15 April 2014
Though many may recognize this castle as the famous Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry from the Harry Potter film series, the Alnwick Castle has played many other roles outside the magical cinema world. The castle has a noble history and has transcended into one of the most visited homes in England. In this paper I will present a brief history of Alnwick Castle along with its current uses and the building’s construction.
In 1096 the Baron of Alnwick, Yves de Vescy, established the first parts of the castle. It was built to protect England's northern border against the Scottish invasions. King David I of Scotland took control of the castle in 1138. It was then taken over in 1172 and again in 1174 by William the Lion, King of Scotland. Though, in 1174, the English reclaimed Alnwick when King William the Lion was captured by the English in Rotten Row (The Douglas Archives).
During the Wars of the Roses, castles were rarely involved in battle and conflict was generally based around combat in the field. Alnwick was one of three castles held by partisans on the side of The House of Lancaster from 1461 to 1462. It was held against King Edward until its surrender in mid-September 1461 after the Battle of Towton. It was re-captured by Sir William Tailboys, during the winter he surrendered to Hastings, Sir John Howard and Sir Ralph Grey of Heton in late July 1462. Grey was then appointed captain but surrendered after a siege in the fall (The Douglas Archives).
King Edward showed great strength when the Earl of Warwick arrived in November. Queen Margaret and her French advisor were forced to sail to Scotland for help. They organized a mainly Scots relief force which, under George Douglas, 4th Earl of Angus, set out late November. Warwick's army, commanded by the Earl of Kent and Lord Scales, cut off any news that was going through the starving barracks. As a result the nearby Bamburgh and Dunstanburgh castles soon agreed to come to terms and surrendered. But Hungerford and Whittingham held Alnwick until Warwick was forced to withdraw when Angus arrived in January 1463 ("Battle of Alnwick - 13th November 1093").
Today, the current duke, Ralph Percy the 12th Duke of Northumberland, and his family live in the castle, but only occupy part of it. The castle is open to the public throughout the summer and after Windsor Castle, it is the second largest inhabited castle in England. According to the Historic Houses Association, Alnwick was the tenth most-visited stately home in England, with 195,504 visitors in 2006 (Historic Houses Association).
Since the Second World War, parts of the castle have been used by various educational establishments. From 1945 to 1975 the Newcastle Church High School for Girls used the castle as a teacher training college and, since 1981, St. Cloud State University of Minnesota uses it as a branch campus forming part of their International Study Program ("Alnwick, England: Center for British Studies").
The castle was used as a stand in for the exterior and interior of Hogwarts in the Harry Potter films though the wider angle images were computer generated. It has previously been a location used in Becket, The Black Adder; Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves and many others. The appearance in the films has led to an increase in public interest along with shaping the publics’ view on the look of castles (Alnwick Castle). Alnwick’s condition is distinctly different with the vast majority of castles in the country, which are ruinous and unfit for living.
On the north side of the castle runs the River Aln and there is a deep ravine to the south and east, separating the castle from the town. By the 12th