The Romans built a fortress called Caesar's Tower on the 133-foot cliff upon which Nottingham Castle now stands. This became a trysting place in the 9th century during battles between Saxons and Danes.
In 868 the Dane, Ivar 'the Boneless', became master of Nottingham after parlying with the Mercians, together with the men from Wessex, to make the Treaty of Nottingham. The Wessex men were led by two future Kings Ethelred and King Alfred the Great (pictured right). The treaty was broken in the following year by Ivar when he murdered King Edmund of East Anglia at Nottingham. King Edmund became a martyr.
In 1068 William the Conqueror (pictured left), on his way to suppress a revolt in York, passed through Nottingham where he ordered his son William Peveril to build a motte and bailey castle. The rock's location provided an easily defensible site commanding the crossing of the River Trent that linked the main road between London and the north. Nottingham Castle became the principal royal fortress for the next five centuries.
|Peace and War
During the reign of Henry I (1100-35), Nottingham enjoyed relative calm and the wooden castle was replaced by a stone one with high walls and towers. On the death of Henry, civil raged between Emperess Matilda and King Stephen and the Castle was held for Stephen by Constable William Peveril, great grandson of the original builder.
On Matilda's side in 1140 the Earl of Gloucester burned the town after failing to take the Castle. In the following year Stephen's army was defeated at Lincoln and Peveril was forced to surrender the Castle though he recaptured it two years later with a small band of soldiers after scaling the rock, guided by two young men who tended the Castle mills.
The town was burned again eleven years later by Henry, Matilda's son and Duke of Normandy who, in the following year, became King Henry II (pictured right). Peveril fled from the Castle to his monastery at Lenton disguised as a monk before going abroad.
The new king provided the wherewithal to repair the town and fortify the Castle more in keeping with a royal residence. Several new buildings were constructed including the 'King's bed chamber', a 'house for the King's falcons', and a great hall with aisles in the centre of the Middle Bailey which would hold parliaments and entertainments.
At times Henry II held his wife Eleanor of Aquitaine in confinement at Nottingham Castle amongst other castles.
|Richard and John
Designed to withstand long sieges the Castle had accomodation for fighting men, cattle, stables, a hospital, storerooms for wine and grain, a bakehouse, several wells, a malt kiln and a brewery; and a dungeon deep in the keep for prisoners.
Best described as a combination of grandeur and discomfort, the Castle under siege offers defenders little more than litter or straw laid on a cold floor for their feet and a rug upon a bench for a bed. Defenders are expected to forgo warmth, light and creature comforts in the cause of defence. They are known to cough a lot - the enclosed rooms being always full of smoke from fires for heating and cooking.
The Governor's room at the top of the keep is the only one that can be remotely described as palatial, being lofty, splendid and possessing a window and chimney.
On his return from Crusade, Richard found Earl John's men holding the Castle and stormed it before the defenders surrendered.
A Council was held in the Castle Great Hall a few days later when Richard banished John from England. The brothers were later reconciled when John presented himself to the King 'on mercy for life and limb and wordly honour.'
'To attack the Castle is an awesome task and you can only admire King Richard's valiant, almost reckless, attempt to storm it. Since the south and west cliffs are 130 feet high, the defenders only have to defend the north and east and if you look closely at the Castle's fortifications on these two sides you will find that the walls are very strong.
And the watch towers are regularly spaced ahead of the Castle wall putting any assailant well within range of the defenders' deadly arrows and missiles. This outer wall is 40 feet high and 15 feet thick at the bottom stretching 100 yards either side of the Castle gate and surmounted with battlements reinforced with six bastions at regular intervals. It would need a big siege engine to break through these walls.
Alternatively, you could storm the Castle gate but you would need to first cross the outer stone bridge over the ravine and overcome the drawbridge, not forgetting that the Castle gate is flanked by two drum towers with slit windows for firing arrows at you as you attack. (Castle Gate defenders' view pictured right)
Forcing your way through the Castle gate is only the first step. At the top of the hill you will have to cross another bridge, followed by a moat with a drawbridge that has another gate for you to fight through, before you reach the main stronghold.
