Egremont Castle

The foundation date of Egremont castle is obscure, although much information can be gleaned concerning the formation of the lordship called Copeland in which it stood.  Possibly the foundation of the 2 went arm in arm in a similar manner to Cockermouth and Allerdale to the north.

The north west district of what was to become the county of Cumberland based on Carlisle was probably given to Ranulf le Meschin within 5 years of 1098 when he married Lucy Bolingbroke, the heiress to great estates in the north of England.  It was probably in 1120, that he resigned what had become the lordship of Carlisle to King Henry I (1100-35), partially in exchange for the earldom of Chester.  This left his brother, William le Meschin (d.1130/34), as lord of Copeland in the south-west of that district.  William's lands lay mostly to the south of the River Derwent and included Egremont, St Bees and Millom which was subinfeudated.  To the north of the Derwent Waltheof Fitz Gospatric (d.1138/9) held Allerdale which had or would acquire Cockermouth castle as its caput.

At some point between being granted the land by his brother and his own death, William founded a priory at St Bees, probably in imitation of Wetheral priory which his elder brother Ranulf (d.1129) had founded just east of Carlisle around 1106.  The foundation grant to St Bees included 6 carucates in Kirkby (Cherchebi), the chapel of Egremont, the churches of Whicham and Bootle, land in Rottington and the manor of Stainburn.  Quite obviously from this, William's power extended down the west coast of Cumberland from Workington to Millom, the latter then being held of him by the Lord Godard.  The foundation charter of St Bees has been dated to after 1120 on the grounds that it is made for the souls of Queen Matilda (d.1118) and Prince William (d.1120).  However, as the first soul mentioned is that of King Henry I himself (d.1135) it can hardly be taken for granted that the latter 2 were already dead.  Therefore the dating of the charter to after 1120 is unsubstantiated.  Possibly the original foundation dates to soon after 1106 and the reason that the charter is not as broadly supported as that of Ranulf for Wetherhal in 1106 is that Ranulf was a far more important baron than his younger brother.  However, the refoundation of the Saxon church of St Bees suggests that this, to near William's caput, ie. Egremont castle, was built early during William's tenure which had ended by 1134.

On the death of William le Meschin (d.1130/34), Copeland with Egremont passed firstly to his son, Ranulf Fitz William and after his death in or before 1138, to his sister, Alice (d.1187).  Alice, taking the surname Romiley from her mother, rather than Meschin from her father, married William Fitz Duncan (d.1152/54), who often appeared in charters as William the nephew of the king of Scots.  William had acquired the northern Cumberland barony of Allerdale, which included Cockermouth, from his mother.  Therefore this act of marriage united the 2 baronies as well as adding the Romiley lordship of Skipton to them.  At some point before May 1153, by which time King David (d.24 May 1153) had confirmed it, William wrote to all his men of Copeland informing them that he had confirmed to St Bees the vill of Annaside (Enerset) which had been granted by Matilda, the wife of Godard [lord of Millom], while William himself had added the right to mine iron at Chirnaby (Corney?).  Although knowledge of Egremont castle is most limited at this time, the disturbed history of Calder abbey suggests why any such castle would be built around this time of Anarchy (1136-53).

William Fitz Duncan apparently had 2 sons by his marriage to Alice Romiley (d.1187), Gospatric who predeceased him and William Egremont, who died before 1162, leaving his 3 sisters as heiresses.  William's name suggests his place of residence, if not birth.  Again this implies a castle at Egremont as caput of the barony.  Of William's sisters, Amabil married Reginald Lucy (d.1200), the son of the famous justiciar, Richard Lucy (d.1179), bringing him Egremont.  Her sister, Cecily, took Skipton and eventually Cockermouth with eastern Allerdale to William Aumale (d.1179).  Alice Fitz William (d.1215), the last sister, took half of Allerdale and became lady of Cockermouth.  She married twice, firstly to Gilbert Pipard (d.1192) and then to Robert Courtney (d.1209), but died childless, her lands reverting to her sisters' heirs.  Alice Romiley (d.1187), the widow of William Fitz Duncan (d.1152/54), also remarried, probably after 1157 and certainly before 1166 when Skipton was held by her second husband, Alexander Fitz Gerold (d.1178), the brother of King Henry II's chamberlain, Henry Fitz Gerold (d.1175).

