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Northumberland History!

Northumberland Kingdom to County

Northumberland, more anciently known as `Northumbria', was part of the great Anglo-Saxon kingdom of that name, with territory extending from the Humber to the Firth of Forth. Present day Northumberland, encompassing a much smaller area, is no longer a kingdom, but is the northernmost county in England, stretching from urban Tyneside to the rolling wilderness of the Cheviot Hills. These hills still form the most imposing natural boundary between England and Scotland.

Northumbria was one of the largest and most powerful kingdoms of Anglo-Saxon England, but in its later years it suffered constant invasion from the Danes and Scots. Eventually the Northumbrian lands to the north of the Cheviots and to the south of the Tees (Yorkshire) were conquered respectively by the Scots and Danes so that the remaining part of Northumbria was reduced to an Anglo-Saxon earldom comprised of what later became the counties of Durham and Northumberland.

It was the Norman conquerors who divided this region into its two main parts, creating the County Palatinate of Durham from the southern portion of Northumbria, while the remainder of the Earldom to the north of the Rivers Tyne and Derwent, continued to be known in Latin as Northumbria or in English as Northumberland as it still is today.

Northumberland and Durham, though forming a remote and quite distinct English `border region', developed notable social and political differences. Durham, thus became a semi-independent state, ruled by leaders known as `Prince Bishops', while Northumberland, more isolated and vulnerable to Scottish attacks, was divided into smaller liberties and shires, which like Durham were often exempt from the writ of the King.

Some of these Northumberland districts became northern territories of Durham's Prince Bishops, but most were given to Norman Barons, who through their own self interest, were expected to defend and protect them from the Scots in return for special privileges granted by the king.

Many of Northumberland's Norman barons, like the Umfravilles, Lords of Redesdale, held a status almost equivalent to Durham's Prince Bishops. It is these barons who were largely responsible for building many of the grand castles, that are still a feature of the Northumbrian landscape to this day. Most important of the Northumbrian barons, were of course the Percys, of Alnwick Castle, who acquired land in the county in the early fourteenth century.