A castle first occupied the site from c.1157 when Henry II ordered Odinel de Umfraville to build a ‘strong castle’ at Harbottle. This was probably a simple motte and bailey enclosure, and was to form part of a chain of such sites built against the ‘auld enemy’ – Scotland. The castle certainly saw plenty of action in the early period of its history.
Surrender to the Scots
In 1174, the castle was surrendered to a Scots force during the invasion of northern England by William the Lion. After this, in the 13th century, a stone keep was built, surrounded by two stone walls.
In 1296, this structure withstood attack by John Balliol’s supporters, only to fall again in 1318 to the army of Robert the Bruce. Subsequently, the castle was de-commissioned and then reinstated, and after 1436 it became the headquarters for the Warden of the Middle March – the wildest sector of the Scottish Border.
The Reivers of Redesdale
In the reigns of Henry VII and VIII, Harbottle underwent surveys and repairs and it became the base for Sir Thomas Dacre, the Warden of the West March, when the reivers of Redesdale were reported as being worse than the Scots.
In 1515, it was the birth place of Margaret Lennox, grandmother of James VI of Scotland (later James I of England) and cousin of Henry VIII. By 1537 however, Harbottle ‘…was not fit for the keeper of Redesdale to live in, so decayed were the roofs and floors’.
At the Dissolution of the Monasteries, stone was brought from Brinkburn Priory and Holystone Nunnery to repair the castle, though it still lacked a kitchen, hall and brewhouse in 1550.
The site was re-garrisoned by 1563. In little more than 40 years, in 1604, it was referred to as ‘an old castle much decayed’. After this time, the site served as a ready quarry for building materials for developments within the village.