Etal Castle

Posted: August 2, 2016 in History, Northumberland, UK
Tower Keep

Tower House


Located in the moorland village of Etal, this fortified tower house is an example of the dwellings of the landed gentry in the English- Scottish border area of Northumbria. It guarded both the village and the bridge over the River Till.


The tower house was built by Roger Manners in the early 14th century, and was further fortified in 1341 by the addition of a curtain wall, corner towers and a gatehouse. It provided necessary protection against cross-border raids and in the feud that existed between the Manners family and their neighbours, the Heron family of nearby Ford Castle.

Tower Keep

Interior of Tower House


In 1513, Etal was besieged by the army of King James IV of Scotland who had invaded England with the largest Scottish army ever mustered. Designed to beat off attacks from raiders and small war-bands, there was no way Etal could withstand such an army, especially as King James had invested heavily in new cannons. The constable took the decision to surrender the castle to the Scots, who garrisoned it as a base for further operations. A couple of days later the hastily raised English army, commanded by the Earl of Surrey, began to approach the area. The Scottish army drew itself up on Flodden Hill, a couple of miles to the west of Etal.





The battle initially went well for the Scots, but when their infantry came face to face with English infantry, things began to go wrong. The English, armed with the short billhooks, were able to engage the Scots infantry, whilst the longer pikes of the later (an excellent weapon against cavalry) proved an ineffectual weapon against infantry. The result was a rout and King James and many of his nobles were killed. King James’ artillery and some prisoners were taken back to Etal Castle, now returned to English hands. It was considered an important position in the defence of the realm and in 1547 Etal became crown property and was garrisoned by the crown for protection of the border. In 1549 this was recorded as 100 cavalry and 200 infantry which considering the size of the castle must have been very crowded.

Castle Wall

Castle Wall

In 1603 King James VI of Scotland inherited the English throne and the border defence role of Etal became redundant. There was no longer a reason for the crown to hold it and it was granted to Baron Hulme of Berwick. On his death it passed to the Earl of Sussex, who sold it to Sir Robert Carr. It remained a residence of the Carr family until 1748 when they moved to a newly built manor house in Etal village. The castle was abandoned. In 1908 it was bought by Lord Joicey, who had also bought the neighbouring estate of Ford – thus uniting these two historic feuding estates. He set about restoring the buildings of the castle that still remained standing. This work has been continued by English Heritage, who are now custodians of the site.

Etal Castle is a very interesting example of  a fortified border manor houses of the period before the union of England and Scotland and tells much of the precarious and dangerous lives of those who lived, worked and guarded the border.

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