The town of Barnard Castle is, of course, named after its, er, castle – but who, or what, was Barnard? Turns out that the Barnard in question was actually a Bernard, with historical origins stretching back to the time of the Norman Conquest.
Bernard Balliol (or, rather, Bernard de Balliol I), was a twelfth century nobleman whose father, Renard, and uncle, Guy de Balliol, had literally come over with the Conqueror during the Norman invasion. As a reward for his military service in Normandy, Uncle Guy was handed the Lordship of Gainford at the very end of the eleventh century, and he set about building a wood and earthwork fortification on the site of the later ‘Barnard Castle’. Then, when his nephew, Bernard, succeeded him in the 1130s, the stronghold was rebuilt in stone, like so many others the country over.
Bernard I died around 1150-60 and was succeeded firstly by his son Guy, then almost immediately by a younger son, another Bernard. And though the castle was much adapted over the succeeding centuries, the work done by the two Bernards during 1130-1190 cemented ‘Bernard’s Castle’ as the name for the settlement which developed around the stronghold. In time, this became ‘Barnard Castle’, which is what we’re stuck with today.
I’m sure you don’t need me to remind you that the Balliols had a colourful history, what with their connections in Normandy, England and, of course, Scotland, where John Balliol was king during 1292-96. John, in fact, was most probably born in Barnard Castle around 1249. And the castle also had strong connections to the English throne, being later owned by ‘Kingmaker’ Richard Neville and King Richard III.