Built high on a basalt outcrop overlooking the North Sea Bamburgh's imposing outline has dominated the skyline for the last 900 years. The site on which Bamburgh Castle stands has been in use since at least the 1st Century and the fort that stood here was the seat of the Briton kings from around the 6th Century.
The Normans arrived in the late 11th Century and it wasn't long before the castle was at the centre of a conflict. In 1095 the castle's owner, Robert de Mowbray, was implicated in a conspiracy against King William II. William besieged the castle in 1095 and built a wooden tower nicknamed 'Malvoisin' (Evil Neighbour) beside it. Bamburgh was handed over to the crown by de Mowbray's wife after he was captured and William threatened to blind him.
The castle stayed in royal hands for the next 400 years and it was frequently visited by the various monarchs who ruled during that time.
Bamburgh castle was one of the most important strongholds in the north as it sat on two borders. It was crucially important for defence against Scottish invaders and it played a role in defending the northern coastline against Viking raiders.
During the 12th Century Bamburgh's fortifications were upgraded and strengthened and in 1164 the great keep was erected, probably by Henry II, turning Bamburgh into a formidable royal fortress.
In 1221 Henry III ordered the construction of the great hall. Built away from the keep it was 150 feet long and 34 feet broad. He also installed glass windows and proper chimneys to keep out the occasionally fierce Northumbrian weather.
Around this time the keep was also used as a prison. The most famous prisoner among them was David II of Scotland who was captured during the Border wars.
During the Wars of the Roses in the 15th Century Bamburgh was held by King Henry VI (of Lancaster). In 1464 Lord Warwick, acting on behalf of Henry's rival Edward IV, besieged the castle with gunpowder artillery.
The castle walls were no match for the artillery and the walls quickly gave way as Henry fled. It was the first castle in England to fall to gunpowder.
In the 17th Century the castle passed out of royal hands. Charles I gave it to the Forster family who had served the Crown at the castle for four centuries. They couldn't afford the upkeep on the already partially ruined castle and it fell rapidly into a ruined state with only the keep remaining intact.
In the 18th Century the fortunes of the Forster family improved and they managed to make various renovations and repairs. In 1894 it was bought by William Armstrong, 1st Baron Armstrong, the Victorian industrialist. He began an extensive programme of renovation and reconstruction and the castle's grand appearance today owes much to his work.
The 2nd Baron Armstrong completed his father's work and made Bamburgh the family home. Today it is still in the hands of the Armstrong family and it is open to the public.
The castle has 14 public areas to explore, complete with historical furnishings and exhibits, as well as a gift shop and tea rooms. The castle hosts events throughout the year and parts of the castle can be hired as a licensed wedding venue. For 10 weeks each summer the castle has a training dig for students to learn more about archaeological technique and to discover more about the castle’s history.
The castle's laundry rooms contain the Armstrong and Aviation Artefacts museum. The museum has exhibits on William Armstrong and his company as well as aviation artefacts from both world wars.
Bamburgh's dramatic location and imposing looks have seen it appear as a backdrop in several historical films and dramas, including Ivanhoe, Macbeth and, more recently, Elizabeth.
Status: Visitor Attraction / Event Venue / Wedding Venue
Owner: Armstrong family
Tel: +44(0)1668 214515
Opening Times: February to October Daily 10am to 5pm / November to February Weekends only 11am to 4.30pm
Looking across at Bamburgh Castle from the South West
Bamburgh Castle across the water