Lindisfarne's origins on the old frontier

Lindisfarne Castle is located on the south eastern corner of Holy Island © Northumberland County Council

Lindisfarne Castle is located on the south eastern corner of Holy Island

Lindisfarne Castle came into being during the Anglo-Scottish Wars, a series of conflicts lasting many centuries that only ended with the accession of James VI of Scotland to the throne of England in 1603.

The position of the island in relation to the border – a mere 7 miles away – and the strategic value of the deep water harbour, came to the government’s attention following the Dissolution of the Monasteries in the 1530s. Lindisfarne Priory’s lands on the island came under state control in 1536 and the buildings once used by the monks became a massive military and naval depot for the Henry VIII war machine.

To protect this activity, a fortress was proposed in 1542 to be built on Beblowe Hill at the south-eastern tip of the island. This was to consist initially of earthen ramparts. However the Earl of Rutland – sent north by Henry to repel an expected Scottish invasion – noted that there was:
'stone plentie and sufficient to make the bulwark that shall defend the Eland all of stone…'.

The stone he refers to is that of the now expendable priory buildings, which shows quite starkly the change in authority on the island. Indeed, much of the sixteenth century fort on today’s site is made up of stone from the monastic buildings and some is still visible inside today.

The end of the border

By 1571/72 the castle we recognise today was nearing completion. There were 10 cannon pointing out over the walls to deter any raids on the harbour.

Letters were regularly sent south asking for help with repairs, general maintenance, supplies and upgrading of armaments. Despite its strategic value the castle would be a victim of its distance from London and Queen Elizabeth’s famously tight purse strings. Captain Rugg, governor in the 1630s, was left out of pocket to local suppliers and died in 1646 with the government still owing him £100.

The castle survived the Border Wars without any major incident, but was to see action in the 1640s when the Civil Wars broke out.