Cumberland Castles

Cumberland is a late addition to the shires of England, only taking on its final form (before destruction in the 1974 reorganisations) in the 1170s.  Before that time the district is poorly served by historical documentation and therefore has a sparse history.

Hadrian's Wall ended in Cumberland along the Solway Moss although it passed north-east of the River Eden, crossing it just north of the caput of the later shire, Carlisle.  In the Roman era 2 forts had stood within a mile of each other here, Luguvalium and Uxelodunum.  The former went on to become a Roman town and survived the collapse of Roman Britannia, becoming a major centre of the Northumbrian kingdom of King Ecgfrith (d.685) known as Luel and later Caerluel or Carlisle.  At this time its walls were still standing and a wondrous Roman fountain still drew visitors.  The district seems to have remained English for a while, but by 876 the north-west had been overrun and divided up by Vikings.  King Edmund of Wessex (d.946), as king of England, took control of the region in 945 and granted it to King Malcolm of Scotland (d.954) in return for him acknowledging Edmund as his ally by both land and sea.  This was apparently despite the future county being part of the old Brythonic kingdom of Strathclyde, whose last known king, Owain ap Donald, died some time after 1018.  The caput of this kingdom was Dumbarton.

For some time the district of Carlisle continued to be administered from Northumberland.  This can be shown when Gospatric, who bought the earldom of Northumberland from William I (1066-87) in 1067, but was possibly expelled in 1070 when dominion of the district was given by William to King Malcolm III of the Scots (d.1093).  Certainly Gospatric was diseised of the district by 1072 when he was exiled from England and granted the earldom of Dunbar by King Malcolm in compensation for his English losses.  During this period Gospatric wrote to all his dependants who dwelt in the land of the Cumbrains (Combres) informing all his men, both free and dreng, that he wished Thorfyn Mac Thor to be as free in all things that were his in Allerdale (Alnerdale).  It seems likely that Allerdale was originally Alnerdale, the vale of the River Alne or Ellen.  This exits in the sea at Alneburg or Ellenborough as it now is.  The bounds of Allerdale were then given with streams marking its northen bounds and Caldbeck to the east.  It is also interesting that Gospatric mentions the peace that he and Earl Siward (1041-55) had imposed on the district.  Quite clearly from this the implication is that Cumberland was in English and not Scottish hands as far as Gospatric was concerned.  It is also certain that after Gospatric was expelled from England by William I, his relatives continued to hold in Cumberland, his son Waltheof (d.1138+) holding Allerdale and his probable inlaws Dofin (d.1092+) and Orm Fitz Ketel (d.1094+) holding Carlisle and land to the south including later Appleby castle.      

Such fighting in the district and rapid changes of hand suggests that there were as yet no castles in Cumberland.  The early history of the fortresses of Cumberland (Burgh by Sands, Carlisle, Cockermouth, Egremont, Greystoke, Liddel, Millom
and Naworth) and Westmorland (Appleby, Brough, Brougham, Kendal, Pendragon and Tebay) has for a long time been clouded, in large part due to reliance being placed upon the ‘Cumbrian Chronicle' drawn up to fortify the heirs of Aveline Fortibus (d.1275), in their claims for land in the district.  This wrongly claimed that King William I (1066-87) had conquered the region and parcelled it out to the brothers Ranulf (d.1129) and William Meschin (d.1130/35).  In fact, the district was only brought under Norman control when William Rufus (1087-1100) took and fortified town of Carlisle in 1092.  Either he or Henry I (1100-35), subsequently gave the lordship of Carlisle to Ranulf Meschin (d.1129), who in 1120 became earl of Chester.  The grant may have taken place as early as 1098 when Ranulf married Lucy Bolingbroke (d.1138), the widow of Ivo Taillebois (d.1094/7).  This marriage also brought him the Taillebois land of Appleby and possibly also Kendal

Cumberland is barely mentioned in the great Domesday Book of 1086, although several lands were recorded in Cumberland which were then lying in Yorkshire and Lancashire.  These lands, previously stated to have been held by Earl Tostig of Northumbria (d.1086) were an area called Hougun.  This may have been the 3 south-western peninsulas of Cumberland, or it might have been a vill, possibly High Haume near Dalton in Furness.  Similarly almost 30 vills were mentioned in what would become the county of Westmorland.  It is clear from this that the highland and coastal areas above a line running roughly eastwards from Bootle were not occupied by the Normans before Domesday.

