Thursday, 26 April 2012

Warkworth Castle and Hermitage

A-Z Challenge 2012 -W

Warkworth Castle and Hermitage

The town of Warkworth and its castle occupy a loop of the River Coquet in Northumberland less than a mile from England’s north-east coast.

Warkworth Castle (Turner - 1799)
Warkworth Castle plan
The keep is square with the angles cut away; turrets project at right angles from each side; a lofty centre tower commands a great range of country.

The area in front of the keep occupies more than an acre and is surrounded with walls and towers, some walls remain at a height of 35 feet.

Warkworth Castle 2008
The first mention of Warkworth Castle is in a charter of 1157-1164 when Henry II granted the castle and surrounding manor to the Norman Roger fitz Richard whose son Robert is believed to have undertaken substantial building work at Warkworth. Robert hosted King John at the castle in 1213.

The castle descended through the family line and it was a later Robert fitz John with whom King Edward II stayed for a night at Warkworth in 1292. In 1310 John de Clavering, son of Robert, assumed control of the family estates. After the death of de Clavering and his wife Henry de Percy, 2nd Baron Percy took control of Warkworth Castle having been promised the Clavering’s property by Edward III. Warkworth became the Percy’s preferred family home.

The last Percy earl died in 1670. In the mid-18th century Hugh Smithson took the name of Percy when he married an indirect Percy heiress and founded the dynasty of the Dukes of Northumberland. The 8th Duke gave custody of the castle to the state in 1922. Since 1984 English Heritage has cared for the site; Warkworth Castle is a Grade I listed building and a Scheduled Ancient Monument.

Richard Jones in his Haunted Castles of Britain and Ireland says that, “the lower floors (of the keep) possess a distinct chilling aura, and dogs show a marked reluctance to enter them; and if they do they quickly become alarmed, Children entering its dark interior have also been know to become silent and contemplative – which for stressed parents at least, can become something of a welcomed relief.”

Warkworth Hermitage - 1814 exterior
The hollow containing the Hermitage may be seen from the castle hill. The Hermitage is on the north bank of the River Coquet and can only be reached by boat. The story of the Hermitage concerns Isabel the beautiful daughter of the lord of Widdrington Castle, a near neighbour of Warkworth and Sir Bertram, the lord of Bothal Castle.

While Sir Bertram was feasting at Alnwick Castle with other Percy followers, Lady Isabel’s maid presented with a helmet from her lady; the accompanying message was that for Sir Bertram to win her over he must perform some deed of daring. Lord Percy immediately set a day to march against the Scots in which Bertram might test his helmet.

In the conflict that followed Sir Bertram was seriously wounded and carried to Warkworth Castle where it was thought he would die. Isabel heard the news and set out on horseback to visit and nurse him. The two men with her were unable to prevent her being met and carried off by another prospective lover, a Scottish chief.

Bertram recovered and set out for Scotland to search for her. Unbeknown to him his brother had already departed, without telling Bertram on the same rescue mission.

Both discovered where Isabel was imprisoned. When Sir Bertram arrived at the fortress where she was held he saw a Scot going off with Isabel. Not recognising his brother Bertram rushed to the attack. Isabel threw herself between them and was mortally wounded; the brother died too.

In grief and remorse Bertram renounced the world and became Brother Benedict. Giving away his wealth he scooped out Warkworth Hermitage for himself and built a chapel for the tomb and effigy of the slain Isabel with his own image kneeling at her feet. From the cell of penance in the hermitage there is a window through which a kneeling penitent can see Isabel’s grave in the chapel.

After Brother Benedict’s death the Percys maintained a priest to reside in the Hermitage and to celebrate masses for his soul. This tradition was continued till the dissolution of the monasteries.

Hilary Melton-Butcher's castle yesterday was V - Venlaw Castle, Peebles, Scotland

  • Warkworth Castle, Northumberland, a 1799 water colour by J M W Turner; Victoria and Albert Museum
  • Plan of Warkworth Castle; 1954 Castles: An Introduction to the Castles of England and Wales published by HMSO; author ST J O’Neill
  • Warkworth Castle 2008; author Draco2008from UK; Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic Licence
  • Warkworth Hermitage, exterior view, as in 1814. England; October 2009; source Walter Scott Border Antiquities 1814; author L Connell


Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Bob - we're the same and this is excellent .. so I've linked over - and altered mine ..

Cheers for now - Hilary

A Daft Scots Lass said...

I've always had images in my head of what it must've been like to live in an old, cold, stone castle. It must've been a tough life with no running water or real bathroom facilities.

Different times.

Jo said...

Fascinating. The stuff of legends. It would make a good play.

Julie Flanders said...

I just read about this over at Hilary's blog and now it was interesting to come here and learn more of the history. Fascinating stuff!