The marriage of Reginald Lucy to the heiress Amabil seems related to the probably near simultaneous marriage of Reginald's sister, Alice, to Odinel Umfraville (d.1182) of Prudhoe.  This all appears to be related to Henry II's resumption of Northumberland and Cumberland from the Scottish king in 1157.  Reginald's marriage seems to have taken place before 1162 when he was pardoned 56s owed to Henry II in Carlisle lordship.  This shows that William Egremont, the lord of Egremont castle and brother of Amabil, was dead by this time.  He was last alive for sure in September 1157 when he witnessed a charter of Henry II for Furness abbey as William Agremont.  This charter was drawn up at Woodstock, which suggests that William had come south to pay homage to the king after the surrender of the northern counties to Henry II.  The marriages of Reginald Lucy and Amabil as well as Alice Lucy and Odinel Umfraville therefore seem to follow on from King Henry II staying with Richard Lucy at his castle of Ongar in April 1157 and the royal resumption of Carlisle and Northumberland from King Malcolm (d.1165) of Scotland at Peak castle that July.  As the date of William Egremont's birth is unknown, it is possible that he was underage in 1157 and became a ward of King Henry II at this time and died, still under 21, before September 1162.

The story of the descent of the Fitz Duncan baronies was rehearsed in mid November 1223 when Earl William Fortibus of Aumale (d.1241) was summoned in Cumberland to answer to the king why he detained the moiety of Alice Romiley's land in the county which belonged to the king by reason of the custody of the daughters and heirs of Richard Lucy?  Thomas Multon (d.1240) the king's prolocutor claimed that ‘the Boy of Egremont' had 3 sisters [Cecily], Amabil and Alice Romiley.  Further the Boy's land was partitioned among these 3 sisters as he died without an heir of his body.  To Cecily came... [Cockermouth? which passed] to the said earl [William le Gros of Aumale (d.1179)], whose heir the said earl [William Fortibus (d.1241) is.  And to Amabil came the said..... [Egremont, who married Reginald] Lucy and inasmuch as Alice the third sister died without heir of her body.... [Egremont should therefore] return to the said daughters of Richard Lucy whom the king [has in custody].  By the earl's unjust detention the king is damaged and sustains a loss to the extent of 1,500m (£1,000).  The earl by attorney came and denied this and would not answer to the writ as it alleged that Richard Lucy's daughters were in the king's hand and not in his.  For they are married and therefore he will not answer unless the court decides.  Thomas said these daughters were underage, although married and were given in marriage by the king.  A day is given in the fortnight of St Hilary and afterwards the king advocated it coram rege because through him they were in the said Thomas' custody.  And the judgment of the court was that the earl should answer.  The earl via his attorney came and said he ought not to answer to the king as no ward was due to the king for these lands for the earl held no lands in these parts by knight service, nor did his ancestors, but [they held] by cornage and therefore the king should have no ward.  Thomas Multon said that the Boy of Egremont had been in the king's ward and after him his 3 sisters were in his ward and were given in marriage by the king and the earl could not deny this.  The court decided that the daughters had recovered seizin of their part and that the king should have the ward and the earl should be amerced for an unjust detention for whatever amount the king pleases.

Despite the court cases there is no further evidence as to what happened to Copeland and therefore Egremont castle after the death of William Fitz Duncan in 1152/54, but by 1162 Reginald Lucy (d.1200) would appear to have been holding Copeland and Egremont castle with his wife, William Fitz Duncan's daughter, Amabil.  Sometime, probably in the late 1160s, William Lancaster (d.c.1170) with the consent of his heir, William (bef.1155-84), confirmed to Gospatric Fitz Orm (a major landholder in Copeland and lord of Appleby, d.1185) and his heirs all the land of Cauplandia which he held from him, viz Workington (Wirkington) and Lamplugh (Lamplogh) vills, which had been given in exchange for Middleton (Medilton in Lonesdale...) for 6d at Carlisle market (ad Nundinas Carliolii) or a pair of gilt spurs as well as paying foreign (forense) service at Egremont castle.

