700 years of change
See how the Castle has evolved throughout history
The Castle at the time of Hotspur’s birth in the 1360s’
In 1309, Henry Percy, great-great grandfather of Hotspur, purchased a typical Norman-style castle of motte and bailey form. In the following 40 years he and his son converted it into a mighty border fortress. They added towers and guerites around its curtain walls with a strong gatehouse at the entrance and a concealed postern gate to the rear. The gateway to the keep was strengthened with the addition of two massive octagonal towers.
Stone figures were added to the tops of the battlements, as was fashionable at that time, either for ornament, or to confuse attackers. This was a medieval device that the 1st Duchess was to copy to excess in the more fanciful mid-18th century castle restoration.
The Castle in 1475
You are now standing in the Barbican, one of the finest surviving structures of its type in Britain. It played a major role in securing the defence of Alnwick Castle.
There is debate as to its exact date. Architectural historians posit an early 14th century date and link it with the major building works then undertaken by the first Lord Percy of Alnwick and his son.
Archival evidence, however, shows that building work was carried out in the late 15th century and that the 4th Earl’s badge was placed over the entrance in 1475.
The 4th Earl had alterations and repairs carried out to adapt the Barbican to the latest tactics of warfare. The town’s defences were also being strengthened during this period, following devastating raids by the Scots in the first half of the 15th century.
The Barbican had numerous purposes. It stood as the first line of defence at the castle’s most vulnerable spot. Up until the 18th century this was the only entrance to the castle, apart from the concealed postern gate.
For counter-attack, it was possible within its high walls, safe from enemy view, for castle forces to mass in order to spring an assault on besiegers.
The Barbican controlled everyday access to the castle by funnelling approaching traffic on foot, horseback or in a wagon, onto the causeway within its walls. Once the outer door was closed, the castle porter and Gatehouse guards could check all visitors. Without this system, the Gatehouse stood, in times of continual border disruption, an easy target for even a small determined force of raiders.