Liddel Strength

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Liddel Strength


Earthworks and Liddel Strength - - 346265.jpg
Liddel Strength (in trees on skyline)
Type: Wooden motte-and-bailey castle
Location: 55°3’30"N, 2°56’16"W
Condition: Earthworks only

Liddel Strength is the remnant ruin of a mediæval castle near Carwinley in northern Cumberland. It consists today of the earthwork remains of a border fortification which in its day was the seat of the barony of Liddel, but which was destroyed by the Scots in 1346. Liddel Strength was a wooden motte and bailey castle at the time of its destruction, possibly builty within an earlier ringwork.[1] There are also fragmentary remains of a pele tower subsequently built upon the site.[2]

The castle remains are found on a cliff on the south bank of the Liddel Water, overlooking the Liddel Water's confluence with the River Esk; the last high ground before the Esk reaches the Solway Plain. The Liddel Water (upstream of the confluence) and the Esk (downstream) form the county boundary of Dumfriesshire with Cumberland and once they were the southern boundary of the Debatable Lands.

Other names and potential misidentification

It has also been known as Liddel Moat (and has given its name to Moat Quarter (in which it lies) of Kirkandrews-on-Esk parish) and the castle is referred to in mediæval documents as the Peel of Liddell or the castle of Liddel. However, it is not the same as - although sometimes (understandably) confused with - Liddel Castle (also known as Liddel Motte)[3] (much further up Liddesdale at Castleton beyond the modern Newcastleton (also known as Copshaw Holm).[4] Liddel Strength was the seat of the barony of Liddel (on the English side of the current border); there was also a barony of Liddesdale (on the Scots side of the current border), whose seat was originally the Liddel Castle in Upper Liddesdale (built and held by the De Soules), later superseded by Hermitage Castle (occasionally referred to as the strength of Liddesdale); at his death in 1300, John Wake held both baronies from the King of England, but they were his lands of Liddel and the Hermitage.[5] The border was not stable in the Middle Ages, and both castles have been in the other country at some point. As a further complication, Canonbie, immediately upstream of Liddel Strength, takes its name from a canonry originally known as the religious house of Liddel; Canonbie church being sometimes referred to in the Middle Ages as the church of Liddel.[6]

Postulated Pre-Conquest Significance

It was suggested by William Forbes Skene in the 19th century[7] that 'Carwinley' is a corruption of Caer Wenddolau or Gwenddolau's Fort and that the impressive ditch and rampart significantly pre-date the castle and protected a stronghold of Gwenddoleu ap Ceidio, a Celtic ruler defeated and killed at the Battle of Arfderydd in 573, which in this interpretation took place at Arthuret - 'Arturethe' in mediæval documents.[8] A 15th-century manuscript in the British Library (MS Cotton Titus A XIX) contains the tale of 'Lailoken and Kentigern' in which St Kentigern meets a naked, hairy, madman named Lailoken (possibly a version of Merlin) - driven mad by a terrible battle fought upon the plain that lay between Liddel and Carwannock.[9] The identification from correspondence of placenames is far from certain - whilst Skene's equation of Ardderyd with Arthuret is now generally accepted[10] Arthuret parish contains (within a mile of Carwinley) another candidate for Caer Wenddolau - the Roman fort of Castra Exploratorum[11] whose remains impressed early antiquarians but were invisible to Skene, having been obliterated by Netherby Hall.

