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Mitford Castle – A site of much turbulence and turmoil

As tends to be the way with English castles, Mitford has enjoyed changing fortunes in changing times. Located in the far north of England, it saw its fair share of both English wrangles and Scottish agitation. But although Mitford Castle may have only been ‘active’ for about two hundred and fifty years, it certainly made the most of its time whilst it was standing.

Norman beginnings…

Built around the time of the Norman Conquest, Mitford Castle was originally owned by Sir John de Mitford. His daughter, Sybilla, was given in marriage to Richard Bertram by William the Conqueror. And so the main part of its story begins.

It started off as an earthwork fortress, with a timber motte-and-bailey. Situated on a small hill overlooking the River Wansbeck it afforded the owners an extensive defensive view whilst also being protected itself by a burn.  Proper records of the castle don’t actually start until 1138, when it was then owned by William Bertram. It was at this point too when it began to be transformed into the stone construction that we know it to be now. For the next few decades, the layout was added to and changed, with the bailey being divided into two parts and the southern section being defended by a stone curtain wall.

Baronial upheaval…

By the time of the First Barons War in 1215, Mitford Castle had passed to Roger Bertram. Roger was in opposition to King John, as were many of this Northern counterparts, and he paid homage to Alexander II of Scotland. John, however, wasn’t apt to give in to such slights, and he recruited a significant army with many Flemish mercenaries and attacked Mitford. The castle was seized by royal forces and passed to Philip de Ulecotes. Philip garrisoned it on behalf of King John and braved a Scottish siege led by Alexander II.

It wasn’t long, however, before John died, and William Marshall, acting as regent for Henry III, pursued his quest to pour oil over troubled waters. He sought reconciliation and ordered Philip to return Mitford to the Bertram family. But it took an ensuing threat of confiscation of Philip’s Nottinghamshire and Yorkshire properties to finally do the trick. Roger Bertram returned to his home.

Kerfuffles and kidnappings…

The next few years saw a bit of chopping and changing. The First War of Scottish Independence broke out in 1296. The two nations locked horns in earnest and England rampaged. When Edward I died at the Battle of Bannockburn in 1314, though, the direction changed. Robert the Bruce dipped in and out of the north, causing trouble and devastation wherever he went; his quest to force Edward II to recognise Scotland as an independent country. To add to the melee, Sir Gilbert Middleton, who had seized Mitford Castle some time around 1310, took advantage of all the mayhem, and jumped at the opportunity to further things for himself. On 1st September, 1317, he kidnapped Lewis de Beaumont, who was on his way to be made Bishop of Durham, and imprisoned him and his companions in Mitford Castle. Unsurprisingly, this caused outrage and Middleton was eventually hung, drawn, and quartered for his shocking behaviour.

A blazing end…

With its owner either locked in the tower, or already executed – accounts are undecided – it is believed that Mitford’s demise swiftly took place at the hands of the Scots. In 1318, the castle sustained a direct attack from Scottish forces. Accounts written a handful of years later reported it to be ruinous and wholly burnt. And it can only be surmised, thereafter, that it had no strategic importance. For in that burnt and gutted state Mitford Castle then basically languished as part of the Mitford family estate until 1993, when it was bought by the Bruce Shepherd family. In a bid to preserve an important part of our history, though, English Heritage have provided grants to help towards the repair and restoration. And that work is ongoing.Mitford Castle