Pendragon Castle

Pendragon Castle is situated in the Mallerstang Dale on the eastern bank of the River Eden. This Norman castle is known for its link to the legend of King Arthur, including the claim that Uther Pendragon attempted to divert the River Eden around the castle for a moat. This was the origin of the ancient rhyme, “Let Uther Pendragon do what he can, Edan will run where Edan ran.” Today, the site is on private land, but visiting the ruins is still permitted.

Visiting Pendragon Castle

 

Parking

Unknown

Price

No charge

Opening

The site is not under the care of the state and has no designated opening times. It is suggested to limit visits to only reasonable times during the day, as it is private land.

Location & Access 

Tommy Rd, Kirkby Stephen, Cumbria CA17 4AE

By the B6259, 7 miles (11.27 kilometres) south of A685 at Kirkby Stephen

Know Before You Go

  • Care must be taken at the site due to the potentially dangerous condition of the ruins
  • Close the gate after entering to prevent sheep from wandering off

History of Pendragon Castle

Pendragon Castle, best known for its ties to Arthurian Legend, dates back to the late-11th century, possibly during the reign of William Rufus, when some suggest a ringwork fortification was raised on the site. It was burned twice, once in 1341 and again in 1541, before being dismantled in 1685.

(Time Line)


-c.1100-1150 

Norman Ranulph de Meschines was credited with building a castle (possibly a ringwork fortification) at Mallerstang Dale.

-c.1160

Hugh de Morville, the Norman knight, was noted as the castle's owner at this time. He was also credited with building a stone structure over an earlier castle's ruins (though some sources suggest the stone structure was de Meschines' castle).

-1170 (Royal Confiscation) 

For his participation in Thomas a Becket's murder, de Morville had the castle confiscated by King Henry II.

-1203

Pendragon was restored to Robert de Vipont, Hugh's nephew. 

-1296

Robert de Leybourne married into the de Vipont family and acquired the castle.

-1308

Lord Warden of the Marches, Robert de Clifford, acquired the broad lands of the Vipont family after his Aunt's death.            

-1309 (Crenellation Granted) 

Then the Lord of Skipton and King Edward II’s counsellor, Robert was granted permission to have his tower crenellated at Pendragon. The castle was soon rebuilt into a three-storey Tower Keep, with its square footprint sitting inside the earlier ringwork's circular earthworks. 

-1314

The castle was almost complete, but Robert never got to enjoy it, as Scottish forces killed him at the Battle of Bannockburn. Pendragon passed down to his son, Roger. 

-1322

Edward II confiscated the castle from Roger, who was an ally of the mighty Earl of Lancaster. At the Battle of Boroughbridge, both Roger and the Earl of Lancaster were captured and executed. Afterwards, the de Clifford family had the castle restored to them. 

-1333

Pendragon's two co-heiresses, Isabella and Idonea, entertained Balliol, King of Scotland, at the castle. 

-1341 (Castle Burned)

Perhaps wanting to vex their King, a rebellious party of Scots with blazing torches in hand attacked the castle and burned it, causing a good deal of damage.  

-1360's (Castle Repaired)

Roger de Clifford carried out further restoration work and building at Pendragon. 

-1539

Antiquarian John Leland visited the castle.

-1541 (Castle Burned Again)

The Scots returned to Pendragon to destroy the surrounding farmland and set fire to the castle once more. 

-1605

When George Clifford, 3rd Earl of Cumberland, died, his daughter, Anne--only 15 at the time--succeeded suo jure to the title Baroness de Clifford. However, the estates went to George's younger brother, Francis Clifford, 4th Earl of Cumberland. Anne soon began a complex legal battle in her young adulthood to obtain the family estates--a process that would last for over 30 years.

-1643 (Lady Anne Obtains Ownership)

Henry Clifford, 5th Earl of Cumberland, died without male progeny. This ultimately allowed Anne to regain Pendragon and the rest of the estates, though it still took some time. Records conflict as to when she obtained possession; some sources say 1649, while others cite 1660, with connection to Charles II's restoration.

-1660

With Pendragon at last in her care, Lady Anne made repairs so it could be re-inhabited. Major upgrades to the castle were carried out, including a gatehouse, an outer curtain wall, and ancillary buildings, like a wash house and a brewhouse.  

-1676

Upon Lady Anne's death, the castle was left to her grandson Nicholas, Earl of Thanet. 

-1685 (Castle Dismantled) 

As it were, Nicholas and his son (also Nicolas) were not as fond of the castle as Lady Anne had been. Instead of paying for Pendragon's upkeep, they dismantled it; stone, timber, and lead from the roof were taken as materials for other projects.

Pendragon Castle Occupants

 

One of the better-known owners of Pendragon was Hugh de Morville, whose participation in the 1170 murder of Thomas Becket resulted in him being expelled from his properties--the flea in his ear courtesy of Henry II. 

Afterwards, the castle passed through the family de Vipont of de Morville relations and eventually landed in the hands of the Cliffords through Idonea de Vipont's inheritance. Lady Anne, another renowned owner, was Pendragon's final occupant.