Barony of Liddel

The barony of Liddel had an extent roughly that of the modern parishes of Arthuret, Kirkandrews-on-Esk and Nicholforest. It is thought to have been created by Ranulf le Meschin, 3rd Earl of Chester in or before the first decade of the 12th century and given by him to Turgis Brandos, descending by his son William Brandos (probably also known as William of Rosedale)to Turgis/Turgot de Rossedale (Rosedale in Yorkshire).[12] However 'Benedict of Peterborough' reports that in 1174, whilst besieging Carlisle William the Lion ...went in person with the remaining part of his army through Northumbria, wasting the lands of the king and of his barons ; and took with his arms the castle of Liddell, which belonged to Nicholas de Estuteville ...[13] It is not clear how Nicholas de Stuteville had supplanted the de Rosedales,[14] but he was well connected; the second son of Robert III de Stuteville, a Sheriff of Yorkshire, and his grandfather had been one of the Yorkshire magnates present at the Battle of the Standard. Henry II seems to have favoured the family; two of the other castles taken by William were the responsibility of Stutevilles;[15] a Stuteville was in the party of knights that captured William at Alnwick later in 1174, and Henry installed Stutevilles as castellans in two of the castles William surrendered to Henry.[12][16] Although Nicholas's branch of the Stutevilles were Barons of Liddell, Liddel was never their principal seat; that lay at Cottingham in the East Riding of Yorkshire where in 1200 they entertained King John, and were granted a licence to fortify and moat their manor house in 1201.[17]

The Stuteville estates passed by marriage into the le Wake family (whose principal seat was at Bourne, Lincolnshire), and in 1346 the castle belonged to the noble baron Sir Thomas Wake, lord of Liddel as he was described by the Lanercost Chronicle in its account of an English incursion into Scotland (intended to be major, but restricted to a 12-day raid by bad weather [18]) he led in 1337. Wake was one of the Disinherited and fought at Dupplin Moor. Wake and his sister Margaret had both married Plantagenets; he was the son-in-law of Henry, 3rd Earl of Lancaster, she (having first married a son of the Comyn slain by Robert the Bruce, only to be widowed when he was killed at Bannockburn) had married - and was now the widow of - Edmund of Woodstock, 1st Earl of Kent, by whom she was mother of the 'Fair Maid of Kent' (although Margaret did not live long enough to be mother-in-law to the Black Prince).


A fortification of some sort would have been needed from the earliest stage of the barony and a grant of land to Canonby priory in 1165 by Guy de Rossedale carries with it the rights to fishing on the Liddel from the 'foss' of Liddel up to the church.[19] The first definite mention of a castle is in Benedict of Peterborough (noted above.) Its name is potentially misleading; it was certainly more than the fortified towerhouse which most surviving peles are, but even when first built - and certainly by the standards of the mid 14th century - a motte-and-bailey with a wooden palisade was not a particularly strong castle (it has been suggested that 'Strength' translates the Latin fortalitium more usually rendered as fortalice, meaning a small (or second-rate) fort).[20] The earthworks consist of a motte in an inner bailey with a weaker outer bailey attached. The inner bailey earthworks are massive (about 48m by 58m with a 8m rise from the bottom of the ditch to the top of the surviving bank) but form only a semi-circle, the 150-ft steep drop to the river being relied upon on the north side. The fortifications enclose an area of 3½ - 4 acres. There is no ditch between the motte and the inner bailey, supporting the theory that the motte was back-fitted to a previously constructed ringwork. In the 1280s the castle is known to have had a timber hall with two solars and cellars, with associated ancillary buildings (kitchen, granary, byre, grange and chapel)[21] presumably also timber, with some buildings in bad repair. In 1300 an indenture was entered into for 'repairing the mote and the fosses around ; strengthening and re-dressing the same and the pele and the palisades, and making lodges within the mote, if necessary, for the safety of the men at arms of the garrison.' [22]

Capture and destruction of the Castle (1346)

In October 1346 David Bruce (King David II of Scotland), urged on by his ally Philip VI of France, who represented that Edward III of England was so fully committed to the Siege of Calais that the northern shires of England would be defenceless, invaded England with a force estimated at about 12,000 men, some supplied with modern equipment by the French.[23] He began his campaign, which ended at the Battle of Neville's Cross, by attacking Liddel Strength.

