Armstrong shield

12,000 – 4,000BC Prehistoric

During these Prehistoric times Bamburgh is untouched by Romans, Saxons or Vikings. Nomadic hunter gatherers roamed the land following herds of wild animals. Archaeologists have found their tools - arrowheads and small flint tools called “microliths”.

12,000 – 4,000BC Prehistoric

800BC The Votadini tribe

The Votadini, one of Britain’s first organised tribes, have claimed the natural fortress of Bamburgh and the territory around it as their own.

800BC The Votadini tribe

AD43 – AD410 Roman conquest and Bamburgh

The Roman conquest and Bamburgh is occupied during the invasion as soldiers advance into Scotland before retreating south to Hadrian’s Wall.

The coastline is vulnerable to seaborne raids and coastal defence critical.

Bamburgh’s commanding crag top position is visible for miles and put to good use as part of the Roman beacon coastal defence signal system.

AD43 – AD410 Roman conquest and Bamburgh

AD547 Bamburgh’s recorded history begins

In the heart of Anglo Saxon England, Northumbria or Bernicia as it was called is the largest and most powerful of seven kingdoms.

The 6th century Kings of Northumbria choose Bamburgh as their Royal capital, drawn by its formidable position towering 150 foot above the coastline and its connection to the sea by a natural harbour.

They call this capital “Din Guayrdi” - Din meaning fortress.

Ida the Flambearer and first of the Anglo Saxon Kings of Bernicia lays the first timbers of a wooden stockade and the original stronghold of Bamburgh Castle.

AD547 Bamburgh’s recorded history begins

600s Bamburgh beast found this century

Smaller than a penny piece this 7th century solid gold plaque is based on celtic zoomorphological artwork where the form of an animal is used to create a piece of art. Exactly which animal is characterised by the Bamburgh Beast remains a subject of much debate.

Whichever animal this plaque represents it serves as a reminder of the castle's high ranking status as the home of the kings of Northumbria. Discovered during archaeological excavations by Dr Brian Hope Taylor at the castle in 1971, the Bamburgh Beast has been adopted by the castle as its motif.

Look out for the Bamburgh Beast in the Archaeology Room where it can be viewed through a magnifying lens.

600s Bamburgh beast found this century

AD607 The Venerable Bede

Ida is dead and the fortress handed to his grandson, the notorious and blood thirsty King Aethelfrith.

The Venerable Bede, a monk and England’s first historian, likens Aethelfrith to a “ravening wolf”. His bloody trail of mayhem and destruction earns him the surname Flesaurs meaning The Destroyer. Aethelfrith gives the fortress to his wife Bebba. Renamed Bebbanburgh in her honour this is where the name Bamburgh as we know it today originates.

On Aethelfrith’s death his children flee to safety in exile. The second eldest child, Oswald and his brother Oswi are sent to Iona where they are educated and baptised by monks.

AD607 The Venerable Bede

AD634 Oswald returns to Bamburgh

Oswald returns to Bamburgh and becomes Northumbria’s new Saint King. A moral and generous man, it is Oswald who lays the foundations for Bamburgh and Lindisfarne’s lasting worldwide fame as the cradle of Christianity.

Shortly after his return, Oswald asks the abbot of Iona to send a bishop to help him convert his people to Christianity. The bishop sent is Aidan.

Oswald gives him land on Lindisfarne in view of the royal citadel of Bamburgh to build a monastery. And on this tiny spit of land the monastery Aidan forms becomes the epicentre of learning, art and Christianity for the whole of Europe.

AD634 Oswald returns to Bamburgh

AD642 - Oswald's fair hand

Legend has it that Oswald and Aidan were dining at Bamburgh. While they were eating a messenger arrived to tell Oswald the streets of Bamburgh were full of starving beggars. Oswald immediately ordered the untasted meat heaped on a silver dish to be taken to them and the silverware broken up for their benefit. Struck by this act, Aidan took Oswald’s right hand and blessed it, saying “May this hand never perish”.

Oswald’s downfall comes in 642. He is slain in battle by his old enemy King Penda of Mercia. Rescuing Oswald’s head and arms from stakes where Penda has displayed them his men bring them back to Bamburgh where they were kept in a silver shrine inside the fortress’s church, the Basilica of St Peter. The right hand of Oswald, known to the Celts as Oswald Fair-hand is said to never decay.

AD642 - Oswald's fair hand

AD610 – 700 Foundation stone of England

Bamburgh is known as “the very foundation stone of England”. It is a royal city and home to the Kings of Northumbria. The wooden huts of King Ida’s day are replaced by a royal palace.

An 8thcentury chronicler describes Bamburgh as “a most strongly fortified city being the size of two or three fields, having one entrance hollowed out of the rock and raised in steps after a marvellous fashion.

