During the 12th Century, the third Earl of Northumbria was Robert DeMowbray, two previous Earls had died violently. He resided in Bamburgh Castle under the rule of King William II.
A plot was developed to get rid of King William II also known as William Rufus, and replace him with Stephen of Aumale, his cousin. William was known as a bad-tempered monarch and many of the Norman Lords and Knights of the time didn’t want him to continue his reign as King but no one knew what would happen following his death. Would there be a dynasty or would Lords break off and become independent and form their own kingdoms?
Robert DeMowbray decided he could make his own petty kingdom up in Northumbria. Alongside two other Norman Lords, De Mowbray revolted and seized four Norwegian ships in Tynemouth. The Norwegians appealed to King William, who summoned Robert DeMowbray to hold court with the Norwegians and tell them why he had seized the boats of foreign nationals.
However, Robert De Mowbray refused to turn up at court, at which point he was given until Easter to turn up or face the King’s wrath! When DeMowbray didn’t turn up by the allotted deadline, Rufus was furious and acted quickly by moving up to Tynemouth and taking the Castle for his own. Following his victory over Tynemouth Castle, he travelled up through Northumbria and besieged Bamburgh Castle itself.
At this point, Rufus built ‘the evil neighbour’ – a motte and bailey castle built opposite Bamburgh Castle and was stationed with the King’s men. He made sure supplies to the Castle were stopped and laid siege to the castle. DeMowbray held out against the siege even as Rufus controlled his Earldom. But as the siege went on, De Mowbray broke out and raced down the coast towards Tynemouth. However, he was surrounded by the King’s men and besieged for six days. On the sixth day, he was wounded in the leg and captured. Rufus ordered his return to Bamburgh and sent DeMowbray’s wife, who is still in Bamburgh Castle, a message. He told her that unless she surrendered the castle to the King, he would blind her husband. Unsurprisingly, she surrendered and Rufus took over the castle.
The castle returned into Royal hands but De Mowbray was thrown into prison for the rest of his life. He spent most of his prison life in Windsor Castle but when he grew older, his sentence was relaxed and he was sent to St Alban’s monastery where he was allowed to become a monk for the rest of his days.
De Mowbray was fairly lucky, as other conspirators met much more brutal ends at the hands of King William Rufus.
During this time, Bamburgh was a huge prize to whoever ruled over it. It was seen as a place where people could make something of themselves under the Norman Kings. There was also the opportunity to ‘go it alone’ and try to reform a northern kingdom.