Ranulf, as nephew to Earl Hugh Lupus of Chester (d.1101) and cousin to Earl Ranulf of Chester (d.1120), helped control the family portion of the
area of the kingdom of England from the Shropshire border to the Solway Firth.  During his time as lord of Carlisle, he was said to have created 2 border sub-lordships or baronies at Burgh by Sands and Liddel (Lydale) covering the land north of Carlisle.  The first was given to Ranulf's brother in law, Robert Trevers and the latter to Turgis Brandos according to the sheriff's survey carried out in 1212.  According to Camden writing some 5 centuries later, Ranulf tried to give Gilsland to his brother, William (d.1130/5), but he failed to dislodge its ruler.  Later in 1158, King Henry II (1154-89) granted Gilesland to Hubert Vallibus as ‘all the land which Gille Fitz Boet held on the day in which he was living and dead of whomsoever he may have held it'.  No evidence of the first alleged grant exists in the Testa de Neville of 1212 and as such it can be dismissed.  Instead, Ranulf certainly gave his brother, William, the lordship of Allerdale (which included Copeland) and stretched along the coast between the rivers Duddon and Esk (and therefore including Cockermouth, EgremontMillom and at some point, Burgh by Sands).  Ranulf was a prominent supporter of Henry I and led the first battle of the royal army at the battle of Tinchebrai in 1106.

On Earl Ranulf of Chester's death in 1120, it is thought that Henry I resumed the honour of Carlisle when he made Ranulf Meschin earl of Chester in his cousin's place, although there is no direct evidence as to how or when this happened.  However, it had certainly taken place before 1122 when the king visited what had become his castle of Carlisle.  It is also possible that Ranulf simply offered his northern holdings to the king in part exchange for his baronial relief on the earldom.  This relief was obviously heavy for in September 1129 Ranulf still owed £1,000 of that debt.

According to a sheriff's survey in the Testa de Neville, after acquiring Carlisle lordship, King Henry I created 5 new baronies, Allerdale above the River Derwent (Cockermouth), Wigton, Levington, Greystock and Copeland (previously Allerdale below the Derwent otherwise known as Egremont and including Millom), keeping the forest of Inglewood as well as Carlisle in his own hands.  The last part of the Meschin fief, Appleby, which seems earlier to have been held by Robert Trevers of Burgh on Sands, was subsumed into the new county of Westmorland to the south.

The final reorganisation of the district came in the aftermath of the Young King's War  of 1173-74.  This war had involved the disruption of the district by an invasion of the Scottish king, William the Lion (d.1214).  
After he was captured at the siege of Alnwick castle, King Henry II had the north-western counties of his kingdoms reorganised.  The county of Carlisle disappeared, last sending in an account to the Exchequer in 1175.  In 1177 it was replaced by the new county of Cumberland, which had been mentioned as an entity as early as September 1176.  The process had apparently begun on 25 January 1176, when the king made new justices for his kingdom.  In the north these included the districts of Yorkshire, Richmondshire, Copeland, Westmorland, Northumberland and Cumberland.  The region of Copeland (based on Cockermouth castle), with the knights of Copeland and the countess of Copeland continued to appear for many years in the pipe rolls as semi-divorced from Cumberland.  Simultaneously the barony of Appleby was severed from the honour of Carlisle and joined with Kendal to form Westmorland, or Westmarieland as it appeared in the subsequent entry to Cumberland in 1177.  Here it was implied that the county had been in existence for 3 years.  Reiner the dapifer of Ranulf Glanville accounted for the 3 years rent and was allowed £58 2s 8d for custody of the castles of Westmorland - fortresses in that county included Appleby, Brough, Brougham, Kendal and Pendragon.  Unfortunately the fortresses held by the sheriff were not named, although Reiner was allowed £40 for his garrisoning of Roxburgh (Rochesbure) in Scotland.

A little known event that was almost relevant to Cumberland the future of the kingdoms of England and Scotland happened in 1195.  Archbishop Hubert of Canterbury was sent to York by the king to negotiate with King William of the Scots on the subject of contracting a marriage between his daughter Margaret and Otto of Saxony (1182-1218), King Richard's nephew and heir presumptive to the English Crown at the time.  This concerned the agreement between Richard and William that William should give with his daughter the whole land of Lothian and that Richard should give the whole of Northumberland and the county of Carlisle so that Richard should have in his charge the whole of Lothian with its castles and William should have in his charge all of Northumberland and Carlisle with their castles.  However, William was unwilling to abide by the agreement as his wife was pregnant and he still hoped for a son.  Eventually in 1198 a son, later to be Alexander III (1214-49), was born.  In this manner an early union of the 2 countries was again avoided.

Within Cumberland and Westmorland the high-lying and generally poor agricultural lands means that there are relatively few castles here, with most of the fortresses being both in the more lowlying zones and motte based structures, viz: Aldingham, Beaumont motte (built on the ruins of Hadrian's Wall), Brampton motte, Brough, Cockermouth Tute Hill, Egremont, Irthington (destroyed), Kendal Castle Howe, Kirkby Lonsdale Cockpit Hill, Lazonby?, Liddel, Maryport, Sedbergh, Smardale Hall motte and Tebay.  The main ingredient of such mottes was a ready supply of glacial soil to raise the large mound.  Many of the surrounding castles, including some of the oldest, seem never to have had a motte.  These fortresses include Appleby, Beetham Castle Hill, Bewcastle, Brougham, Carlisle, Cockermouth, Kendal, Millom, Naworth, Pendragon, Rose and Scaleby.


Copyright©2021 Paul Martin Remfry