Pendragon is an odd castle site with little known early history beyond the fantastic tales concerning its building by Uther Pendragon, the fictional father of King Arthur.  As per normal, Wikipedia adds more gibberish fable to the story of the castle stretching from prehistory to the modern day.  The late medieval tales of Uther seem to be based on Leland's recording of the chronicle of John Hardyng (d.1464).  Of this Leland recorded:

Uther Pendragon builded a castel cawlled Pendragon.

This was taken from Hardyng's nonsense that King Uther of Britain bore the heraldic arms of a dragon as had been borne by such worthies as Brutus of Troy, King Lucius, King Constantine and the Emperor Maxentius.  These were the arms of St George ‘which all Englishmen now worship'.  Because of this Uther's people are alleged to have called him Pendragon, in Brythonic, the head dragon.  After assuming this epithet, Hardyng continues, ‘in the North as he a castell made, Pendragon hight, wher he his dwellying had'.  Whatever Pendragon castle is, it certainly is not built on a height!  Hardyng then has Uther attacked in Northumberland, where presumably the castle was, before he defeated his Saxon enemies and feasted at London before getting ensnared with Igrene.  Quite obviously this is all fantasy, yet where did the name Pendragon castle come from when it was first used in 1228?  And note the year 1228 and not the 1309 of Wikipedia.  Pendragon does not appear in the published versions of Geoffrey Monmouth (d.1155) or Malory (d.1471).  Certainly neither it or its alternate name of Malverstang can be attached to any local town or feature.

The real castle history probably began when the area it was set in, Westmorland, was acquired by the Norman, Ivo Taillebois (d.1094/97).  This probably happened in 1092 when William Rufus (1087-1100) conquered Carlisle and annexed Cumberland to his realm.  After Ivo's death what was to become Westmorland then passed to his wife's subsequent husbands, before being reclaimed by the Crown in 1120/22 when Ranulf Meschin (d.1129) of Carlisle granted his northern lands to Henry I (1100-35).  It is possible that one of these 3 husbands of Lucy Bolingbroke (d.1138), Ranulf Meschin (d.1129), Roger Fitz Gerold (d.1098) or Ivo Taillebois (d.1094/97), founded the castle.  The county of Westmorland, with the site of Pendragon castle, did not exist until the late 1170s.  Before this the lordship, as it is better termed at this time, remained with the Crown from 1120/22 until it was taken by King David of Scotland (1124-53) in the early years of the reign of King Stephen (1135-54).  King Henry II (1154-89) reclaimed the district in 1157 and, after the invasion of King William of Scotland (1153-1214) in 1173-74, the king spent £58 2s 8d on garrisoning the castles of Westmorland, presumably these were Appleby, Brough and possibly Pendragon.  As can be seen there is no mention of Pendragon or its castle during this early period.  However, it should be noted that references to the other 4 castles are also rather sparse.  The implication of the 1177 pipe roll is that these Westmorland castles had been seized from Hugh Morville and were then held by Reiner the dapifer of Ranulf Glanville (d.1190) at the king's command.  Thus in 1177 Reiner accounted for holding the district in the years 1175, 1176 and 1177.  The only places actually mentioned in this report are the manors of Castle Sowerby (Sourebi) and Kendal, the former being well into Cumberland and nowhere near what is now thought of as Westmorland.  The question of whether Pendragon castle existed before the Viponts took over Westmorland in 1203 is therefore currently unanswerable.  However, it is worth examining the career of Hugh Morville (d.1201) who held extensive power in Westmorland before 1174 according to the 1177 pipe roll.

On 21 February 1203, King John (1199-1216) informed his lieges that he had given to Robert Vipont (d.1228) ‘our castles of Appleby and Brough with all purtenances...'  Possibly this included Pendragon castle as this lay within Westmorland where the other 2 sites lay.  Robert's career is described more fully under Appleby.  When Robert died a little before 1 February 1228, the king granted the ward of the land and heir of Robert Vipont to Earl Hubert Burgh of Kent (d.1243) and commanded the constables of Pendragon (Malverstang),
Peverelthorpe (Perlethorpe, Notts), Appleby, Brougham (Bruham) and Brough (Burgh) to give them up to the earl's men.  This was the first mention of the castle and shows it was extant by then, but for how long it had existed there is now probably only archaeological evidence to be found.  The fortress was not mentioned when Robert's heir, John Vipont, died.  On 4 August 1241 a writ was issued that committed Appleby and Brough castles to royal constables, but no mention was made of Pendragon.  The next year, on 1 May 1242, all John's castles and lands were granted to Bishop Walter Malus of Carlisle (1223-46, d.1248) for 600m (£400) pa.  Towards the end of Robert's minority an inquisition was ordered into the waste committed to the lands formerly of John Vipoint by the prior of Carlisle, while he was guardian of the heir.  One of the complaints was the depredations carried out in the vale of Mallerstang, although Pendragon castle was not mentioned.

