ending abruptly at what must be a rebuild of the curtain.  The string course on the surviving portion of the D shaped turret is about 5' higher up the wall, which is based on sloping ground, and is moulded rather than chamfered.  Quite clearly this shows at least 4 different building phases in this wall.  The projecting north-east corner of the tower is reinforced by a nicked ashlar buttress which seems contemporary with the rest of the structure.  It's north face has a similar chamfered string course which is set some 3' below the eastern one.  This continues westwards over the junction of the tower with the rest of the curtain to the east.  This junction is marked by an odd line of ashlar which are not corner quoins, but merely mark the end of the tower.  Some 15' east of the tower this chamfered string course abruptly ends and what must be a different section of curtain completes the run to the round keep in the inner ward.  This piece of wall has 2 fine ashlar buttresses marking the position of the inner ward ditch on the inside of the enceinte.  These buttresses appear similar to that on the Dovecote Tower.

Internally the Dovecote Tower was equally unusual.  It's south face runs smoothly into the adjoining curtain wall and 2 steeply pitched roof creases can be seen between this and the north gate.  The tower was entered through its south face by a ground level doorway which has been largely ripped out, although the surviving 2 jambs are chamfered and therefore probably date to after 1200.  The door passageway was of fine ashlar.  Internally the gutted tower has been equipped with pigeon roosts - thus gaining its name.  The only feature in the 2 storeys is a first floor doorway partially cutting through the east internal wall of the tower.  This is rubble built and has a lintelled roof.  Above this is one of several corbels which supported either a roof or the floor of a now lost upper storey. 

Inner Ward
The heart of the castle is defined by a sub rectangular earthwork which consists of a fine deep ditch some 25' deep and 55' across.  There is also a scarp to the north and the cliff bluff of the River Tees to the east making an enclosure about 160' square.  The interior of the ringwork is in places some 8' higher than the town ward.

Within this ringwork is an odd, much altered masonry enceinte.  This seems to have been entered from the middle ward via a long, dog-legged barbican, although possibly a bridge led directly to the internal rectangular gatetower which seems to have been the first masonry on the site.  This directly parallels the early Hay on Wye castle and to a lesser extent Ludlow and Richmond, the latter 2 being much larger in size.  All that remains of this 30' square gatetower are the foundations of the south and east walls.  This shows the base of a large, inset gate to the south which was later blocked in when the tower was converted into a square keep.  A similar progression is seen at the above 3 castles with early internal rectangular gatetowers.

At the base of the great ditch beneath the gatetower was a sallyport.  This has an early English arch and a portcullis.  When the gatetower was blocked a new gate was made beside it to the east.  This consisted of a great projecting D shaped tower, which was presumably entered at right angles to the enceinte to make a dog legged gate passageway within.  This is an unusual arrangement and most closely resembles Caldicot castle with its great ditch.  Pembroke inner ward gatetower is somewhat similar, but this no longer has a ditch in front of it, although it presumably once did.  Not much remains of this D shaped gatetower, the best preserved fragment being the deeply splayed base lying on the side of the great ditch.  Between the rectangular gatetower and the buff of the River Tees a new tower was constructed around the turn of the fourteenth century, possibly when the bulk of the original gatetower cum keep was demolished.  This was called the Headlam Tower and has better faced walling than that of the outer ward and has fine quoins on its surviving corner.  The first floor of the tower was set upon a single course of chamfered plinth and was ashlar faced towards the river - its only surviving portion. From the gatetower the enceinte curtain ran northwards and then westwards in a series of unequal lengths, before terminating in the great round keep and the town ward curtain.

The first section of the enceinte from the D shaped gatetower is reduced to buried foundations.  Beyond the middle ward junction with the inner wall rises to its full height and is still crowned by a wallwalk and a few damaged battlements.  Beyond this is the multi phase Prison Tower, originally a small rectangular tower whose east face seems replaced with an ashlar front with chamfered off corners.  This latter addition is probably thirteenth or fourteenth century.  The central and northern buttresses supporting it may even be fifteenth century.  Internally the ground floor is vaulted, while the first floor has the remnants of a shallow, pointed embrasure to the south and a lintel topped loop to the north.  There was also a garderobe in the south curtain reached from this level of the tower.  The back of the tower has disappeared, but there was probably an upper floor, now marked merely by a handful of stones making a projecting string course at curtain battlement level.

Beyond the Prison Tower are 2 projecting ashlar buttresses in the wall before it is demolished down to foundation level.  Next the small polygonal Postern Tower rises to wallwalk height.  The better quality masonry of this suggests a similar date to the front of the Prison Tower, while its rear has been much altered and rebuilt.  The postern was entered via a short flight of steps up from an auxiliary room off the great chamber.  The surviving side of the doorway has chamfered off jambs.  Above the odd, curved shape of the wall suggests much rebuilding here.  Within was a curved passage that led to a small, shoulder headed gateway that looks fourteenth century or later.  Above this was a chamber that must have been entered from above and contains a shattered crossbow loop with a fish tail to the north, above the postern and a fine crossbow loop to the east.  This long fish tailed loop has a sighting slit towards the top and looks somewhat similar to the loops in Warkworth gatehouse. 