 Images of Pendragon Castle

Pendragon Castle Pendragon Castle Pendragon Castle Pendragon Castle
Pendragon Castle Pendragon Castle Pendragon Castle

Images Supplied and licensed from Shutterstock Standard Licence Package

Pendragon Castle Q&A

What Type of Castle Was Pendragon Castle?

Pendragon Castle is described as a certain Timber Castle, a certain Masonry Castle, and a probable Tower House.

Was Pendragon Castle Called Another Name?

The castle is also known as Mallerstrang (also Mallustang) in earlier historical documents, as the structure was built in the Mallerstang Dale. 

When Was Pendragon Castle First Built?

Whilst the well-known legend accompanying the castle's history cites Uther Pendragon, father of King Arthur, as having built the first castle as early as the 5th century, no evidence has been found proving any fortification was raised prior to a ringwork castle in late-11th or early-12th century. Notably, Roman coins have been discovered at the site, suggesting a possible fortification at that time.

The structure we know today likely evolved from the stone tower from the late-12th century.  

How Big Was Pendragon Castle?

At its finest, the castle externally measured (without the buttresses) 19.5sq m (64sq ft) and internally about 13sq m (42sq ft) at the second storey. At the angles, it had shallow, clasping buttresses and stood three-storeys tall. 

What Was the Main Use of Pendragon Castle?

Tangible historical records indicate Pendragon Castle was used as a residence. Though its earliest owners were prominent names with either direct association to the monarchy or significant influence on its succession line, so it is equally possible the castle served as a residence or an active defence, probably both. 

There is no prominent mention of the castle's use during the 15th century. However, Roger de Clifford's noted repairs in the 1360s and John Leland's visit in 1539 suggest the castle had been restored and continued to be utilised; whether it was a pele tower or residence is unclear. 

Again, the castle's mainstream history goes dark until Lady Anne essentially rebuilt the castle in the 17th century, suggesting the 1541 fire put it to ruin and left it uninhabitable. Lady Anne, the castle's final resident, was known to stay at Pendragon often as it was noted to be one of her favourite places. 

How Did the Castle Come To Be Known As Pendragon Castle?

It is uncertain exactly when the castle ceased to be called Mallerstang and instead became Pendragon, as there is no known document (legal or otherwise) marking the occasion. Yet the name was most probably bestowed by Robert de Clifford, a loyal knight of King Edward I, possibly around the time of its crenellation. 

At the time, there was an Arthurian cult of sorts at Edward's court, due in part to cleric Geoffrey of Monmouth's Historia Regum Britanniae, which translates to History of the Kings of Britain, from the 12th century. This hugely influential literature was an imaginative blend of fact and liberal amounts of fiction that featured Arthur as a unifying hero. 

The story goes that Uther founded the castle in the 5th century amid historical shadows relating to the collapse of Roman rule in Britain and its remaining population battling for survival against invasions from Anglo-Saxons, Picts, and Scots. His fortress was captured, and when he later re-took it, he became Pendragon (i.e., "chief dragon" or "high warlord").

Additionally, concrete records denote a combined feast and jousting event known as the "round table" taking place in Britain between 1242 and 1345 on at least eight occasions. Like modern-day conventions or roleplay activities, the leading participants of this event assumed the Arthurian knights' names and acted out their fantasies. 

Furthermore, a prehistoric earthwork called Arthur's Round Table is located nearby Pendragon; tempting speculation by Jennifer Westwood in A Guide to Legendary Britain suggests that Robert, himself, perhaps held a 'round table' event there. 

It is possible that Robert, who had both Welsh and Norman roots, felt some connection to ancient Britons and fancied himself as Uther Pendragon.

Notably, the castle's association with the legend was popular with the nobility. It has been said this fascination perhaps prompted Robert de Clifford to rebuild the castle, with Edward II granting a crenellation licence in 1309.

Is Pendragon Castle Haunted?

Somewhat befittingly, the castle's association with the legend of Uther Pendragon came with ghost stories as well. Some tell tales of ghostly ladies dressed in white who fly around the ruins at night. Additionally, there are alleged sightings of a ghostly horseman galloping towards the castle that some believe is Uther seeking shelter after a battle or a messenger trying to warn the Clifford family of a Scottish attack. 

Yet another legend claims gold treasure is buried somewhere at the site. Any attempts to dig it up are thwarted by the spirit of a black chicken feverishly pecking and scratching at the disturbed ground until it is refilled.   

Does Any of Pendragon Castle Still Exist?

Despite its dismantling, portions of Pendragon still exist. It was restored for the better part of 30 years by farmer Raven Frankland after his bargain-buy of the castle, sold at auction in 1963. The castle is still in private ownership and has undergone further repairs with grant aid from English Heritage. 

To learn more about the castle's current state and see a video tour with its current owner, check out this article by the Yorkshire Post.

Location of Pendragon Castle

Now a ruin, Pendragon Castle is to the south of Kirkby Stephen in the Mallerstang Valley, dominating a north-south pass cut by the River Eden through the Pennines, with the peaks of Mallerstang Edge and Wild Boar Fell towering above it.