In the period 1179-84, Countess Cecily of Aumale (d.1188+), the daughter of William Fitz Duncan (d.1152/54), seems to have been the lady of the honour when she confirmed Egremont mill to St Bees.  She also confirmed the vill of Salterbeck (Salterge) with the pasture of Arlokedene given by Gospatric Fitz Orm.  The grant was made for the souls of King Henry I, my brother William (the Boy of Egremont, d.1157/62), Queen Matilda (d.1152) and the Empress Matilda (d.1168) and for the life of my King Henry II(d.1189) and his queen (Eleanor of Aquitaine, d.1204).  Similarly in 1185, she was probably the lady of ‘the knights of the court of the countess of Copeland' who had to render 100s because they gave judgement on a plea which did not pertain to them.  This sounds rather like a dispute in a divided lordship.  The countess was also sued by Henry Fitz Arthur over a knight's fee.  Possibly she was overlord to her sister, or more likely that they had divided the inheritance of their parents, William Fitz Duncan and Alice Romiley.  Amabil died before 1190 when her widower, Reginald Lucy (d.1200), was recorded as holding Copeland by the courtesy of England.  In 1200 his son, Richard, successfully proffered 300m (£200) for his father's lands in Copeland and Cambridgeshire.

Richard Lucy (1200-13) died young, possibly not much over 33 years old, but during his lordship he granted rights to his burgesses of Egremont.  One of these was that if war occurred the burgesses were to find 12 men with arms for defending Acrimonte castle for 40 days at their own cost.  When this period had expired they were to lend him clothes, food and other merchandise for 40 days and if within that term he did not pay them their due, they were not bound to lend him other than merchandise until he should have paid them their due.  The document also recorded the right for him to have an aid for knighting one of his sons and another aid for the marrying of one of his daughters.  He was also allowed an aid to ransom himself or his heirs and an aid when the knights of his land contributed to a royal aid.  All of this was to be carried out under the oversight of the 12 burgesses who were allowed the right not to go outside the gates of the borough on the summons of anyone, save only to the castle gate with the lord or in his place his seneschal.  In 1203 it was noted that Adam Fitz John should owe Richard Lucy service for his tenement of Brisco (Bresceko/Brethesco, a mile north-north-east of Egremont castle) along the River Egen, that being that he owed portage to Egremont castle ‘as had been the case since the conquest of England'.  This document may have been written up about 1209, for that September it was recorded that Richard owed the king a good palfrey for having a fair.  It was also noted ‘and Alexander Lucy owed 1m (13s 4d) for having a writ'.  Who this man was is unknown, but he was obviously linked to Richard who's debts were listed immediately afterwards.  He owed £309 6s 6d and 3 palfreys for having his reasonable share [presumably of the lands of his aunt, Alice Romiley (d.1215), whose husband, Robert Courtney, had just died] of which he paid first £45 and then 120m (£80) and a palfrey.

When King John (1199-1216) ordered his sheriff to survey Cumberland in 1212 he found that Richard Lucy held Copeland by the king's gift for the service of 1 knight in the army of Wales or Scotland and that the land had been given to William Meschin by King Henry I (1100-35), the ancestor of Richard Lucy, for the said service.  In July 1213 control of the lands which had belonged to Richard Lucy of Egremont, with the 2 heiresses, but excepting the dower of Ada his widow, were granted to Thomas Multon (d.1240) for the large fine of 1,000m (£666 13s 4d).

With the confusion of the civil war (1216-17) dying down the government of Henry III (1216-72) began to set right what had gone amiss during the disturbances.  On 13 August 1218, the king's council ordered the seizure of all the lands of Ada Morville including Egremont castle, as she had married Thomas Multon without royal license.  Sheriff Robert Vipont (d.1228) obviously acted with speed for on 12 September he was ordered to restore the castle to Thomas on him giving surety by good pledges that he will satisfy the king to the tune of £368 of his debt as well as £164 8s 1d of the debt of his wife, Ada Moreville. 