 The curtain then remains at full height to the ashlar round keep, although there is another obvious change in the masonry where a rectangular keep antechamber begins.  On it's summit traces of the wallwalk can be seen.  This was very narrow at only some 3' with the battlements in front being only some 18" deep.  Obviously this left no room for a parados, while the wall itself was perilously thin to artillery attack.

From the north-west side of the Headlam Tower of the main gate the enceinte ran along the cliff top to a chamfered off corner where the fourteenth century Mortham Tower stands some 4 storeys and a basement high.  The curtain runs northwards from here to the round keep.  The first section of the wall, now mostly destroyed, encompassed the great kitchen, while north of the Mortham Tower stood the almost square great hall and a long rectangular great chamber.  This appears to have been set deeply into the side of the keep.  This irregular inner ward bears some comparison with those of Carlisle, Ludlow, Mitford and Scarborough, while the buttressed fronts are reminiscent of Carlisle, Mitford, Old Sarum
and Scarborough.

The Round Keep

The heart of the castle consists of the round keep which once commanded the ford where the Roman road passed through the River Tees.  This is set in an awkward position in relation to the inner ward curtain to east and south as well as with the town ward curtain to the north.  The tower is made of a fine ashlar that bears comparison to the work of the Scottish keeps at Bothwell, Dalhousie, Direlton, Loch Doon, Morton and Kildrummy.  Comparisons can also be made with the ‘Norman' keep further south at Caldicot.

The tower is some 40' in diameter and currently stands 4 storeys high including its slightly plinthed basement.  This was reached via mural steps curving down within the wall to a low vaulted chamber with a well.  The arches in the stairway vary from Romanesque to less than a quarter round.  Within the tower are a mixture of openings ranging from flat lintels to shoulder headed and Romanesque, but without any early English pointed arches.  The tower was originally equipped with long fish tailed crossbow loops set in fighting embrasures.  Many of these survive, though some have been converted into windows with rounded roofs.  The top floor is set on an inset and is lower ceilinged than the 2 lower floors.  Entrance was originally gained at first floor level, although a later entrance was smashed through the wall from the ground floor of the great chamber.  The tower somewhat resembles Bronllys keep in layout.

Dating of the Structure
Excavation between 1974 and 1982 has shown that the spoil from the ditch was thrown up into a rampart which was topped with a wooden palisade.  Within was a large wooden hall and other smaller wooden buildings, later demolished and built over by the later masonry.  To the south west access was gained via a wooden bridge and gatetower close upon the river bluff.  This gatetower was soon rebuilt in stone when the ringwork ditch was deepened into the bedrock.  Simultaneously the interior of the ringwork was raised and the palisade replaced with the irregular curtain wall which included a tower to the east.  According to the excavators, this all probably happened before 1140.

Next the new gatetower was blocked and a new entrance built beside it which was reached by another wooden bridge and the old gatetower was made into a small keep, later incorporated into the new Headlam Tower.  The masonry of the middle ward must have been added around the same time with its sallyport below.  At the same time a small rectangular keep was said to have been built at the north-east angle of the ward.  The inner ward has then been described as a shell keep as buildings lay against the curtain, but the irregularity of the enceinte and the inclusion of gatetower and keep makes this identification next to impossible.  This was simply an inner ward.  The excavators also thought that the 3 other wards were all built roughly simultaneously in stone before 1170 on the site that had been lain out with the original ringwork at the start of the castle's life.

The excavators thought the final phase of the early castle occurred between the very precise dates of 1170 and 1185.  In this time the inner ward was modified with the timber hall being demolished and rebuilt in stone.  At the same time a new wall was built from it to the south gatetower and a kitchen and other ancillary buildings were built against it.  The small rectangular keep to the north-east was demolished and replaced by the round keep.  Simultaneously the 3 storey great chamber was constructed to the south between the keep and the hall.  To finish the refurbishment the Postern Tower was added to the enceinte and the Prison Tower replaced an earlier projecting tower.  Finally a bakehouse was built inside the curtain to the north-east.

The castle was then thought to have been left unmodified for the entire thirteenth century, but after the fall of the house of Balliol in 1296 the fortress was again upgraded, this time by the Beauchamp earls of Warwick.  They rebuilt the great hall and enlarged it by adding the Mortham Tower.  The inner ward gatehouse was also modified by the addition of the D shaped front and the construction of the D shaped barbican with the bridge being moved to against the sallyport wall.  A wet ditch was dug at this time along the north-east section of the middle ward enceinte and a tower was built to protect the new drawbridge allowing access from the town ward directly into the middle ward.  The outer ward was probably abandoned under Beauchamp ownership and at least one building in the town ward was demolished.  Also during this time, a portcullis was inserted into the sallyport.  The final phase of modifications probably happened under Duke Richard of Gloucester (d.1485) and included the insertion of an oriel window into the Great Chamber and the addition of a turret onto the Mortham Tower.

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©2022 Paul Martin Remfry