On the top of the hill it has a church of extremely beautiful workmanship in which is a shrine, rich and costly that contains the right hand of St Oswald the King, still incorrupt.”

AD610 – 700 Foundation stone of England

AD700-800 Northumbrian kingdom begins to dissolve

A bloody century as violent attacks and invasions are carried out by power-hungry leaders of rival kingdoms on this ruling capital.Kings are brutally murdered, crushed from power and forced into exile and the Northumbrian kingdom begins to dissolve.

AD700-800 Northumbrian kingdom begins to dissolve

AD993 The Vikings

Vikings strike and ransack the coastal stronghold of Bamburgh seizing war booty and burning buildings. It’s an attack that echoes the violent and pre meditated raid by Vikings on nearby Lindisfarne in 793. Viking battle axes batter the skulls of monks while the English nail skins flayed off their Danish enemies onto church doors.Its force weakens the capital leaving the Kingdom of Northumbria’s days numbered and Bamburgh Castle falls into disrepair.

AD993 The Vikings

AD1066 William the Conqueror’s forces arrive at Bamburgh

William the Conqueror’s forces arrive at Bamburgh. Bloodshed and rebellion follows and the ruling Anglos Saxon earls are replaced as the Normans seize power. Bamburgh Castle is used as a base by the Normans during their warring forays into Scotland led by William.

AD1066 William the Conqueror’s forces arrive at Bamburgh

AD1095 The Red King

William Rufus or the Red King as he was called because of his flaming red hair and blazing temperament to match is the third son of William the Conqueror.

After unsuccessfully attempting to take Bamburgh from Robert de Mowbray, Earl of Northumbria by attack, scheming William builds a wooden tower alongside Bamburgh known as a “Malvoisin” or “evil neighbour”.

The wooden tower is so close Mowbray and his defenders shout abuse and taunt William and his labourers as it is being constructed. But this only amuses William and a blockade begins.

As Bamburgh is watched by the hated Malvoisin garrison their supplies dwindle and morale ebbs. Wearied by the ongoing siege Mowbray makes a break for freedom via a secret tunnel but is captured and taken prisoner.

Meanwhile, his brave young wife Matilda and nephew Morel continue to hold out against the siege. But William orders Mowbray be paraded before the castle and shouts that he will gouge out Mowbray’s eyes there and then unless Bamburgh yields. Matilda has no choice and forfeits the castle and estate to the Crown and Henry I takes ownership of Bamburgh.

AD1095 The Red King

AD1131 Crown’s strategic English outpost

As an important Border garrison Bamburgh Castle must withstand attack from neighbouring Scots and rebellious barons. As the Crown’s strategic English outpost, orders are given for the castle to be rebuilt and fortified to hold out against attack. Serfs and tenants are employed to make Bamburgh great once again. Paid in money or kind for their efforts, any refusal to help results in heavy fines.

AD1131 Crown’s strategic English outpost

AD1164 Great Tower

The sum of £4 is paid for the erection of a mighty Great Tower or Keep. This remains the heart of the Castle today.

A stronghold of the Crown against invading Scots and rebels, Bamburgh Castle is impenetrable against attack. During the next 400 years Bamburgh is visited by many kings. John, Henry III, Edward I, Edward II and Edward III all came here.

Hygiene in the castle was very basic. Toilets, called “garderobes” were positioned on top of the walls over the vertical rock face. Though drafty and hardly ideal for those lacking a head for heights, they were a safer perch than many.

Death by assassination on the toilet was a real hazard in medieval times. Assassins poised with spears would wait for their victim beneath the garderobes which were little more than holes built into walls.

AD1164 Great Tower

AD1221 Henry III

Henry III is credited with introducing comfort into the castle. In 1221 Henry ordered a great Hall 150 feet in length and 34 feet broad be built separate to the Keep, with chambers for men and women. He installed the luxury of glass windows to protect against the fierce northerly gales and built chimneys in place of roof holes.

As well as hosting kings, hostages and prisoners were kept in Bamburgh's Keep or "Donjon" meaning Dungeon. Prisoners of status were held in high status apartments appropriate to their rank. During the Border wars Bamburgh's most famed captive was the Scot's King, David Bruce. He had been wounded by an arrow and surgeons were brought from York to extract it. They were given £6 for their services.

AD1221 Henry III

AD1403 Harry Hotspur

Under constant threat of attack by the Scots, the Crown ramps up Bamburgh Castle’s defences. Henry Percy better known as Harry Hotspur is made Commander of the castle and tasked with its protection.

An uncrowned king of the north, Hotspur earned his nickname for his boldness in battle. Immortalised by Shakespeare in Henry IV Part One as a dynamic warrior who lived in the saddle, Hotspur is headstrong and quick to settle an apparent insult with his sword.

