The construction of Penrith Castle was started in the late 1390s by Ralph Neville (1364-1425), 1st Earl of Westmorland and Warden of the West March who was given the Lordship of Penrith and held responsible for the defence of this area against the Scots. There had been many disastrous raids by Scottish armies into Cumbria over the previous 100 years, with the burning of crops and villages and the slaughter of citizens. There had been a series of pele towers built, for instance the one at Yanwath Hall, but the inhabitants of Penrith must have been pleased to see a real castle rising from the grounds. The location is not the highest point around but was probably chosen as it was the site of an old Roman fort – the banks and ditches from that fort could conveniently be re-used.
His emblem of ‘Beares with a Ragged Staff’ can be found in Penrith market square.
[Picture of emblem to add]
More change was to come however as Warwick became disaffected with life at Edward’s court and turned to the Lancaster side. He led a rebellion against Edward IV from France in 1470 and helped to restore Henry VI to the throne. This state of affairs did not last long either and in 1471 Warwick was killed by Edward at the battle of Barnet. Penrith Castle was returned to the crown and Edward granted it to his brother, Richard, Duke of Gloucester, who used Penrith as a base whilst trying to uphold law and order but also ensuring the loyalty, to his brother, of the local aristocrats and people of influence who had previously supported the Lancaster cause in the War of the Roses.
After Richard became king in 1483 the castle remained crown property, but it was not used again as a permanent residence. He died in 1485 at the Battle of Bosworth, the battle that brought an end to ‘The War of the Roses’. The victor was Henry Tudor from the Lancastrian side who married Richard’s niece, Elizabeth of York, and so began the Tudor dynasty. The castle and town remained part of the Crown Estate but did not hold such a lofty role again.
In 1696, in the reign of William III (William of Orange) Penrith castle, and most other crown property in Cumberland, was given to his friend Hans Willem Bentinck, 1st Earl of Portland. In 1787 it was sold to the Dukes of Devonshire. They in turn sold it in the early 19th century to the Lancaster and Carlisle Railway Company who needed some of the land for the new railway station, still located opposite. Penrith Urban District Council acquired it in the 1920s and converted the grounds into a public park and built housing nearby.
by Cecilia McCabe, Friends of the Ullswater Way Charity No. 1185056