In October 1346 the garrison of Liddel Strength was under the command of Sir Walter de Selby. Selby is described by Geoffrey the Baker as dominus Gualterus de Seleby, miles magne probitatis [24] but had had a colourful earlier career. He had been an adherent of Thomas, 2nd Earl of Lancaster, and more specifically an accomplice of Sir Gilbert de Middleton[25] who in the aftermath of Bannockburn had ravaged and blackmailed the land surrounding Mitford Castle in Northumberland until he went too far. At Rushyford in County Durham in 1317 Sir Gilbert seized and robbed two cardinals who had landed in England not long before, because they came in the company of the aforesaid Louis de Belmont in order to consecrate him Bishop of Durham.[26][27] Mitford Castle was captured swiftly thereafter and Sir Gilbert taken to London, where he was hanged drawn and quartered in the presence of the cardinals, but Selby escaped to Scotland.[28] When Robert the Bruce captured Mitford Castle by guile [29] in 1318 he made Selby his castellan to hold it for the Scots but in 1321, during a 2-year truce, Selby surrendered it to Robert de Umfreville and others on condition that they persuaded Edward II to restore Selby's forfeited lands. This Edward refused to do [30] and Selby was imprisoned in the Tower of London until 1327[28] (when many prisoners with affiliations to Thomas of Lancaster were released following the deposition of Edward II) Edward III gave him a general pardon, and after an enquiry into his case[31] restored to him such of his lands as remained in the King's hands. Thereafter Selby was a loyal subject; he was knighted, and served Edward Baliol, who, in 1332, gave him the barony of Plenderleith, in Roxburghshire.[32] In 1337 he was made (or was approached to become) constable of Bothwell Castle,[33] Edward III's headquarters in Scotland, but the castle was besieged, retaken and slighted by the Scots later that same year. In March 1345/6, when Englishmen crossed the Esk and 'lifted' £1000-worth of cattle and gear from the Scots side, Selby was one of five local knights commanded to investigate and report to the King's council[34]

The Scottish vanguard, led by William Douglas, Lord of Liddesdale[35] arrived before Liddel Strength in the morning of October 6, 1346, David and the main force arriving by evening. No attempt was made on the Strength until on the fourth day, having armed themselves before sunrise with spears, stones, swords and clubs, they delivered assaults from all quarters upon the aforesaid fortress and its defenders.[36] Thus both those within and without the fortress fought fiercely, many being wounded and some slain ; until at length some of the Scottish party furnished with beams and housetimbers,earth, stones and fascines, succeeded in filling up the ditches of the fortress. Then some of the Scots, protected by the shields of men-at-arms, broke through the bottom of the walls with iron tools and many of them entered the said fortress in this manner without more opposition. Knights and armed men entering the fortress killed all whom they found, with few exceptions, and thus obtained full possession of the fortress.[37]

One of the exceptions was Walter de Selby: English chroniclers agree that David behaved poorly to him, but differ on the details. In Geoffrey le Baker's version of events, he was brought before King David and pleaded for mercy (i.e. to be held for ransom [38]); the King's response was to have two of Selby's sons strangled to death before his eyes before having the father, almost mad with sorrow, beheaded.[24] However, a son of Walter's proved his right to the barony of Plenderleith in 1357, the explanation for the delay being the said James, at the time when his father Walter was slain by the Scots in the pele of Lydelle, was taken, and remained prisoner with them for 8 years and more, and could not sue his right [39] The Lanercost Chronicle says instead that Selby accepted that he was to die; the favour he asked of David was to be given a weapon that he might die by combat as befitted a knight; not only did David refuse him this but he had him executed unshriven.[37][40]

The castle was never rebuilt. When Thomas Wake died in June 1349, the manor of Liddel was valued at £70 16s. 2d., whereof the site of the castle and manor destroyed is worth 6d;[41] the title passed to Margaret who died within 3 months, but Thomas's widow Blanche, granted life-rent of Liddel,[42] lived until 1380 when on her death Liddel utterly worthless because ravaged by the Scots[43] passed to Henry Earl of Derby, the future King Henry IV and thus eventually became part of the Duchy of Lancaster.