AD1403 Harry Hotspur

AD1464 Civil war

Civil war rages during the War of the Roses between the royal houses of Lancaster and York.

King Henry the Sixth of the red rose of Lancaster is in residence at Bamburgh. As he battles to retain his grip on power Lord Warwick, fighting for Henry’s rival Edward the Sixth of the white rose of York, besieges the castle.

Gunpowder and shot proves stronger than stone and mortar. After centuries of withstanding every kind of armed assault, Bamburgh is the first castle in England to be destroyed by gunfire.

Henry flees the castle as its walls are brought crashing to the ground during the devastating artillery attack. Bamburgh never regains its powerful status as a fortress.

AD1464 Civil war

AD1610 Royal abandonment of Bamburgh Castle

The year marks the final royal abandonment of Bamburgh Castle by James I who gives the fortress to Claudius Forster, the castle’s last royal keeper in thanks for his long standing service to the Crown.

After being the property of kings for over 1200 years Bamburgh is privately owned for the first time.

But the Forsters are unable to afford the massive upkeep of a castle already in decline and Bamburgh falls into an uninhabitable ruin.

Only the Norman Keep remains intact.

AD1610 Royal abandonment of Bamburgh Castle

AD1701 Dorothy Foster

What remains of Bamburgh Castle is inherited by the last of the Forster family, Dorothy. The heir to a bankrupt estate, Bamburgh’s future is uncertain. But Dorothy falls in love and marries distinguished Bishop of Durham Lord Nathaniel Crewe. Although he is 40 years her senior the couple are happy and in love. But tragically, Dorothy dies and her grieving husband sets up a trust fund in her memory to restore her beloved castle and support the people of Bamburgh.

AD1701 Dorothy Foster

AD1715 Tom and Dorothy Foster

Aged 32, Tom Forster, Dorothy’s great nephew, leaves Bamburgh to become a supporter of the Jacobite Cause in the 1715 Rebellion. He is made a General and put in charge of the English Jacobites even though he has little military experience. Tom’s army are defeated but worse still Tom is captured and taken prisoner to London.

His sister, also named Dorothy, rides pillion to London behind the local blacksmith to rescue her brother. She visits him on several occasions in gaol, always accompanied by her maid.

But on her final visit Dorothy visits Tom alone. Concealed beneath her clothes, Dorothy wears the outfit of her maid. And when the right time comes she quickly dresses Tom in the maid’s clothes.

The guards by this time have changed. Accustomed to seeing two ladies leaving the cell of General Tom they let them pass unchecked.

Portraits of the brother and sister still hang in the castle, along with Dorothy’s dress and a pair of her tiny shoes.

AD1715 Tom and Dorothy Foster

AD1757 Dr John Sharp

Upon the Bishop’s death a large sum of money is left in the trust for the upkeep of the castle and the Crewe Trustees begin a restoration of the building. The work is carried out under the watchful eye of enlightened trustee Dr John Sharp, who throws himself into the task of breathing new life into the castle and improving the life of Bamburgh’s people.

Founder of the Bamburgh Charities, Dr Sharp creates a “Welfare State” which lasts at Bamburgh for almost 100 years. As well as setting up a pharmacy, an out patients surgery and a hospital for the poor, using his own money he pays for the services of a midwife for the village. Over 300 underprivileged children are educated in the castle Dr Sharp turns into a free school. And he arranges meat, milk and coal to be distributed to the poor, their crops ground at the castle windmill and the meal sold to raise funds for their benefit.

AD1757 Dr John Sharp

AD1771 The Bamburgh Coastguard

But Dr Sharp’s good work doesn’t stop here. The waters off Bamburgh are perilous. The 20 Farne Islands before the castle and treacherous hidden offshore reefs have claimed the lives of many souls.

Determined to make safe Bamburgh’s seas Dr Sharp creates a pioneering coastguard system thought to be the first of its kind in the world. Making good use of Bamburgh’s commanding position high above the coastline, Dr Sharp turns the castle into a coastguard station.

A gun is fired from the ramparts in foggy weather, a watch system and beach patrols set up and massive iron chains are kept at the ready to haul floundering ships to safety.

In 1786 Dr Sharp launches the first ever lifeboat at Bamburgh. He provides accommodation for shipwrecked mariners and even pays for the burial of bodies washed up on Bamburgh beach.

But despite Dr Sharp’s efforts, the Castle falls into financial difficulties once again and the Trustees decide to sell the Castle.