John's heir, Robert Vipont, seems to have come of age by 15 June 1252.  He subsequently took the cause of the reformers and rebelled against King Henry III (1216-72) in 1263.  By 7 June 1264, Robert was recently dead, possibly from wounds received at the battle of Lewes on 14 May, when he was certainly in opposition to the king.  Consequently, his unnamed castles and lands were granted to John Fitz John (d.1275), his brother in law, for keeping.  Despite his treason his testament was allowed to stand.  Meanwhile his 2 heiresses were granted to royal favourites.  Roger Clifford of Eardisley (d.1282) was granted the wardship of the lands falling to the elder daughter, Isabel Vipont (d.1292), together with her marriage, while Roger Leybourne (d.1284) received the marriage of the younger Idonea (d.1333) with her lands.  The inquest post mortem of these 4 individuals suggest that the castles were divided amongst them with Clifford having Brougham with its tower together with lands in Appleby and Brough, but these castles were not mentioned.  Conversely Leybourne was recorded as having Brough and Pendragon castles, but not Appleby.

Roger Clifford died at the bridge of Boats in Gwynedd during the spring of 1282.  This resulted in an inquisition being made into his lands on 19 January 1283.  In Westmorland his lands included a moiety of Mallerstang [Pendragon] worth £22 3s 9d.  Clifford's widow, Isabel, only survived her husband 10 years, dying aged about 35 in 1292.  Roger Leybourne died soon after his Clifford brother in law, a little before 21 February 1284.  In Westmorland it was found that he held Brough castle (Burg under Steynmor) with a moiety of the manor as well as other moieties which included, Appleby, Kirkby Stephen and all Malrestang castle [Pendragon] with a moiety of the forest.  The services of his moiety of the knights and free tenants of Westmorland called cornage was worth £13 11s 4d yearly while the fee farms of free tenants were worth £2 15s 7¾d and his profits from the county court was reckoned at £3 6s 8d.  All this was held for 2 knight's fees of the Crown.

On 14 July 1308, John Cromwell and his wife, Idonea Vipont, the widow of Roger Leybourne (d.1284), granted in fee to Robert Clifford [their nephew], Brough castle with the manors of Appleby, King's Meburne, Kirkby Stephen and Mallerstang [Pendragon] with appurtenances in the county of Westmorland.  By this act the old barony of Robert Vipont (d.1228) in Westmorland was virtually recreated in Clifford hands with Appleby at its head and Pendragon and its castle as a member.  The next year Clifford apparently applied for a licence to crenellate his castles of Brougham and Pendragon, although no record was kept of such a licence actually being issued.  This is often taken as the occasion for the building of the masonry castle, but that totally misunderstands the point of licences to crenellate.  Most likely this was simply Clifford seeking a sign of royal favour.

Pendragon castle may have been defensible at this time, for after the battle of Bannockburn on 24 June 1314, Edward Bruce invaded England via Berwick and progressed far beyond Richmond although he attacked no castles.  On their return he had the towns of Brough, Appleby and Kirkoswald burned, ‘and the people of Copeland, fearing their return and invasion, sent envoys to appease them with much money'.  Soon afterwards an inquest post mortem was held on Clifford's lands.  This found that he held in Westmorland a barony by the service of 4 knights and this included the castles of Appleby with a park called Flakebrig, Brough with the castle..., Kirkby Stephen with a capital messuage etc, including a castle called Pendragon in the vale of Mallerstangg... and Brougham castle and manor amongst other places.

In 1322 Pendragon was confiscated by the Crown after the execution of Roger Clifford and the failure of the Lancaster rebellion of which he was a part.  Clifford's brother, Robert (1305-44), was restored by the Mortimer government of King Edward III (1327-77) when he came to power.  So it was that Pendragon was recorded as a part of the Clifford lands which included Appleby with 'the castles of Brougham and Pendragon and also the castle of Brugh under Stainmore... held by the service of 4 knight fees'.  It is claimed without evidence that the castle was burnt by the Scots in 1341 and so was subsequently restored by the Cliffords.  The Clifford lands were confiscated during the Yorkist period (1461-85), but were returned to the Ciffords by King Henry VII (1485-1509).  According to Leland it was still standing in 1539 but was again burnt by the Scots in 1541.  The castle was restored by Lady Anne Clifford in 1660, who also built an enclosing wall, two gates, stables and outbuildings, all of which have disappeared.  The tower was apparently again dismantled soon after her death in 1676.

