Douglas Castles in England?


By Dr. Deborah Richmond Foulkes, FSA Scot

In the late 13th century, William le Hardi Douglas, Lord Douglas and Chief of the Douglas Clan was held in the Tower of London a prisoner of Edward in the White Tower on charges of treason for his rebellion with William Wallace in 1297. All his lands in both Scotland and England with castles thereon were seized into the king’s hands. Shortly thereafter, King Edward awarded some of his lands and castles to others of his more loyal subjects.

In 1297 Gilbert de Umfraville was awarded the entire manor of Fawdon with the fortress there; a Douglas landholder by the name of Selby was granted the manor of Biddlestone, and Robert de Clifford was granted the Douglas barony in Lanarkshire including Douglas Castle.  The Fawdon and Biddlestone manors are in Northumbria or England. In 1329, by special privilege, the oldest son and heir of William le Hardi, James Lord Douglas was granted by Edward III all lands and castles in England, once held by his father that had been seized into the king’s hands for his rebellion.

Initially I believed from my research that this official writ or document from 1329 referencing castles on these Douglas lands was in error. Then upon reflection I realized that such detail would not have been included were it not true. Kings received a fine or special payment like a tax for battlements and other such defensive devices that were part of such a fortress. The writ would include a castle only if one had been previously licensed and built with those type of defensive structures such as battlements.

There were other Northumbrian lands associated with William le Hardi in the late 13th century, but their transfer is yet unknown to me in my research; stay tuned there for further developments. As for the original Douglas manor of Fawdon, in the parish of Ingram, there still exists evidence of a medieval village, mains farm and other structures. And, there were two sites of possible towers; fortified sites for the lord of the manor, William le Hardi Douglas. One site was Castle Hill, but this location has been described as an ancient fort, well before the medieval date of the Douglases’ possession of Fawdon which dates to 1225. The second area of a possible castle or battlemented fortress was near the Fawdon Burn and a former site of a small quarry that is no longer in use. I believe from the setting of other Douglas keeps, the proximity to the village, mains farm and water supply, that this location is the likely site of the Douglas tower at Fawdon.

Another manor that had been seized from Lord Douglas in 1297 was Biddlestone. The Selby family purchased some lands in this manor from William Long Leg Douglas, father of le Hardi, in 1270, with an annual rent of one penny to be paid to Douglas. The only surviving seal on that document was not the seal of William Long Leg, but one used by his younger son, William le Hardi. This wax seal imprint seems to reveal a comical reference to le Hardi’s near fatal attack at Fawdon Manor in 1267. According to the court filings, le Hardi almost had his head cut off during an attack by invaders to their manor at Fawdon. That seal was of a man’s head looking dexter, with an unusually young profile of a man, couped at the neck or cut off cleanly at the neck. We know from the 1259 document of the marriage of Hugh Douglas and Marjory Abernethy that William Long Leg had a seal that was later used by William le Hardi in 1296 when he was Lord Douglas; the same armorial bearings of three stars on a chief that the Good Sir James later used as well. That validation by Lord Lyon leaves us no doubt that the remaining seal on the Northumbrian deed was William le Hardi’s.

In my research I discovered that there were sites of a fortress and also a later tower in Biddlestone, likely one was an earlier site used by the Douglases when they held the lands which were restored to them in 1329. One tower or keep is yet preserved today as it became the foundation for the Biddlestone Chapel that is preserved in trust; a photograph of my painting of the existing tower is included with this article as well as a photograph of Fawdon Manor today.

See also:

•  Douglas 13th century manors in England

•  Deborah Richmond Foulkes

This page was last updated on 11 August 2021

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Last modified: Monday, 11 October 2021