Later the problem of the inheritance of the lands that had once belonged to William Fitz Duncan was invstigated.  These lands had been further disrupted by the minority of the heirs of Richard Lucy (d.1213).  Finally in November 1224 a partition of Allerdale was made in the king's court between the earl of Aumale (Earl William Fortibus of Aumale (d.1241) was the great grandson of William Fitz Duncan) and Thomas Multon (d.1240), the guardian of the daughters and heiresses of Richard Lucy (d.1213).  Before this date Thomas, as guardian, had married the ladies to his sons, Lambert (d.1246) to Amabel (d.bef.1246) and Alan (d.1250+) to Alice (d.1288).  Lambert and Amabel, as the eldest children, received the lion's share, namely Egremont with the bulk of Copeland.  The younger pair received a moiety of Allerdale with Caldeback and Aspatria.  Despite this, complaints rumbled on and another agreement was necessary on the division of Egremont barony in 1230.

Lambert Multon, aged over 62, died before 27 November 1246 as the holder of Egremont barony from the king for 1 knight's fee.  However, at some point before this, he sent gifts to the pope who in return granted him the privilege that no one could excommunicate him for anything at all, except for the pope himself.  Quite what Lambert had been up to demand this boon is unknown.  He left as his son and heir his son Thomas who was nearly a year short of being 21.  Regardless of being a year short of his majority, the king granted him his father's lands on 10 January 1247, while his half uncle, Thomas Multon of Gilsland (d.1271), was allowed to administer Lambert's will.

In many ways the castle's military life really began when the castles of the rest of England became increasingly obsolete.  This was due to increased tensions on the Scottish border.  Before this, on 20 May 1267, Thomas Fitz Lambert Multon (d.1294) was granted a weekly market on Wednesdays and a yearly 2 day fair on 14-15 September at his manor of Egremont.  However, this peaceful scene was to change with the coming of hostilities in the last years of the thirteenth century.  The castle may have been attacked in 1314, for that year the value of the temporalities of nearby Calder abbey was said to be worth just £5, presumably due to Scottish raiding.  In 1291 it had been £32.  The war had apparently reached Copeland as early as the death of Edward I in 1307, for that autumn on 25 September 1307, Thomas Multon of Egremont was ordered to help repel the Scots.  By the death of another Thomas Multon in 1322 Egremont was recorded as a manor, castle and park held for a knight's fee.  The dower given to his widow consisted of a third part of the capital messuage of the manor of Egremont, viz a castle etc.  With this the castle faded once more into obscurity, although it is alleged to have been slighted after the Rising of the North in 1569.  Despite this, the courthouse standing amongst the ruins remained in use until 1786.

Egremont means the mound over the River Ehen, a watercourse that was still called the Egre as late as mid twelfth century.  The fortress itself stands on high ground commanding a crossing over a meander in the river.  The remains seem to have consisted of a motte to the north with associated bailey to the south.  An outer ward or garth is said to have surrounded this fortress to north, east and west.  In the north-west of England, motte castles are relatively common, although there are really few real castles compared to other places as can be seen in the list supplied on the Cumberland page.  Most of the so-called castles are really strong houses or tower houses.

The original dimensions of the motte are uncertain.  It appears to have been some 50' in summit diameter and was apparently defended by solely its scarp to all sides bar the south where there was a ditch.  This was later filled in.  A possibly later ditch surrounded the whole site to north, west and east, the motte rising some 25' above this and being approximately 120' in basal diameter.  The west ditch is best preserved and lies some 25' in front of the west curtain.

It is traditionally stated that the oldest masonry at the site is the castle west wall.  The lower portion of this consists of a fine herringbone masonry 10 courses and about 10' high above a projecting sandstone string course.  Below this is a herringbone plinth of at least 6 courses.  This herringbone work does not seem to make up the whole of the thickness of the wall, but runs downhill from the ward gatehouse and then upwards towards the motte at the north end of the castle site.  This wall therefore runs northwards for some 70' from the gatehouse and then turns inwards to run up the side of the motte.  Within this angle a later east-west wall marks the rise to the motte top.  It is noticeable that the herringbone work only exists on this side of the castle.  Possibly it marks the point thought most likely to have suffered from subsidence and certainly this is the best preserved part of the castle curtain walls.

