Egremont is a small market town in west Cumbria on the edge of the national park. The town hosts a popular Crab Fair and serves a wide area of west Cumbria including several of our rural self catering cottages in the Lake District. The town grew up around the castle built above the River Ehen. The site of the castle was originally a Danish fort built following the Viking conquest of Cumberland in the 1000s.
During the 1100s a Norman motte and bailey castle was built to provide protection for the new town of Egremont and its marketplace. The town grew up around the castle despite falling victim to successive Scottish raids. Egremont was considered part of the ‘debateable lands’ and was used as a base by King David of Scotland whilst raids were carried out as far south as Furness.
The castle fell into disrepair and eventual decay by the early 1500s. In its current state, the castle is remarkably well preserved, particular the protective ditches, part of the gatehouse and a wall of the Great Hall.
One particular episode of Egremont Castle’s history inspired Wordsworth to write his poem ‘The Horn of Egremont Castle’. The de Lucy family held the title at the time of the Crusades. The Lord of Egremont and his younger brother were away fighting in the Holy Land and at this time, the younger brother Hubert was overcome with desire to be Lord of Egremont.
The only way that the title would pass to Hubert was on the event of his brother’s death. There are two versions of events at this stage of the story - either paid some local criminals to drown his older brother, Eustace, or Hubert was captured during the war and held prisoner. Instead of returning home to raise the ransom, Hubert instead assumed the title of Lord Egremont. Wordsworth takes the more gruesome route and writes about Hubert’ murderous intentions.
Either way, Hubert fled back to Egremont and took possession of the estate. The crucial part of Wordsworth’s poem regards the horn that hung above the gatehouse. According to legend, the hunting horn could only sound when it was blown by the rightful Lord of Egremont.
On arriving back to Egremont, Hubert avoided blowing the horn but arranged a family banquet to celebrate his succession. During the banquet the horn was blown loudly from outside the gate. Realising that he was about to be found out, Hubert fled in horror and fear. He returning years later to beg forgiveness and his brother magnanimously forgave him, leaving him to live out his years as a monk in penance. Here is an exert from the poem:
Side by side they fought (the Lucies
Were a line for valour famed)
And where'er their strokes alighted
There the Saracens were tamed
But Hubert becomes envious and arranges to have his brother bushwhacked:
"Sir" the Ruffians said to Hubert
Deep he lies in Jordan’s flood"