Lincoln Castle is one of the most famous and well-preserved Norman castles in England. Perched on a hill in the city of Lincoln overlooking the surrounding countryside, this imposing medieval fortress has played an important historical role for over 900 years. From its origins as a key Norman stronghold to its later use as a prison, Lincoln Castle has plenty of fascinating stories to tell. Join me as we explore the history, architecture, and modern significance of this magnificent castle!
History and Construction of Lincoln Castle
To understand Lincoln Castle, we need to go back to 1068 when William the Conqueror ordered its construction shortly after the Norman Conquest of England.
William the Conqueror Builds the Castle
Lincoln was an important strategic settlement due to its location at the intersection of several key trade routes, so William chose it as the site of a major Norman castle. At least 166 homes were demolished to clear space for the castle, which utilized the location of the old Roman fortress for defensive purposes. The early wooden keep was soon replaced by a grander stone one, and Lincoln Castle took shape as a powerful Norman stronghold.
Key Historical Events at Lincoln Castle
As one of the most significant Norman castles in England, Lincoln Castle played a role in several major historical events. It was at the center of the First Battle of Lincoln in 1141 between King Stephen and Empress Matilda. In 1217, it was besieged again during the Second Battle of Lincoln in the First Barons’ War. Both battles saw Lincoln Castle being heavily involved in the wider power struggles for the English throne during the Middle Ages.
Layout and Architecture of Lincoln Castle
The castle’s unusual double-motte design sets it apart from other Norman fortifications of the time.
Lincoln Castle has two mottes or earthwork mounds, with one likely part of the original 11th century Norman castle while the second was added later in the medieval period. The first motte has the Observatory Tower, and the second is crowned by the Lucy Tower, named after a 12th century countess.
Curtain Walls and Gates
Thick stone curtain walls dating from before 1115 enclose the castle, interrupted by the two mottes. Sections of the original medieval walls and the west and east gates still stand. Within the walls and grounds, we can see various buildings added over the centuries.
Life at Lincoln Castle Over the Centuries
Lincoln Castle served many different purposes during its long history that give us a fascinating insight into medieval and modern times.
Lincoln Castle as a Prison
From the late 18th century, Lincoln Castle was repurposed as a prison and courts. A Georgian prison was built in 1787 within the castle walls and extended in 1847. For some time prisoners were isolated from each other in a “separate system” intended to inspire penitence.
Executions at the Castle
For many years, prisoners were publicly hanged from the towering castle walls. The Victorian executioner William Marwood used the long drop method here for more humane executions. By 1878, executions were moved to the new prison on the city outskirts.
The Separate Prison System
The unique prison chapel was designed so prisoners sat in isolated seats, unable to see others as they listened to the preacher. This exemplifies the separate system philosophy of isolation prevalent in the 19th century.
Lincoln Castle Today
Having survived many transformations, Lincoln Castle continues to be a major heritage site and popular attraction.
Current Layout and Features
The walls, towers like the Observatory and Lucy Towers, and west and east gates allow visitors to imagine Lincoln Castle in its medieval heyday. We can also explore the Victorian prison with its unique separation cells and chapel. Other features include the 12th century Eleanor Cross, an oriel window from John of Gaunt’s palace, and a bust of George III.
The Lincoln Castle Revealed Project
From 2012 to 2015, the “Lincoln Castle Revealed” project renovated the site and created new visitor facilities. The highlights were a purpose-built center to display Lincoln’s precious copy of the 1215 Magna Carta and openings of the old prison to the public.
Lincoln Castle as a Tourist Attraction
With its rich history and unique architecture, Lincoln Castle is a leading tourist destination. Visitors can walk the walls, towers, and grounds while learning about the stories and lives that shaped this remarkable Norman castle. Special events and exhibitions run throughout the year.
From its strategic beginnings as a Norman stronghold to its varied later history as a center of power struggles, executions, and incarcerations, Lincoln Castle has been a site of national importance for centuries. This schedule monument and Grade I listed building survives today as a fascinating window into 900 years of British history, allowing visitors to explore its many layers from medieval fortification to Victorian prison. Lincoln Castle remains one of the country’s most treasured Norman sites.
When was Lincoln Castle built?
Lincoln Castle was built under William the Conqueror’s orders in 1068, shortly after the Norman conquest of England.
What is Lincoln Castle famous for?
Lincoln Castle is famous for its two rare mottes, role in key 12th century battles, converted use as a prison from the late 1700s, and housing one of the four surviving 1215 Magna Cartas.
What can you see at Lincoln Castle today?
Today you can see the medieval walls, towers, gatehouses, Victorian prison, Magna Carta exhibition, Lincoln’s Eleanor Cross, and other artifacts that bring the castle’s multi-layered history to life.
Is Lincoln Castle still standing?
Yes, Lincoln Castle still stands today and is one of the best preserved Norman castles in England, now a popular tourist attraction managed by Lincolnshire County Council.
When was Lincoln Castle last used?
Lincoln Castle was used as a prison until 1878 before becoming heritage site. Parts of the old prison now form a museum open to the public.