AD1771 The Bamburgh Coastguard

AD1894 Lord Armstrong of Cragside

Victorian industrialist and great inventor, Lord Armstrong of Cragside reads in The Times that his distant relatives the Forsters have put Bamburgh Castle up for sale. He buys the partly restored castle for £8,000 and additional £2,000 for the contents. His vision is to create a great country mansion to be used as a convalescent home for retired gentlemen.

AD1894 Lord Armstrong of Cragside

AD1900 Lord Armstrong Dies

At 83 years old most people are happily enjoying their retirement. Not so Newcastle industrialist and self made multi millionaire the 1st Lord Armstrong.

He throws himself into restoring his new venture into the quintessential medieval castle we know it as today.

A practical man and a great inventor, Lord Armstrong has already constructed the purpose built country manor of Cragside a little over 30 miles away.

Harnessing the power from five artificial lakes he formed there, Lord Armstrong built a hydro electric power station. And in 1878 Cragside became the first house in the world to be lit by hydro-electricity.

Lord Armstrong is determined Bamburgh should have all the latest “mod cons”. He invents and fits central heating and air conditioning systems in the castle.

It cost him one million pounds and took the last six years of his life to achieve his dream. Sadly the 1st Lord Armstrong dies before seeing his work completed.

AD1900 Lord Armstrong Dies

AD1903 2nd Lord Armstrong

But his great nephew, the 2nd Lord Armstrong completes the task. He decides to make Bamburgh a family residence. Bamburgh Castle continues to be the private home of the Armstrong family to this day.

AD1903 2nd Lord Armstrong

AD1960 The Bamburgh Sword

Believed to be the only sword of its kind in the world, the Bamburgh Sword truly is a weapon fit for a king and would have been the ultimate status symbol of power and wealth of its time.

Unearthed during Dr Brian Hope Taylor's first excavation at the castle in 1960, looking at the sword today corroded by centuries buried underground you could easily forget just how special it would have been in its day. Pattern-welded swords were easily recognisable in Anglo Saxon times. It would have been clear to onlookers that the Bamburgh Sword was something very different. Visually, it would have got the better of any other weapon side-by-side. And during these times when battles for supremacy raged among kings it was a case of the more ostentatious the better.

AD1960 The Bamburgh Sword
12,000 - 4,000 BC
12,000 – 4,000BC Prehistoric
12,000 – 4,000BC Prehistoric
800 BC
800BC The Votadini tribe
800BC The Votadini tribe
43 - 410
AD43 – AD410 Roman conquest and Bamburgh
AD43 – AD410 Roman conquest and Bamburgh
547
AD547 Bamburgh’s recorded history begins
AD547 Bamburgh’s recorded history begins
600s
600s Bamburgh beast found this century
600s Bamburgh beast found this century
607
AD607 The Venerable Bede
AD607 The Venerable Bede
634
AD634 Oswald returns to Bamburgh
AD634 Oswald returns to Bamburgh
642
AD642 - Oswald's fair hand
AD642 - Oswald's fair hand
610 - 700
AD610 – 700 Foundation stone of England
AD610 – 700 Foundation stone of England
700 - 800
AD700-800 Northumbrian kingdom begins to dissolve
AD700-800 Northumbrian kingdom begins to dissolve
993
AD993 The Vikings
AD993 The Vikings
1066
AD1066 William the Conqueror’s forces arrive at Bamburgh
AD1066 William the Conqueror’s forces arrive at Bamburgh
1095
AD1095 The Red King
AD1095 The Red King
1131
AD1131 Crown’s strategic English outpost
AD1131 Crown’s strategic English outpost
1164
AD1164 Great Tower
AD1164 Great Tower
1221
AD1221 Henry III
AD1221 Henry III
1403
AD1403 Harry Hotspur
AD1403 Harry Hotspur
1464
AD1464 Civil war
AD1464 Civil war
1610
AD1610 Royal abandonment of Bamburgh Castle
AD1610 Royal abandonment of Bamburgh Castle
1701
AD1701 Dorothy Foster
AD1701 Dorothy Foster
1715
AD1715 Tom and Dorothy Foster
AD1715 Tom and Dorothy Foster
1757
AD1757 Dr John Sharp
AD1757 Dr John Sharp
1771
AD1771 The Bamburgh Coastguard
AD1771 The Bamburgh Coastguard
1894
AD1894 Lord Armstrong of Cragside
AD1894 Lord Armstrong of Cragside
1900
AD1900 Lord Armstrong Dies
AD1900 Lord Armstrong Dies
1903
AD1903 2nd Lord Armstrong
AD1903 2nd Lord Armstrong
1960
AD1960 The Bamburgh Sword
AD1960 The Bamburgh Sword

Timeline

Take a journey through the ages of Northumberland.

Discover Northumberland’s fascinating past from prehistoric times to the present. You’ll discover the characters and events which shaped this unique place and made it what it is today.

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