The Early History of Barnard Castle


dsc_0882The 12th century Barnard Castle is located in County Durham, with a town of the same name.

Strategically located on the River Tees, it is located approximately 16 miles west of Darlington, and 25 miles from the mighty cathedral city of Durham.


I visited on a glorious January morning, with crisp frost on the ground. I would recommend checking English Heritage’s website for opening times, as I visited on a weekday and it is only open at the weekends from November to March.

11th Century and Foundation

Barnard Castle has a history of changing hands, and this began all the way back in the 11thdsc_0855 century when the Earls of Northumberland seized the land from the church.

However, the Earl fell out of favour via rebellion against William II (William Rufus) and the land reverted to crown ownership.

William granted the land to a Norman Baron called Guy de Balliol who had been with his father’s army at the Battle of Hastings.

Despite dissatisfaction from the church, he set about building a fortress, beginning with the inner ward that you can see today.

dsc_0862By 1125, Guy had died and the castle was inherited by his son Bernard (there is some debate as to whether or not Bernard was his nephew or his son). Bernard was also responsible for founding the town of Barnard Castle.

Bernard fought for King Stephen at the Battle of Lincoln and lost, and often saw his lands invaded by the Scots.

In 1190, the castle was used as collateral by the Bishop of Durham, and King John had ordered the castle back into the families hands by 1212.

John de Baliol succeeded to the Lordship of Barnard Castle in 1228 and went on to be one of dsc03609the most prominent nobles of the time.

He became extremely wealthy through his marriage to Devorguilla of Galloway, and through the imprisonment of her brother. This allowed him to hold his lands, and was particularly cruel seeing his imprisonment latest 60 years!

John was one of Henry III’s leading counselors and also acted as joint protector of the King of Scots, Alexander III.

John and Devorguilla’s marriage seems to have been a happy one, as when John died Devorguilla founded Sweetheart Abbey in his honour.

A King of Scotland

dsc03622John’s son, also called John became King of Scotland after Edward I decided John was best placed to become King after the Scottish throne was left empty.

Due to his connection to Edward, John swore fealty to England which was unpopular to say the least and the Scottish nobles ended up appointing a council to rule instead.

Regrettably for John, Edward I invaded England and in 1296, John abdicated. He was imprisoned at the Tower of London. He was released, and lived out the rest of his life in France.

Barnard Castle was now without a Lord, and the Bishop of Durham made use of the old church claim to the castle, with it eventually transferring into the crown’s hands at the start of the 14th Century.

Into Warwick Hands

dsc03625In 1307, Edward I granted Barnard Castle to a noble called Guy de Beauchamp.

Guy was the son of William de Beauchamp, the first Earl of Warwick.

He was knighted by Edward I in 1296, and fought well in the Battle of Falkirk two years later and this was also the year he succeeded to the Earldom.

After Edward I died, Guy went on to serve his son Edward II, and carried a ceremonial sword at his coronation.

dsc_0869Guy wasn’t to enjoy a harmonious relationship with the new King.

Edward II had a favourite called Piers Gaveston, a man considered an upstart, and and it was thought he had too much influence over the King.

He was arrogant, and overly confident, giving insulting nicknames to the nobility including giving Guy the nickname of The Black Dog of Arden.

The Nobles and the King fought over Gaveston, with him being exiled and recalled almost like a tug of war. On his final return to England, he was captured by Guy and he was taken to Warwick Castle where nearby at Blacklow Hill, he was executed.

Guy was given a pardon, but was kept at the fringes of court. He died in 1315 after illness, some thought due to poison.

The Castle, however was truly in the hands of the Earls of Warwick, and would continue see some of the key people of the late middle ages live within its walls.

Next time: Barnard Castle and the Wars of the Roses

If you would like to see more of my photos of Barnard Castle, please visit my flickr

Britain Express – Barnard Castle
Information Britain – Barnard Castle
Wikipedia – John I de Balliol
Wikipedia – Guy de Beauchamp

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