The Normans conquered the area that is today Cumbria in 1092 during the reign of William II and created the baronies of Kendal and Westmorland which were originally distinct jurisdictions with separate sheriffs, but were formed into a single county of Westmorland in 1226/7.. Before 1226 the Barony of Kendal was connected to the Earldom or Honour of Lancaster while that of Westmorland was part of the Earldom of Carlisle. The historic county boundaries are with Cumberland to the north, County Durham and Yorkshire to the east, and Lancashire to the south and west. Windermere forms part of the western border with Lancashire north of the sands, and Ullswater part of the border with Cumberland. The highest point of the county is Helvellyn at 950m (3,117 ft). Appleby was the historic county town until the 19th century when Kendal seems to have assumed that position.
Westmoreland was described by Thomas Cox in Magna Britannica et Hibernia as "an hilly, barren country" which was not granted out by the crown until the reign of King John when, in recognition of the military services of one Robert De Vipont (chiefly, we are told at Mirabel where the French were defeated), was granted the castles of Appleby and Burgh and "the whole Bailiwick of Westmoreland to hold during the kings pleasure" That was in 1203. Vipont appears to have received several more grants of land and property across the realm during his period of ascension. Kings' pleasures are, of course, transient things and in 1274, another Robert De Vipont was fighting against the crown as an ally of Simon De Montfort, Earl of Leicester when he was slain at Evesham. The Vipont family had lost the king's pleasure and with it, the claim to the title Baron of Westmoreland which passed to the better known family, house Clifford. Roger Clifford and Roger de Leyboure were the beneficiaries of the division of Vipont land and they married Vipont's daughters, Isabel and Idonea. The faith of those families led to the daughters being forgiven their father's deeds, in time but the power of House Vipont was at an end.
Cox also tells us that there were two Baronies - Westmoreland and Kendal within this whole and that these were divided into wards, Deaneries, Parishes and Constablewicks. There were no Hundreds, Rapes or Wapentakes as were common throughout the rest of the realm "because in antient times, these parts paid no subsidies, being sufficiently charged in border service against the Scots" Cox also complains that poor records forced him to then cover the details of the county by placing the market towns in alphabetical order for want of other organisational detail.
We do know that the Barony of Kendal was around well before the Bailiwick of Westmoreland was so generously bestowed on the Viponts. At the time of trhe Domesday survey, one Ivo De Talebois is listed as Baron of Kendal and mentioned in relation to a number of holdings in Cumbria. I have covered more of the detail that I have turned up under settlements in this background section.
Throughout the period, border reivers operated in Cumbria and we know that during times of civil strife, their activities grew more frequent, particularly during the English Civil War and later 1600s when they went unchecked for a long period. Scots invasions were also common as the land was claimed by the Scottish throne. Border raids and minor skirmishes were quite common.
So we can gain some idea of this relatively wild land in the far north-west of England. It is a disputed territory between the thrones of England and Scotland. as such, it suffers raids and encampment by the armies of both, from time to time. Fortunately for our mages, these tend to centre on the few notable population centres, in particular, Carlisle. It also appears that the local land holders and artisans are not subject to the same tax regime and may have some more freedom than lands to the south.
Returning to the influential families in the area, we know that the barony passed in 1274 from house Vipont or Viteripont as it seems to have become, to house Clifford, one of the greater English families who were to play a part in the major events of the realm for over 500 years. Others we know were to influence Cumbria were Tufton, Wharton and Musgrave. The great houses who would play a part were headed by two of the most famous in English medieval history, House Percy and House Neville. The Percys and the Nevilles were sometimes allies and sometimes rivals. The Nevilles were to reach their height during the Wars of the Roses when the "head" of the house was the Earl of Warwick "The Kingmaker".
There is also, claimed, to have been another influential family with interests in Cumbria. Castle Pendragon was reputedly founded by none other than Uther, father of Arthur Pendragon, King Arthur of the legends. What truth and link to any of the "historic" figures that became Arthur in legend, I am yet to investigate.