Pendragon is an odd site and like its history, its ruins are also peculiar.  They lie above the east bank of the River Eden, but ¾ of a mile to the north of Outhgill with its little chapel.  The remains suggest that the castle began life as a horseshoe shaped ringwork with a ditch, still up to 15' deep, covering all the sides but the west which had the steep scarp down to the river.  The ground falls naturally to the south on which side the ditch is mainly the fall of the land although there is a counterscarp particularly to the south-east.  This bank was presumably made from material from the ditch which was up to 60' across.  To the north-west the ditch has not been completed to the riverside scarp, leaving a narrow causeway.  As this appears to be virgin ground it suggests that this was deliberately left uncut and therefore marks an original entrance.  The resulting D shaped earthwork has a diameter of some 180', with the west side shaved off.  Some 200' north of the site are some jumbled foundations in a possibly rectangular enclosure.  These may be outworks known to have been built by Lady Anne Clifford (d.1676).  Certainly the road seems to swing around these to the north and east.  Amongst these traces is a circular hollow that may once have been a kiln.  It has also been suggested that there was an artificial pond just east of here.  Just west of the river is a possible prospect mound which may have also been built for Lady Anne.  Buck's drawing of the site made in 1736 shows the remains of the block built for Anne Clifford in 1660.  The current traces suggest that this was some 190' long by 30' wide and appears to have been divided into at least 5 separate rooms.

Within the ringwork enclosure are the square ruins of the castle, standing slightly south and east of the true centre, leaving a berm of some 50' to the north, 40' to the east and 30' to the south.  To the south-west the scarp is at one point no more than 25' from the masonry.  The masonry structure itself is hard to classify and descriptions range from keep to tower to pele.  All 3 descriptions appear valid in some way.

The ‘keep' is about 65' square with walls 8' thick.  As the entire structure seems to have been roofed over it is obviously a tower and not a castle ward.  Oddly there are no traces of any curtain around this tower, although the remains of one appears to be shown on Buck's print following the top of the ditch.  The current ruins consist of a ground floor with Romanesque windows whose exteriors are somewhat similar to those in the north ward at Chepstow.  The tower seems to stand on a single course of chamfered plinth which is visible above the turf here and there.  There also seem to be clasping pilaster turrets at the 3 surviving corners, the fourth, to the south-west, having been rebuilt to allow for a projecting rectangular garderobe turret, the only real flanking of the entire structure.  The quoining of the pilaster turrets was carried right across the walls at the base of the second floor making recessed panels on each face, bar the north, entrance front.  This is clearly shown on the Buck print.

Internally the window embrasures have strong Romanesque arches, but are now mostly choked with debris which fills the bulk of the ground floor.  Entrance was gained to the north via a central gateway whose arch has collapsed.  However it is plain that the main defence of this portal was a portcullis.  The gateway was flanked by square turrets which project slightly as pilaster buttresses.  Within was a short gate passageway that ended with an apparent wall which has now been replaced with a short flight of modern steps which allows access to the top of the debris filling the ground floor.  Originally entrance seems to have been gained via the 2 doors to east and west into the internal gate turrets.  Such an arrangement is most odd.  Odder still is the fact that the west door is Romanesque and has a moulding, while the east door is square headed and has none.  Both doorways are chamfered as are the portcullis quoins.  All would appear to be contemporary and the suspicion must be that this odd gatehouse layout is the work of Lady Anne.

Within the tower there was obviously a north-south dividing wall making an uneven division of the interior with the smaller third being to the west.  Of the first floor little remains, but there were obviously mural passageways in the thickness of the wall, possibly running the entire circumference of the tower.  This would bear comparison with Brougham keep.  The one surviving doorway in the west end of the south wall is Romanesque.  In the west wall a single rectangular loop which could be any date from the eleventh century onwards stands in stark contrast to the far more decorative, larger Romanesque loop on the floor beneath it.  The corner turrets contained barrel vaulted chambers.  The first floor seems to have had similar chambers, but they are now mostly destroyed.  The north-west turret seems to have contained a stair.  Of the upper floor very little remains, but Buck's print seems to show battlements above this level.  Centrally in the west wall was a larger window which seems out of place with the other smaller loops.  The smaller chamber to the west was obviously served by the additional garderobe turret to the south-west.  This has small rectangular windows and a chute at the base.  Such a turret bears comparison with that at Bewcastle.

Pennant's sketch of the castle seems to show the east face of the castle.  This has some odd features, namely large pointed windows at ground floor level and a large recessed arch at the first floor which contained 3 lancet windows.  Above this on the second floor is a gabled centre between the 2 corner turrets, pierced by 2 large pointed windows.  The suspicion is that this was the east end of a chapel.  The sketch would also suggest that the south-west turret rose another storey above a string course.  It also suggests that the second floor projected slightly over the first floor.  This bears some resemblance to the upper floor of the keep at Brougham. 

All in all it would seem that this odd, low, rectangular tower is best compared to Brougham keep and possibly Hopton keep in Shropshire.  It's mural wall passages and vaulted chambers in the corner turrets also draw parallels with Carlisle keep and the great tower, descending the scarp at Clun castle in Shropshire.  Similarities in the mural passages and turret chambers can also be seen in the old keeps of Rochester and Hedingham, as well as Henry II's great keep at Dover.

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.


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