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The History of Alnwick

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For those of us who think Hogwarts is the latest crisis to have hit British farming, Alnwick Castle’s will be famous for its illustrious past rather than the Harry Potter films. Or perhaps Kevin Costner and Alan Rickman’s histrionics in Kevin Reynold’s Robin Hood: Prince Of Thieves will jog the memory of Alnwick’s imposing defences.
Such is the impressive aspect of England’s second largest inhabited castle, film companies have used it as a location for years. ‘Blackadder’, ‘The Antiques Roadshow’… the BBC may well have considered building a canteen in the castles kitchen such have been the frequency of their visits. But Alnwick is that sort of place, evocative of England’s dramatic history. Sitting on the north-eastern shoulder of England, in the green expanse of Northumberland, it has stories to tell. It may be modestly proportioned, lost under the shadow its castle, but Alnwick has been home to the the House Of Percy, and the Earls and Dukes Of Northumberland for over seven centuries now, and has stood as a staging post on the frontline between Scotland and England’s wholesale military bickering. Do not underestimate the degree of influence Alnwick had over England’s affairs.
At the beginning of the 14th Century Alnwick Castle fell into the hands of the House Of Percy. The most powerful noble family in England, their baronial ancestry dates back to the Battle Of Hastings . Henry De Percy became 1st Baron of Percy in 1299, and purchased Alnwick Castle a decade later. A descendent of Henry III, Percy fought under King Edward I in the First War Of Scottish Independence, when Edward became the Hammer Of The Scots Alnwick became a focal point for English power. Percy was granted land in Scotland and throughout Northumberland for his loyalty. Alnwick was but a trebuchet away from the Scottish port of Berwick ; it made sense strategically for England’s power to be held under guard in Alnwick Castle. By the time the Percys occupied the castle there had already been a history of Scottish claims on Northumberland.
In 1093, in a novel twist to the fractious medieval relationship between England and Scotland, King Malcolm III of Scotland was killed after invading England in the First Battle Of Alnwick by Robert de Mowbray, 1st Earl Of Northumberland. Malcolm went down fighting with his son as he besieged Alnwick. And once again, in 1174, the Anglo-Scottish bunfight turned ugly when King William I of Scotland inherited the earldom of Northumbria, only to be relinquished by King Henry II of England. Territorial squabbling erupted at Alnwick. William was defeated. Most embarrassingly so, he was captured, held prisoner at Newcastle before being moved to Normandy to cool his heels. It was another disaster for the Scots. Their king brokered a humiliating peace that saw English troops garrisoned in Scottish castles from the Borders to Edinburgh and Stirling .
Having survived the First War Of Scottish Independence and those earlier skirmishes, Percy fortified Alnwick Castle. Many of these 14th Century appointments are still standing today. The Percy’s power was a constant source of strength through the bitter conflicts of the 15th Century. It needed to be. Alnwick Castle was attacked by the Scots in 1424 and again in 1448. No sooner had the Scots left when the War Of The Roses engulfed the north of England. During the 1460s, custody of Alnwick was hotly contested. On the 25th October 1462, Margaret of Angelou seized Alnwick and Barmburgh in the name of her husband, Henry VI . The Lancastrians would hold the castle for two years before surrendering to King Edward VI . In 1469, the estates were returned to the Earl Of Northumberland.
By the 18th Century, the Northumberland line had finished. The castle fell into disrepair. Ironic for it to do so in a time of peace after standing strong through wars with Scotland and the internecine strife of English medieval politics. But commissioned by Hugh Percy, 1st Duke of Northumberland, in the middle of the 18th Century, Robert Adam renovated the castle, restoring it as a place to live. Adam also designed Brizlee Tower for the Duke in 1877. By the middle of the 19th, the castle was restored to its medieval self, dramatic, gothic, more than photogenic and certainly ready to withstand the contemporary seige of tourists and film crews.

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