The county's largest boundaries were from the river Humber in the south, to the Forth in the North, under King Edwin. At present, however, the county extends covers a much smaller area. Until 1974 it included Newcastle-upon-Tyne, the traditional county town of Northumberland, but that has now been removed to Tyne and Wear. The county town is now Morpeth.
Northumberland has a long and complicated history, as it was the scene of many wars between England and Scotland, dating back to the times before the Roman Empire. This explains the many castles in Northumberland, including among the better-known those at Bamburgh, Dunstanburgh, Warkworth and Alnwick - see Castles in England for a full list.
Northumberland is called the "cradle of Christianity" in England because it was on Lindisfarne, a tidal island north of Bamburgh, also called Holy Island, that Christianity flourished when monks from Iona were sent to convert the English, and set up camp there. Lindisfarne was also the home of the Lindisfarne Gospels (presently situated in the British Library, London) and also of Saint Cuthbert of Lindisfarne who is buried at Durham Cathedral.
Bamburgh Castle is the historic capital of Northumberland, the "royal" castle from before the unification of England under one monarch. The capital of Northumberland now, however, may be thought to be the market town of Alnwick, mainly because the Duke of Northumberland has his home there.
Northumberland has a history of revolt and rebellion against the government, as seen in the Pilgrimage of Grace and the Rising of the North in Tudor times. These revolts were usually led by the then Dukes of Northumberland, the Percy family. Most of these Dukes would betray their comrades in whatever rebellion they were leading, give the information to the government, and get away scot-free. Shakespeare mentions one of the Percys, Harry Hotspur. The county was also a centre for Catholicism in England, as well as of Jacobite feelings after the Restoration. Northumberland became a sort of wild county, where outlaws and border reivers hid from the law, as it was largely rural and unpopulated. However, after the union of the crowns of Scotland and England under King James VI and I, Northumberland became much more peaceful, though it still had its moments.
Today Northumberland is still largely rural - the least populated County in Britain - and no longer commands any sort of power in British affairs. Its power was largely derived from the border conflicts, as the Lords of the Marches were entrusted with making sure England was not invaded by the Scots, and so became powerful. At present there is a movement to attract tourism to Northumberland, by pointing out the beauty of the scenery - coastal and rural - and the many castles and the important role Northumberland played in English history. Nowhere is this more to be seen than on Lindisfarne. Attempts to raise the level of awareness of Northumbrian culture to that of Scottish culture have also started, with the formation of a Northumbrian Language Society to preserve the unique dialects (Pitmatic and Northumbrian) of this region, as well as to promote home-grown talent.
Famous Northumbrians include:
- Fred Reed, a dialect poet
- Basil Bunting, another poet
- Lord Grey, author of the Reform Bill
- Admiral Collingwood
- Lord Armstrong, present owner of Bamburgh Castle
- William Armstrong, industrialist and the builder of Cragside
- Alnwick, Amble
- Bamburgh Bardon Mill Belford, Berwick-upon-Tweed, Brandon, Northumberland
- Chesters Chollerford Corbridge Craster
- Dalton, Hexham, Northumberland, Dalton, Ponteland, Northumberland
- Elsdon Embleton
- Greenhaugh Greenhead
- Haltwhistle, Hartley, Haydon Bridge Hexham Highfields, Horsley, Prudhoe, Northumberland, Horsley, Redesdale, Northumberland, Housesteads
- Langley, Linton, Longhorsley, Lowick, Lynemouth
- Mindrum, Morpeth, Murton
- Newcastle upon Tyne, Netherton
- Once Brewed
- Seahouses Shipley, Northumberland, Stonehaugh