In the south-west corner of the ward stands the 3 storey gatetower which is clearly not aligned with the herringbone wall to the north and probably not with the south curtain, running east from it either.  However, within the gatetower the remnants of the herringbone wall can be found some 3' high with the rest of the tower built over it.  This shows that the tower postdates the curtain wall.  An alternative scenario put forward is that the tower was originally a full herringbone construction that was later ashlar coated when the castle was repaired after its being attacked by Scottish forces in 1315.  Such appears most unlikely for it this were so, why leave the curtain wall sections unrebuilt?

The rectangular gatetower occupies an awkward position in the bailey and is clearly an addition to the curtain.  Its small size, some 28' across by 30' deep with walls some 6' thick, marks it out as one of the smaller of this gatetower genre.  The entrance passageway consists of a tall outer archway with a thin round moulded arch rising from an external projecting string course used as imposts.  The stonework is ashlar.  Within this arch is a second, segmental arch, which has been compared to the twin archway into Peak castle keep.  Within the Egremont gateway is a chamber not much bigger than the archway.  The room within was high and vaulted, with the ¾ corner pillars still surviving to their full height.  Above was a chamber possibly entered from the wallwalk to the north, but apparently not from the east.  This was likely the constable's chamber as there was a loop over the gateway as well as at least one to the south.  The slight remains above this show evidence that there was once an upper floor.  The rear gateway
arch has collapsed, but was obviously narrowed by an insertion.  Internally, next to the north wall of the gatetower, are the foundations of what was probably a later rectangular stair turret giving access to the upper floors and possibly also the west curtain wallwalk.

Buck's print shows the curtain standing on either side of the gatetower and a large hole where there is now an obviously modern patch in the wall.  The string course and herringbone section of the west wall is also obviously present.  The gatetower was standing to full height with small rectangular lights at least to front (west) and south, which would suggest that there were also more to north and east.  Above the constable's lights was another projecting string course followed by another, apparently loopless chamber which was surmounted by battlements of which 3 of 4 merlons still stood to full height to the west.  It has been suggested from a sixteenth century sketch that the destroyed Clitheroe castle gatehouse was similar.  If correct, it might point to an early twelfth century date for the structure when the Meschins (1098/1106-1138) or William Fitz Duncan was lord (1138-52/54).

From the gatehouse the curtain runs slightly south of east to a thickened, rounded corner.  Such corners are unusual, though another example can be seen at Criccieth castle inner ward in Wales.  At Egremont the wall runs from the thickened corner roughly northwards to a small postern and then angles inwards to make its approach up to the motte.  There are remains of buildings all along this front which made up the later courthouse, some 50' long and 23' wide.  This lies against the central part of the curtain, being just south of the postern.  That this is a later, ashlar built building is obvious as its east wall butts the curtain and obscures an older fireplace, whose size would suggest that this was the site of the original Norman hall, although it is also argued that this curtain wall was also built post the battle of Bannockburn in 1314.

On the north side of the postern was a nearly square structure running parallel to the wall up the motte and containing 2 ovens set in the curtain wall.  The dividing wall between motte and bailey would appear to be quite late and was certainly built after the motte ditch was filled in.  However, the entrance to the motte was through a round headed doorway with a perpendicular outer doorway.  This contained a portcullis and was reached via a flight of stone steps, some of which were uncovered by excavation.  The 2 large windows to the east of the doorway may also have been perpendicular and in any case, that the wall was built on the old motte ditch shows that they were of a relatively late construction.  The structure within is thought to have been a later hall.  According to Buck's print the motte once had a round or D shaped keep upon it, the rounded remains of its north wall still standing in the mid eighteenth century.

The town to the north-east may once have been walled if the remains excavated in May 1922 were really the remnants of such a fortification.


Copyright©2021 Paul Martin Remfry