  1. National Monuments Record: No. 11686 – Liddel Strength
  2. National Monuments Record: No. 975069 – Liddel Strength
  3. CANMORE (RCAHMS) record of Liddel Castle
  4. Donaldson-Hutton, R (1965). "Liddel Strength in Cumberland". History of the Berwickshire Naturalists' Club XXXVII: 50–53. Retrieved 9 March 2013. . Unfortunately, "Bain"(Calendar of Documents) has one index heading covering both Liddel and Liddesdale. A notable victim is Sadler, John (2006). Border Fury: England and Scotland at War 1296-1568. Harlow: Pearson Education. p. 220. ISBN 978-1-4058-4022-4.  which conflates the two by putting Castleton at the confluence of Esk and Liddel Water
  5. Cal. Doc.Scotland,ii. 1154 ie document 1154 (p299) of Bain, Joseph (1884). Calendar of Documents Relating to Scotland: Vol II: A.D. 1272—1307.. Edinburgh: HM General Register House. 
  6. The canonry was founded in the reign of David I of Scotland by Turgot de Rossedale; in 1167 Guido de Rossedale with the assent of his son Rodolph gave '42 acres between Esk and Liddel, where they meet' - this and article text from : Society for the Benefit of the Sons and Daughters of the Clergy; (Donaldson, James, Rev;"drawn up by a Probationer of the Church of Scotland") (1845). "Parish of Canonbie". The new statistical account of Scotland - Volume IV. Edinburgh and London: W Blackwood and Sons. pp. 482–498. Retrieved 12 March 2013. 
  7. Skene, William Forbes (1868). The Four Ancient Books of Wales Vol I. Edinburgh: Edmonston and Douglas. p. 66.  -the identification was originally made in the less accessible Skene, W F (1866). "Notice of the Site of the Battle of Ardderyd or Arderyth". Proc Soc Antiq Scot 6: 91–8. 
  8. e.g. Cal. Doc.Scotland, iii. 974 ie document 974 (p 176) in Public Record Office (1887). Bain, J. ed. Calendar of documents relating to Scotland : Volume 3 : 1307-1357. Edinburgh: H. M. General Register House. Retrieved 12 March 2013. 
  9. "Myrddin Wyllt". Retrieved 10 March 2013.  - various websites attribute a similar statement on location of the battle to John of Fordun without any more specific reference - however Sir Walter Scott in the notes to 'Thomas the Rhymer' in his Poetical Works offers Scotichronicon iii c31 in which - says Scott - there is an interview between St Kentigern and Merlin, then going under the name of Lailoken... Skene's 1872 edition of Scotichronicon (which he purged of anything he considered to be a later interpolation) does not appear to mention Ardderyd (or anything like it), still less its location and his Book III Chapter 31 is Saint Columba's prophecy about the sons of Aydanus—His Death —Saint Drostan and his Parentage.
  10. according to Sellar, W D H (2001). "William Forbes Skene (1809-92): Historian of Celtic Scotland". Proc Soc Antiq Scot 131: 3–21. Retrieved 10 March 2013. 
  11. National Monuments Record: No. 10855 – Castra Exploratorum Roman Forta fort and substantial settlement existed here, probably with a port on the River Esk, since silted up. ... Stukeley saw Roman remains, which he took to be a fort, all round the house, and he, Gale and Goodman describe the settlement as extending north-west from the fort towards the river, with several streets, on one of which a bath-house was discovered in 1732. Leland saw the "ruinous walls of marvellous buildings", and was told of rings and staples set in walls as if for the mooring of ships, whilst the early editions of Camden refer to the "wonderful and large ruins of an ancient city". Stukeley saw a cemetery down the hill from the house, but does not say on which side it lay. ... The latest direct dating evidence is a coin of Gordian (238-244 AD), but it is reasonable to suppose that occupation continued well into the 4th century, as with the other four outpost forts of the Caracallan system.
