(An excerpt from the Alnwick Castle site)
Welcome to Alnwick Castle
To many people, their first sight of this glorious medieval castle can seem foreboding, and
certainly its history lacks nothing in drama and intrigue. Some of you may recognise us as a
film location, for everything from Harry Potter to Elizabeth to Becket to Blackadder.
The History of Alnwick Castle
Alnwick Castle is the second largest inhabited castle in England, the first being Windsor
Castle, and has been the home of the Percys, Earls and Dukes of Northumberland since 1309.
The earliest mention of Alnwick Castle in the history books appears soon after 1096 when
Yves de Vescy became baron of Alnwick and erected the earliest parts of the Castle.
The Castle was first restored by the 1st Lord Percy of Alnwick in the early 1300's and
portions of this restoration remain today, including the Abbot's Tower, the Middle Gateway
and the Constable's Tower.
Born in 1564, Henry the Ninth Earl was the last Percy to be born in Northumberland for four
hundred years. This Henry inherited many troubles with his title in 1585 - his uncle was
executed after the ‘Rebellion of the Northern Earls’ and his father died in the Tower of
London, probably murdered.
Yet he became a true Renaissance nobleman, a leading intellectual, alchemist, and
Although his speech was inclined to be slow and he was slightly deaf he was a highly gifted
man, his scientific experiments and library earning him the title of ‘Wizard Earl’.
He was a great scholar and became the patron of the English astronomer Thomas Harriot, the
first man to map the surface of the moon. He was also a central figure in what became known
later as "The School of Night", with Marlowe prominent among its members.
He owned massive estates in southern England as well as the north - his main establishment
being Petworth in Sussex. At his own expense he equipped several vessels and personally
helped in the destruction of the Armada.
But when it came to the management of the Castle and its estates, he made a crucial error.
He appointed his distant cousin, Thomas, to manage his affairs in Alnwick.
Thomas abused his office, exploiting tenants and pocketing money. Worse was to come. In
1605, he was revealed, along with Guy Fawkes, as one of the key gunpowder plotters.
Guilt assumed by association, Henry was arrested and though pleading his innocence, was
confined to the Tower of London where he spent the next seventeen years. He was also fined a
massive £30,000 and it was raising the funds for this that inspired the development of a
more efficient and professional approach to the management of the Percy Estates. Ironically
therefore, the fact that the Wizard Earl was never again permitted to visit Alnwick played a
vital role in ensuring the Castle’s future.
The management of Northumberland Estates continues to this day to be a vital responsibility
of the family and the Castle remains its working heart.
Alnwick castle - pictures
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