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David Ford, History EditorTours > Coquetdale > Harbottle Castle

Harbottle Castle
by David Nash Ford BA, Editor, History on Britannia

Harbottle Castle The great Lords of Coquetdale and Redesdale were the Umfraville family. Relatives of the Conqueror, he awarded them - with the gift of his sword as proof - large swathes of Northumbria to defend against all coming enemies of England.

The Umfravilles ruled their little 'principality' with almost Royal powers from one of only two castles allowed, by Henry II, to be built on private land. Odinel D'Umfraville erected a huge octagonal motte and bailey affair at Harbottle in order to help the King keep out the Scots. This was rebuilt in stone around 1200. Over the centuries, the family withheld a number of sieges, notably when attacked by Robert De Ros and some 40,000 men in 1296. Unfortunately, King Robert the Bruce captured the castle in 1311, but it survived the threat of demolition.

In the 16th century, Lord Dacre, Warden of the Middle March, took up residence and the castle became one of the main prisons for troublesome border reivers. The building's most famous hour came in October 1515, when his Lordship played host here to the pregnant Queen Margaret of Scots and her (second) husband, the Earl of Angus. At Harbottle, the lady gave birth to a daughter, also Margaret, the future mother of Lord Darnley (husband of Mary, Queen of Scots and father of James VI). The visit was costly and the Queen apparently spent the whole stay admiring her wardrobe and sending to Edinburgh for more dresses. Lord Dacre had her moved on to Morpeth as soon as possible.

Though greatly restored under Queen Elizabeth, the fortress eventually fell into decay after the union of the English and Scottish crowns made its purpose redundant. Today, only a few stone walls remain, but they are nicely displayed with a small car park and explanatory board. Walk through the sheep to climb the fine motte which dominates the little village. You get a real feeling of power from the top.

The site is run by Northumberland National Park Authority. Free entry at any reasonable time.

Next Stop: The Lady's Well

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