Once part of the Roman Empire and the scene of many wars between England and Scotland, Northumberland has a long and violent history. There are more castles here than
anywhere else in England including the castle of Alnwick, Bamburgh and
The region of present-day Northumberland once formed the core of the Anglian kingdom of Bernicia, which was later united with Deira south of the River Tees to form Northumbria.
Northumberland is often 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. Lindisfarne was the home of the Lindisfarne Gospels and Saint Cuthbert,
who is buried in Durham Cathedral.
Bamburgh is the historic capital of Northumberland, the "royal" castle from before the unification of England under one monarch. The county town of Northumberland is now
Morpeth, since Northumberland County Council's offices are in that town. The lords of Northumberland once wielded significant power in English affairs as they were entrusted with protecting
England from Scottish invasion.
Northumberland has a history of revolt and rebellion against the government, as seen in the Rising of the North in Tudor times. These revolts were usually led by the then
Dukes of Northumberland, the Percy family. Shakespeare makes one of the Percys, the dashing Harry Hotspur, the real hero of his Henry IV, Part 1.
The county was also a centre for Roman 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. However, the frequent cross-border
skirmishes and accompanying local lawlessness largely subsided after the
Union of the Crowns of Scotland
and England under King James I.
Northumberland played a key role in the industrial revolution. Coal mines were once widespread in Northumberland, with collieries at Ashington, Ellington and Pegswood.
The region's coalfields fuelled industrial expansion in other areas of the country, and the need to transport the coal from the collieries to the Tyne led to the
development of the first railways. Shipbuilding and armaments manufacture were other important industries.
Today, Northumberland is still largely rural. As the least populated county in England, it commands much less influence in British affairs than in times past.
In recent years the county has had considerable growth in tourism due to its scenic beauty and the abundant evidence of its historical significance.