“This family derive their pedigree from Gamel de Pennington, who was a very considerable person, before and at the conquest as appears by several ancient rolls, registers, and records; from whom, the present Sir Joseph Pennington, is derived, in a lineal descent of numerous ancestors of note” so quotes the author of “The English Baronetage” published in 1741.
While there are numerous Gamels in Pennington history so it becomes difficult to know to which the above might refer, if the author of the “English Baronetage” is correct then the Penningtons were an important family in Cumberland before the Norman Conquest of 1066.
Tracing the early family tree is difficult as few documents survive from this period, further complicated by reuse of popular family names Benedict and Gamel, together with John, Joseph and William in later generation. Gamel even makes a fairly recent reappearance with the 4th Lord Muncaster, born in 1831.
The Pennington family have recorded evidence of Muncaster being their home since 1208, when the lands were granted to Alan de Penitone although some records suggest that the family were at Muncaster back as far as 1026.
In 1464 Sir John Pennington gave shelter to Henry VI, wandering after the Battle of Hexham. Many years later in 1783, John, Lord Muncaster erected the tower known as Chapels to commemorate the place where the fugitive King was supposed to have been found by the shepherds. The legend tells how Holy King Harry on his departure left his drinking bowl behind in gratitude, saying that as long as it should remain quite whole and unbroken the Penningtons would live and thrive in the place. Today the Venetian glass bowl is still intact and is known as the ‘Luck of Muncaster’.
In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries the family married well and in 1783 when there was a vacancy in the Irish Peerage, the fifth Baronet was created first Baron Muncaster. He was a friend of Pitt and long a Member of Parliament. He carried out extensive works at Muncaster, including planting most of the large hardwood trees, and it was he who started the present library. He was succeeded by his brother, General Lowther Pennington, who in his youth was a hot head. While serving in America he killed a man in a duel called for a “foolish quarrel about humming a tune”.
Shortly before his death in 1862, his grandson Gamel Augustus, fourth Lord Muncaster, instructed Anthony Salvin the famous architect to renovate the house, giving us the castle largely as we know it today.
In 1917 Gamel’s brother, the fifth and last Lord Muncaster, died without children and the estate reverted to his nearest relation on his mother’s side, Sir John Ramsden, on condition that his second son changed his name from Ramsden to Pennington. A notable family in their own right, the Ramsdens had played a significant part in the history of Yorkshire, as well as owning other estates. It was Sir John who started planting rhododendron seedlings at Muncaster from his other great garden at Bulstrode, Gerrards Cross in Buckinghamshire, a Somerset family estate which he inherited through his mother. Sir John was the great grandfather of the Castle’s current owner Iona Frost Pennington.