The castle is unusual in not being built on the site of a previous fortification. It was built in the 14th century by Thomas, Earl of Lancaster, the most powerful baron in the reign of Edward II.
The earl and the King constantly clashed, particularly over the favouritism shown by the King to Piers Gaveston. Lancaster was responsible for having Gaveston captured and executed at Warwick. The Scots took advantage of the turmoil that followed Gaveston's murder and made several raids in Northern England.
As a result the earl began work on his castle as a stronghold against the Scots and also as protection against Edward II's anger.
Dunstanburgh castle was built on a grand scale, providing plenty of space to harbour local people and their livestock in the event of a Scottish raid.
Thick walls surrounded the site and the steep cliffs and sea provided protection from attack on two sides. The impressive three-storey gatehouse was built between 1313 and 1325 using the finest materials.
A second gatehouse was added 60 years later by the powerful John Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster. The third son of Edward III, the duke was involved in negotiations with the Scots. He took the opportunity to strengthen his fortress and provide more accommodation for his entourage.
During the Wars of the Roses the castle was besieged by Yorkists.
However in the Civil War the castle played little part as it was unable to withstand artillery bombardment.
Today the ruins of the great fortress are stranded on a hill top only accessible by foot.