The Early History of the Castle

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he mist of centuries completely hides the date of its first foundation, and the conflicting accounts of chroniclers are perplexing concerning its youth. Some have sought a Roman, others a Saxon origin, but the first important event, confirmed and trustworthy, is when Malcolm, King of Scotland, on an incursion into Northumberland, laid siege to Alnwick Castle, and was slain by one Morrell, near the Aln, in 1093. Roger de Moubrie, Earl of Northumberland, was then Governor of the Castle. Two worn remnants of an ancient cross mark the spot where Malcolm died. Elizabeth, first Duchess, a descendant of the slain King, erected another in 1775.

King William the Lion was also taken prisoner near the Castle, the road to the stone marking the spot being to this date known as the Route au Roi (Rotten Row). To Eustace Fitz-John de Vesci, one of King William's Norman followers, is attributed the foundation of the present structure, in the reign of Henry I., and recurring evidences in the masonry prove its date, and also that his plan of the Castle has been fairly maintained. The Norman Arch (seen in the engraving in conjunction with the Draw-well) is certainly his work. This De Vesci was also the founder of Alnwick Abbey, a charter for which he granted to the monks of the Premonstratensian Order in 1147.

The Percy

ON the death of William de Vesci (the last of the De Vesci family) in 1297, the Castle was left in trust to Anthony Bek, Bishop of Durham; and was sold by him to Henry de Percy, a scion of a noble Danish family, whose predecessors had followed the Conqueror from Normandy, and who had been by him previously awarded large possessions in Lincoln and York.

From the accession of this Henry, as Baron of Alnwick, till the present, the Castle has remained linked inseparably with the changing fortunes and interesting history of the noble and illustrious family of the Percys, comprising a period of nearly six hundred years.

The first Lord Percy and his son, the second Baron, added considerably to the size and strength of their recently-acquired strong hold, by building massive towers in its outworks and in the keep itself. The walls of these buildings (in some instances more than eight feet in thickness), with other architectural distinctions (perfect in preservation now), express the purposes of the erection, and the reason of their strength, that of protection and defence against, yea, even of defiance to, the raiding Borderer and the invading Scot.


After the death of the second earl, who was slain at the Battle of St. Alban's, in May, 1455, no notable change was made in the Castle until 1755, when Hugh, the first Duke of Northumberland, completed an extensive alteration, making many additions, and re decorating the interior in the style of Gothic advocated by the enthusiastic owner of Strawberry Hill—a style at which modern taste revolts; consequently, Algernon, the fourth Duke, in 1852, decided on its complete restoration and reconstruction, and to him the present dignified and richly-decorated aspect of Alnwick Castle is due. The noble Duke entrusted the late Mr. Anthony Salvin with the designing of the changes contemplated in the exterior of the buildings, with the distinct understanding that no ancient feature was to be disturbed: a difficult task, for the errors of 1755 were to be obliterated, and the new work made to agree with the old, in all of which Mr. Salvin's success was such that one now looking upon the Castle for the first time could not readily distinguish the old masonry from the new, so well do they harmonise in feature and expression. The present Duke has since added the Fosse Tower, also built under the superintendence of Mr. Salvin. [138]


“Alnwick Castle.” 30 (9 August 1884): 137-41. Hathi Trust online version of a copy in the New York Public Library. Web. 11 July 2021.

Last modified 12 July 2021