Harbottle : The Castle
The castle served as the administrative and logistical centre of baronial estate, the instruments and symbols of the Umfravilles' authority within their domain. The importance of Harbottle Castle within its wider environs was even more accentuated by the vice-regal powers - regalis potestas - conferred upon the Umfravilles in the liberty of Redesdale, entailing responsibility for government duties and the dispensation of justice which would normally have been performed by the sheriff of Northumberland and other royal officials.
It is best expressed by the terms by which the Umfravilles themselves claimed they held the Redesdale liberty in the returns they made to the Liber Feudorum, terms echoed by their tenants in the inquests post mortem held after the death of individual lords - 'by service of defending the said lands from wolves and robbers' (Cal IPM v, no.47, 1308; see Selected Sources and Surveys no.2). This duty was of particular significance in the Redesdale liberty, with its major highways which led into Scotland through upland districts devoid of permanent settlement and which were hence vulnerable to brigandage.
Harbottle Castle was a vital instrument in enabling the Umfravilles to carry out this policing role. It held his courthouse and gaol where the Umfraville lord would exercise his vice-regal authority. Thus, in 1335-6, Gilbert de Umfraville declared that 'from time immemorial he and his ancestors had kept prisoners taken in their franchise of Redesdale in the jaol of their castle of Harbottle'.
Owing to the damage wrought by the Scots, however, Harbottle was unserviceable as a jaol and he was given permission to use Prudhoe Castle for ten years instead (Northumb. Petitions 124-5, no.101). Above all Harbottle Castle was the architectural expression of the lord's power. It provided a secure base, easily able to resist any band of 'latrones', and served to overawe the district and, inevitably, on more than one occasion was used to oppress, through false imprisonment, neighbours, tenants and any who had incurred the displeasure of the Umfraville lords.