  12. 12.0 12.1 Farrer, William & Clay, Charles Travis, ed (2013). Early Yorkshire Charters: Volume 9, The Stuteville Fee. Cambridge: Cambridge Library Collection. ISBN 9781108058322.  limited access on google books. 
  13. Gesta Henrici II excerpted in Anderson, Alan O (1908). Scottish Annals from English Chroniclers A.D. 500 to 1286. London: David Nutt. p. 249. 
  14. he got all their lands; both Liddel and Rosedale - Early Yorkshire Charters op. cit,
  15. 'Benedict' op cit continues ".. and the castle of Brough, and the castle of Appleby, the king's castles which Robert de Estuteville kept ; and the castle of Warkworth, which Roger son of Richard kept ; and the castle of Harbottle, which Odenel de Umfraville held"
  16. Lewis, C.P. (2006) Anglo-norman Studies 28: Proceedings ... Boydell Press (via Google)
  17. "Baynard Castle, Cottingham". Gatehouse. Retrieved 10 March 2013. 
  18. Maxwell, Herbert, Sir (1913). The Chronicle of Lanercost, 1272-1346 : Translated, with notes. Glasgow: J Maclehose.  p306 :Lanercost Priory - where the Chronicle was written - is less than 20 miles from Liddell Strength and was plundered by the Scots soon after the fall of Liddel Strength; the Chronicle thus gives virtually on-the-spot reporting (most other chroniclers are unclear on the geography of the Borders, Lanercost gives the name of the farmstead at which the Scots hit Tynedale) but as Sir Herbert notes ("The chronicler refrains from attributing the floods to the direct interposition of the Almighty in favour of the Scots, as undoubtedly he would have done if a Scottish invasion of England had been cut short in like manner.") is far from impartial
  19. Morton, James (Rev) (1832). The monastic annals of Teviotdale : or, The history and antiquities of the abbeys of Jedburgh, Kelso, Melros, and Dryburgh. Edinburgh: W H Lizars. p. 51. 
  20. Neilson, George (1894). Peel: Its Meaning and Derivation: An Enquiry Into the Early History of the Term Now Applied to Many Border Towers. Edinburgh: George P Johnston. p. 14.  - who argues peel to have originally been a fortified enclosure
  21. Hyde, Mathew & Pevsner,Nikolaus (2010). The Buildings of England: Cumbria Cumberland, Westmorland and Furness. New Haven CT: Yale University Press. p. 454. ISBN 9780300126631. 
  22. Neilson op cit p14, the quote being (correctly) referenced by him to Bain ii. 1173 ie document 1173 (p299) of Bain, Joseph (1884). Calendar of Documents Relating to Scotland: Vol II: A.D. 1272—1307.. Edinburgh: HM General Register House. 
  23. Sumption, Jonathan (1999). The Hundred Years War: Volume I: Trial by Battle. London: Faber and Faber. pp. 659. ISBN 0-571-20095-8.  page 550 - compare with Sumption's estimate (p 497) that the English army which invaded Normandy at the start of the Crecy campaign was 7,000 - 10,000 strong
  24. 24.0 24.1 Thompson, Edward Maunde, Sir,, ed (1889) (in Latin (text); notes in English). Chronicon Galfridi le Baker de Swynebroke. Oxford: Clarendon Press. Retrieved 11 March 2013.  p 87
  25. Middleton, Sir Arthur E (Bart.) (1918). Sir Gilbert de Middleton: and the Part he Took in the Rebellion in the North of England in 1317. Newcastle Upon Tyne: Mawson Swann and Morgan Limited. 
  26. Chronicle of Lanercost op cit p 218
  27. because may be significant; as the Lanercost Chonicle documents the chapter had elected a different candidate and Louis was being imposed on them - Middleton (op. cit) denies any preceding ravage or blackmail and argues that what was intended was a political dissuasion of Louis, which got out of hand - but Middleton's is as he says "part of an account of the family of Middleton of Belsay, in Northumberland, written for family use" Sadler op cit p145 gives both views but describes Sir Gilbert as a 'renegade knight'. Sadler's description of Selby (a former constable of one of the great royal castles) as 'renegade King Walter Selby' presumably arises from this episode over 25 years before
