The castle was founded by the Manners family in the late 12th century. In 1341, nobleman and doctor Robert de Manners received license to crenellate his manor, permitting him to re-designate it as a "castle". During this time the Castle was renowned as a destination for pilgrims seeking medical and dental treatment from its owner. Sir Robert de Manners performed one of the earliest English translations from the Arabic of the Taqwim al-Sihhah, an 11th-century medical text by Ibn Butlan, and was known throughout the region as a healer. The Manners family often feuded with the Heron family of nearby castle of Ford. In 1428 Sir William Heron led an attack on Etal Castle and was killed in the process. In 1513, an army of 30,000 Scots led by James IV invaded England and took the Castle. The invaders were then defeated in the battle of Flodden.
The castle had been abandoned as a residence in the 15th century following the marriage or Sir Robert Manners to Eleanor de Ros, heiress of Baron de Ros, and the family moved to Belvoir. Sir Robert's son George became the 12th Baron Ros in 1512 and his grandson Thomas was created 1st Earl of Rutland in 1525. A survey of 1542 found the castle to be in a very great state of decay.
Etal Castle is currently managed by English Heritage. There is also an award-winning exhibition about the Battle of Flodden and Anglo-Scottish warfare housed within a former Presbyterian chapel.
Neville, H.M. "Under a Border tower: sketches and memories of Ford castle, Northumberland, and its surroundings, with a memoir of its late noble châtelaine, Louisa marchioness of Waterford"; Newcastle upon Tyne, Mawson, Swan, & Morgan, 1896.
The History and Antiquities of North Durham Rev James Raine MA (1852) pp 207–213
Historic Sites of Northumberland & Newcastle upon Tyne, Glen Lyndon Dodds, (Albion Press, 2002) pp 85–87