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Durham’s Seat of Power

By Linda Tancs

Once upon a time, following the Norman Conquest, there were two kings in England.  That unusual circumstance arose in England’s County Durham.  During William the Conqueror’s time, the two most powerful men in that northeastern region were the earl and the Bishop of Durham.  Recognizing the need for a local power to guard against Scottish marauders, the Bishop of Durham was granted unusual authority by the king, including the ability to raise taxes, mint coins and hold parliaments.  As a result, the successive bishops came to be known as the Prince Bishops.  They even had their own palace–Auckland Castle.  High above the Wear Valley in Bishop Auckland, the castle is no longer the Bishop of Durham’s official residence although he works there.  Now fully open to the public for the first time, the castle’s parkland extends almost 200 acres.  A crowd favorite is Deer House, a folly built in Gothic Revival style.  Other interesting features are the Throne Room and St. Peter’s Chapel, the largest private chapel in Europe.


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