  28. 28.0 28.1 Dodds, John F (1988). Bastions And Belligerents: Mediæval Strongholds in Northumberland. Newcastle Upon Tyne: Keepdate Publishing. pp. 500. ISBN 9781899506453. 
  29. Chronicle of Lanercost op cit p 220: Middleton suggests Selby was involved, but provides no evidence
  30. Middleton op cit p 66
  31. Cal. Doc.Scotland, iii. 981 ie document 981 (p 177) in Public Record Office (1887). Bain, J. ed. Calendar of documents relating to Scotland : Volume 3 : 1307-1357. Edinburgh: H. M. General Register House. Retrieved 12 March 2013. 
  32. Middleton p 96
  33. Cal. Doc.Scotland, v. 767 ie document no 767 (p 264) of Scottish Record Office, ("Bain"). Simpson, G G & Galbraith, J D. ed. Calendar of Documents Relating to Scotland: Volume V (Supplementary). Edinburgh: H.M. General Register House. pp. 696. Retrieved 12 March 2013. 
  34. Cal. Doc.Scotland, iii. 1454 ie document 1454 (p 265) in Public Record Office (1887). Bain, J. ed. Calendar of documents relating to Scotland : Volume 3 : 1307-1357. Edinburgh: H. M. General Register House. Retrieved 12 March 2013. 
  35. a trusted military advisor to David, and also a neighbour to Liddel Strength, with a clear interest in seeing it destroyed
  36. a mere two hundred men says Donaldson-Hutton (op.cit) and others but if true mere would not be the mot juste: in 1340 the garrison of Edinburgh Castle was under 150 (and their pay came to over £1000/year), that of Stirling Castle under 125 (pay over £850/year)Cal. Doc.Scotland, iii. 1323 the Warden of Berwick had under 500 men (costing £1200/quarter) to defend town and castle although the whole country is in war up to the gates of the town .Cal. Doc.Scotland, iii. 1338 ie documents 1323 (p 241) and 1338 (p 244) in Public Record Office (1887). Bain, J. ed. Calendar of documents relating to Scotland : Volume 3 : 1307-1357. Edinburgh: H. M. General Register House. Retrieved 12 March 2013. . The Lanercost chronicler doesn't give a figure for the defenders, but probably shouldn't be believed if he did - he puts the Scots at over 30,000.
  37. 37.0 37.1 Chronicle of Lanercost op cit p331
  38. see e.g. Sumption's account of the fall of Caen op cit p 510 for the normal procedure
  39. Cal. Doc.Scotland, iii. 1670 ie document 1670 (p 308) in Public Record Office (1887). Bain, J. ed. Calendar of documents relating to Scotland : Volume 3 : 1307-1357. Edinburgh: H. M. General Register House. Retrieved 12 March 2013. 
  40. "with an aggravated vindictiveness unworthy of chivalry" says Neilson; if the Lanercost Chronicle is to be believed (the whole tale is not one of the standard monkish inventions) Selby as good as told David his conduct was unworthy of a king (which may have provoked him to conduct unworthy of a Christian)
  41. Cal. Doc.Scotland, iii.1562 ie document 1562 (p 282) in Public Record Office (1887). Bain, J. ed. Calendar of documents relating to Scotland : Volume 3 : 1307-1357. Edinburgh: H. M. General Register House. Retrieved 12 March 2013. 
  42. and Bourne ("SC 8/150/7464: petition of Blanche, Lady Wake". (UK) National Archives. Retrieved 14 March 2013. ) close to Stamford, Lincolnshire where her will asked that she should be buried
  43. Cal. Doc.Scotland, iv. 292 ie document 292 (p 62) in Public Record Office (1888). Bain, J. ed. Calendar of documents relating to Scotland : Volume 4 : 1357-1509. Edinburgh: H. M. General Register House. Retrieved 12 March 2013.