English Heritage: Brough Castle

July 8, 2020

English Heritage: Brough Castle


Brough Castle, at the upper end of the Eden Valley, is a spectacular medieval ruin on the site of the Roman fort of Verteris. The earthworks represent an 11th-century castle, but the visible remains date from the 12th century onwards. The castle was a seat of the celebrated Clifford family for 450 years and enjoyed a last lease of life in the 17th century thanks to the work of Lady Anne Clifford.


Built in about AD 79–80, Verteris was one of a chain of Roman forts guarding the strategically important road from York (Eboracum) to Carlisle (Luguvalium). Excavations in 1953 indicated that the fort had substantial stone buildings and defences, with the capacity to house a battalion of up to about 500 men.

A large number of Roman lead seals were found in the vicinity, many of which carry the name of cohors VIII Thracum (the Eighth Thracian Cohort). Originally from Thrace (now in Turkey), it may have garrisoned the fort in the 3rd century AD.

The fort may have been repaired or renovated by Virius Lupus, governor of Britannia AD 197–200, as possibly commemorated on a Roman inscription found at Brough.


Until 1092 Cumberland and northern Westmorland were part of the kingdom of Scotland. In that year the English king, William II (William Rufus; reigned 1087–1100), marched north, took Carlisle and annexed the counties to England.

The first castle at Brough may have been founded during or after this campaign. The Roman ditches were re-excavated and the spoil used to create banks on the line of the original defences. It is not known how long this ‘outer bailey’ or enclosure was maintained or what buildings it housed – there is no sign that it ever had stone walls.

Surviving herringbone masonry in the north curtain wall indicates that stone walls were added to an inner bailey in about 1100. The present keep rests on the masonry of an earlier stone tower, which dates from the same period.


In the 12th century, Brough and Appleby were the two principal castles of the lordship of Westmorland, but Henry II (r.1154–89) deprived its holder, Hugh de Morville, of his estates for supporting the king’s sons in the rebellion of 1173.

Brough was garrisoned for the king when, the following year, William I (‘William the Lion’), King of Scotland (r.1165–1214), invaded the north of England to support the continuing rebellion. He captured Brough and set it on fire, destroying almost the entire keep. The contemporary chronicler Jordan Fantosme related how the castle was bravely defended by six knights.

In 1179 Henry II of England (r.1154–89) granted the castle to Theobald de Valoines, who held it through the reign of Richard I (1189–99) and is the most likely builder of the present square keep. The castle reverted to the Crown, and in 1203 King John (r.1199–1216) gave it, with the lordship of Westmorland, to Robert de Vieuxpont or Vipont (d.1228).


Robert de Vieuxpont served King John loyally through his many crises, which earned him inclusion in a list of the king’s ‘evil counsellors’.He became the most powerful figure in north-west England.

Robert had to defend his northern estates from further Scottish attacks, and the curtain walls are probably mainly from his time. He rebuilt the gatehouse and may have added some domestic buildings. In 1214 he bought the site of Brougham Castle and began work on that too.

When his grandson, Robert de Vieuxpont the Younger, succeeded in 1241 he was a minor, and the estates were administered, rather badly it seems, by the Prior of Carlisle. In 1253–4 the castle was described as ‘decayed’.Robert the Younger died at the Battle of Lewes in 1264, leaving two daughters, one of whom, Isabella (d.1291), married Roger Clifford (d.1282) in 1268.


Roger Clifford probably came into possession of Brougham and Brough castles on his marriage to Isabella. He may have carried out important works at Brough shortly after, which included adding the circular Clifford’s Tower at the south-east corner. He may also have made substantial repairs to the curtain walls.

Roger and Isabella’s elder son, Robert (1274–1314), inherited the other Vieuxpont estates in Westmorland on the death of his aunt Idonea in 1308 and was created 1st Baron Clifford. He was killed at the Battle of Bannockburn on 24 June 1314, the same year in which Brough was devastated by a Scottish raid.

The castle was again attacked in 1319. At that time it may have accommodated a large garrison, as 15 men-at-arms and 20 ‘hobelers’ (cavalry) were kept there in the early 1320s. These attacks led to the strengthening of the curtain walls.


Robert’s grandson Roger Clifford (d.1389) completely altered the layout of the living quarters in the 14th century. He was the last Lord Clifford to die of natural causes for several generations.

With the accession to the throne in 1461 of Edward IV, of the House of York, the Cliffords’ estates were confiscated because Thomas, 8th Lord Clifford (d.1455), had taken the Lancastrian side during the Wars of the Roses. Henry, later 10th Lord Clifford (d.1523), spent 25 years in hiding until Henry Tudor’s victory at the Battle of Bosworth in 1485, after which he was restored to his family’s honours and estates.

Lord Clifford celebrated Christmas at Brough with a great feast in 1521, but shortly afterwards the castle was devastated by an accidental fire, which left ‘nothing … but the bare walls standing’.


Had it not been for the intervention of Lady Anne Clifford (1590–1676), the story of Brough might have ended there. On his death in 1605 her father, George Clifford, 3rd Earl of Cumberland, bequeathed the family estates to his brother, Francis, the 4th Earl. She fought protracted legal battles against her uncle and his son, Henry, the 5th Earl, in defence of her right to inherit. Henry died in 1643 when at long last the Clifford inheritance largely passed into her hands.

In 1649 Lady Anne left London, where she had lived during the Civil War (1642–9), and travelled north. She found her estates badly neglected and the five Clifford castles (the four in Westmorland and Skipton Castle in Yorkshire) ruined or in poor condition. Gradually she repaired them all.

In 1659, as Lady Anne wrote in her account of the year, ‘this April after I had first bin there my self to direct the Building of it, did I cause my old Decayed Castle of Brough to be repaired’.

Lady Anne visited the rebuilt castle briefly in September 1661. She put up an inscription recording her restoration at the end of 1663, which indicates that the work was probably finished by then. She spent eight days at Brough in 1664, made a long stay from 10 November 1665 until 19 April 1666, and made three more extended visits. When at Brough, she always occupied the chamber at the top of Clifford’s Tower.


Lady Anne was succeeded in the ownership of her great estates by the Tufton Earls of Thanet, through the marriage of her elder daughter. Brough Castle seems to have been maintained until about 1714, when Thomas, the 6th Earl, decided that he only needed one castle in Westmorland, and settled on Appleby.

In about 1714–15 most of Brough’s roofs and fittings were sold for £155. James Richardson of Ravenstonedale may have bought and taken down most of the materials. The stables and parts of the gatehouse and hall were to be maintained so that they could be used for the manor court.

Evidently they were not kept up for long, because an engraving of 1739 by the Buck brothers shows the hall and gatehouse range as a ruined shell and the stables apparently completely gone. In 1763 part of Clifford’s Tower was pulled down to provide stone for Brough Mill.

Later in the 19th century, the Tuftons apparently took more care of Brough as a historic monument. In 1883 the historian GT Clark published the first detailed study of Brough and Brougham castles, concluding that ‘both are repaired in a very substantial manner’.

In 1920 the 1st Lord Hothfield placed Brough in the guardianship of the Ministry of Works. It carried out trial excavations followed by extensive consolidation of the remains, which may just have come in time, as the south-west corner of the keep collapsed on 20 May 1920. Brough Castle Farm, together with the freehold of the castle itself, today belongs to the Beckwith family.


About the Author

Steven Brindle is a Senior Properties Historian at English Heritage and the author of best-selling books on the engineer Isambard Kingdom Brunel and on Paddington Station, London. He has written many guidebooks for English Heritage.

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