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Dunstanbrough Castle, in the county of Northumberland, is situated about seven miles north-east of Alnwick, and about two miles north by east of Howick, the seat of Earl Grey. Of the keep there are no vestiges remaining; and it is even questionable if it was ever completed. Thomas, Earl of Lancaster, who is generally considered to have been the founder of the present castle, only obtained the king’s license to crenellate, or fortify, his house at Dunstanbrough in 1316: and as he was beheaded at Pontefract in 1321, and in the intermediate years had been much engaged, in the south, in rebellion against Edward II., it is not unlikely that the keep might be unfinished at his decease, and never afterwards finished. Of Dunstanbrough Castle history records little that is interesting. In 1464 it was held, after the battle of Hexham, for Henry VI., by Sir Peter de Bressy, and a party of Frenchmen; but was taken, after a vigorous defense, by Ralph Lord Ogle, Edmund and Richard de Craster, John Manners, and Gilbert de Errington, all Northumbrians, and partisans of Edward IV. From this period the castle, which was dismantled by the victors, is never mentioned in the history of the county as the scene of any memorable event. It was in the possession of the crown in the 10th of Elizabeth, but was granted by James I. to Sir William Grey, afterwards Lord Grey of Wark. It is now the property of the Earl of Tankerville, whose ancestor, Charles Lord Ossulston, became possessed of it in 1701, through his marriage with the daughter and heiress of Lord Grey, Earl of Tankerville, son of Lord Grey of Wark.
In the present engraving a view is presented of the principal remaining tower of Dunstanbrough Castle, as seen from the sea at the distance of about a mile ; and whoever has seen it at that distance in a blustering day, towards the latter end of October, will immediately acknowledge the fidelity of the artist’s delineation. Though the Abbess of Whitby and her nuns, in their fabled voyage to Holy Island, passed the place in summer, and in fine weather, yet they seem to have been near enough to be sensible of the danger of too close an approach to its “wave-worn steep;” for Sir Walter Scott, in Marmion, Canto II., relates that, —
“They crossed themselves, to hear
The whitening breakers sound so near,
Where, boiling through the rocks, they roar
On Dunstanborough’s caverned shore.”
The contemplation of Dunstanbrough Castle, like that of many similar edifices, the ruins of which still frown upon the promontories and headlands of our coast, cannot but awaken feelings little favorable to what are frequently called the “good old times.” If we may compare what our ancestors have left with what the present generation is exerting it to accomplish, antiquity has little to boast of. Our forefathers crowned the cliffs of the land with strongholds, bristling with lofty towers and warlike battlements, nominally for their own defense from the incursions of foreign foes, but too often diverted into engines of tyranny and oppression to their fellow-citizens. The shipwrecked mariner of those days had often more to dread than to hope for in the approach to such beacons as Dunstanbrough; and if unhappily thrown upon the mercy of its owners, they were only too ready to seize upon what the waves had spared, and deem that in permitting him to depart unharmed, they had done all that could be expected from them. In our days, we no longer erect castles on our coasts; we rather stud them with lighthouses, and thus mark out the track of safety, not only for the ships of our own nation, but confer equal benefits upon those of every other maritime power. We no longer pour down upon the distressed seamen with armed bands, whose only aim is plunder; but we rush to the beach and with life-boats constructed in the best manner, and manned by the bravest and most skilful of our countrymen, we hasten to succor and to save those whom the elements are threatening to destroy. Of a truth, the ruins of these fortresses of old might instill a spirit of thankfulness in the minds of many of those who profess to admire the days which are gone, and render them grateful that their lot has been cast in happier times.