Warkworth Castle

Warkworth Castle, Northumberland
Photo © Draco2008, 6 February 2008

Warkworth Castle, Northumberland
Photo © Draco2008, 6 February 2008

Warkworth Castle, Northumberland
Photo © Chakchouka, 2 June 2008

Warkworth Castle is a ruined, although reasonably well preserved castle, situated in Warkworth, Northumberland, England on a defensive mound in a loop of the River Coquet. It is a Grade I listed building.

Warkworth Castle was originally constructed as a wooden fortress, some time after the Norman Conquest. It was later ceded to the Percy family, who held it, and resided there on and off (dependent on the state of their often stormy relationship with the royalty of the time) until the 16th century. During this period the castle was rebuilt with sandstone curtain walls and greatly reinforced. The imposing keep, overlooking the village of Warkworth was added during the late 14th century. It was refurbished, with much refaced stonework, by the Dukes of Northumberland in the late 19th century.

The castle formed the backdrop for several scenes in Shakespeare's Henry IV, Part 2.

this worm-eaten hold of ragged stone,
Where Hotspur's father, old Northumberland,
Lies crafty-sick.

History of the castle

Although the village of Warkworth, Northumberland dates back at least to the 8th century, the first castle was not built until the mid-twelfth century. It was of motte and bailey construction. Northumberland was re-taken for the English by Henry II and the castle was given to Roger FitzRichard whose family continued to hold it until the early fourteenth century. During this period, the original wooden structure was replaced with a stone-built castle, which, by the mid-thirteenth century, was described by Matthew Paris as "a noble castle".

The descendants of FitzRichard encountered financial problems, including the cost of the upkeep of the castle, and ownership reverted to the Crown in 1332. It was next granted to Henry de Percy, Lord of Alnwick. Under the Percys, additional building work took place, including the fourteenth century keep. However, in the rebellion of 1403, the castle fell to the King's cannon, suffering damage to the curtain wall. The castle was forfeited to the Crown, in whose ownership it remained until Henry V restored it to the Percy family. It was again forfeited to the King, during the Wars of the Roses and passed briefly into the hands of John Neville (brother of Warwick the Kingmaker) but again returned to the Percys in 1470.

The Percys sided against Elizabeth I in the so called Rising of the North an uprising of the northern earls, which began in 1569. Thomas Percy, 7th Earl of Northumberland was executed in 1572 and the castle was pillaged by royal servants. The castle fell into long-term disrepair, being further damaged by the Parliamentary forces that were garrisoned there in 1648 and then used as a source of building materials for other houses in the later 17th century.

The castle remained a ruin until the mid-nineteenth century, when the third Duke of Northumberland undertook some preservation work and the fourth Duke excavated some of the older parts of the castle and re-roofed other areas.

In 1922 the 8th Duke of Northumberland handed the castle over to the Office of Works which had been made accountable for the guardianship of ancient monuments. The Office of Works was in due course supplanted by English Heritage who now own the castle.

Features of the castle

The castle consists of three main sections:

The outer bailey is a roughly square section at the southern end of the castle.
The inner bailey is roughly triangular and is to the north of the outer bailey.
The keep (pictured above) is situated on a mound at the extreme northern end of the inner bailey.

Outer bailey

The castle is defended on the southern side by a ditch across which a drawbridge would have provided entry into the main gatehouse. Apart from the gatehouse itself, the southern curtain wall is defended by two towers: the Carrickfergus Tower and the Montague Tower. The main entrance leads into the outer bailey which consists of an open area, about 40 metres square, bounded by some of the castle's internal buildings: the chapel, a hall, kitchens and stables. Across the northern boundary of the bailey is the collegiate church and the access to the northern parts of the castle is via a tunnel underneath the church.

Inner bailey

The inner bailey is bordered on the south side by the collegiate church and to the east and west by curtain walls. Within the roughly triangular open area is a separate building which once housed a brewery and a laundry.

The keep

The keep is like a castle within the castle. It is built on three main storeys and includes a great hall, chapel, kitchens, storerooms and various chambers. A central "lightwell" provides daylight to some of the inner rooms and also allows the capture of rainwater into a tank which has a separate channel to allow water to be diverted to flush the latrines.


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