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Online course

Lancaster Castle and Northern English History: The View from the Stronghold

We will use the iconic building of Lancaster Castle to investigate how 2000 years of history has shaped the north-west of England.

Lancaster Castle and Northern English History: The View from the Stronghold

Why join the course?

This course takes an innovative approach to exploring history, focusing on Lancaster Castle as a microcosm of broader trends. This fascinating location provides a wealth of evidence from the remains of Roman forts to its life as a prison and visitor attraction.

Lancaster Castle played a key role in medieval Anglo-Scottish warfare, was a significant location in the witchcraft trials of the seventeenth century and still has a panopticon, built to minimise warders’ workload in the period of prison reform.

Join us to uncover this castle’s vital role in northern English history over many centuries.

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Skip to 0 minutes and 17 secondsThis is Lancaster Castle, one of the most impressive strongholds of Northern England. From Roman times until the present day, this site has dominated North West England and played a key role in political and social history. In this course, we use the castle as a way into the history of Northern England. We look at famous incidents from the areas past as well as hidden histories, all the time accompanied by the castle's exceptional buildings. We'll be exploring turbulent times from a mediaeval Scottish raid to the Second World War. We'll encounter famous monarchs, including Henry IV of England, Robert the Bruce of Scotland, and Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II.

Skip to 1 minute and 6 secondsWe'll hear about figures prominent in social and cultural history, such as the prison reformer John Howard and the author Charles Dickens. We'll learn about the people who were incarcerated here, such as the notorious, yet wretched Lancashire witches and German prisoners of war during the First World War. I begin the story before the castle with the Roman forts on this site. And I trace the castle's role through the turbulent Mediaeval Period. I will then be joined by colleagues from the Department of History at Lancaster University. Dr. Stephen Pumfrey will tackle Lancashire after the Reformation, a time when witchcraft accusations emerged against a backdrop of religious tension. Dr.

Skip to 1 minute and 54 secondsChris Donaldson will explore Lancaster Castle's appeal to 18th and 19th century visitors and the changes in attitudes to life inside the prison. Dr. Corinna Peniston-Bird will trace the history of the castle from the First World War to the very present, ending with the transformation of the site from a prison to a heritage destination. Along the way, we'll be joined by other experts in the castle's history. Join us for a fascinating journey through two millennia of Northern England's history, viewed from the stronghold of Lancaster Castle.

What topics will you cover?

  • The Roman coastal fort and its relationship to the northern frontier
  • The Norman Castle: its role in Anglo-Scottish warfare and the emergence of the Duchy of Lancaster
  • The Castle’s role as a prison for the Lancashire Witches, in the context of post-Reformation history
  • The role as a debtors’ prison in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, and changes in prison organisation
  • The First and Second World Wars
  • The importance of the castle to the region’s heritage

When would you like to start?

What will you achieve?

By the end of the course, you'll be able to...

  • Reflect on the long sweep of history in relation to one site
  • Interpret the regional context of broader historical trends
  • Evaluate historical debates critically
  • Explain the relationship between famous events or individuals and deeper social and political developments
  • Explore several different types of source material

Who is the course for?

This course is designed for adult learners with an interest in castles, the history of the North West of England or British history in general.

Who will you learn with?

Fiona Edmonds

I am a historian of medieval Britain and Ireland, with research interests ranging from the sixth century to the twelfth. My work knows no borders, focusing on maritime contacts and now-lost kingdoms.

Christopher Donaldson

I'm a lecturer in cultural history at Lancaster University. My research engages with print history, historical geography, heritage studies and the history of tourism and leisure culture.

Stephen Pumfrey

I'm a historian of philosophy, science, religion and witchcraft in Europe, 1450-1800, with a particular interest in the Lancaster witch trials.

Corinna Peniston-Bird

A historian at Lancaster University, my research is centred on the relationship between memories and cultural representations, most often in the context of Total War.

Who developed the course?

Lancaster University is a collegiate university, with a global reputation as a centre for research, scholarship and teaching with an emphasis on employability.

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