If by some miracle you have breached this gate you will face the impregnable keep (pictured above right). Built of squared stone 15 feet thick and cemented with mortar that sets like stone, the rectangular keep is four stories high with a tower at each corner and pilaster buttresses. There are no windows, only loop-holes through which defenders fire arrows at you.
You can only enter the keep from one direction - up an outside staircase at the top of which you'll find the first of three doors. The passage above the first door holds arrow-loops to enable defenders to snipe at you. Having battled past that, more arrows will come at you from a slit above the middle door before a flight of steps takes you up to the first floor. Confronting you now is a portcullis where boiling lead will pour down on your head from holes above the door.
Narrow steps take you up to the top floor and final stronghold usually occupied by the Governor who will fight to hold the Castle till his dying breath. Unless your name is Richard the Lionheart is advisable not to try and storm this formiddable Castle.'
When John became King in 1199 he strengthened the Castle by building a new stone tower in the Upper Bailey and refortifying the Outer Bailey. Often visiting the Castle, he enjoyed the hunting in the Royal Park below the Castle and also in Sherwood Forest.
John also used the Castle as an arsenal, a treasury and a prison - the twenty-eight Wesh hostage boys held here in 1212 were hanged from the walls on his orders when a revolt broke out in Wales.
A learned and artistic man, Henry III frequently visited the Castle, repairing and improving the royal apartments. After spending the Christmas of 1251 at the Castle, he ordered the Sheriff to build 'a good stone gateway with twin towers' (pictured right) which can still be seen today.
Edwards I, II and III
Edward I effected repairs to the Castle in 1307 and the fortress was now the most important military building in the Midlands, 'so well defended by nature and art, that it appears impregnable' and held two Scottish prisoners taken during the Scottish wars.
The Castle was kept in repair by Edward II but it could not prevent his overthrow and subsequent murder at Berkeley Castle in 1327 by Roger Mortimer, Earl of March. The Kingdom was then ruled by Queen Isabella and Roger Mortimer since the new King, Edward III, was only fifteen years old. Queen Isabella and Roger Mortimer came to Nottingham Castle at Michaelmas 1330 to hold a Parliament where they were protected by Welsh mercenaries. Young Edward lodged in the town and urged on by his supporters entered into a plot.
At dead of night with 24 men, Constable William de Eland entered the fortress by way of a secret passage. With the element of surprise they seized the Queen and Roger Mortimer who was hastened off to London to be tried, condemned and hanged on Tyburn gallows.
Edward III held three Parliaments at the Castle and built a new prison for Scottish prisoners beneath the Upper Bailey.
In 1337 the Speaker of the House of Commons spoke out against the King's mistress and was imprisoned for two years in the dungeons of the Castle.
At the Battle of Neville's Cross, King David of Scotland was captured and languished for the next eleven years within the Castle.
Edward IV proclaimed himself King at Nottingham in 1460 and during the Wars of the Roses the town and Castle remained staunchly Yorkist. His brother the Duke of Gloucester, later Richard III, supervised the building of new state apartments at the Castle and behind these he built an enormous six-sided tower later described as 'the beautifullest part and gallant building for lodging . . . a right sumptuous piece of stonework.'
During his short reign Richard III used the Castle as his main base and left its shelter in August 1485 to lose his life and crown at the Battle of Bosworth Field.
Decay and Ruin
The introduction of artillery and and central Government in London combined to make Nottingham Castle obsolete. Some work was done during the reign of Henry VIII, and one time was 'fortified and victualled' and 'laid about with gunnys' during a rebellion against the King's religious policies, but repairs were not sufficient to prevent decay. The Castle never again provided residence for royalty - James I and Charles I both lodged in the town.
By 1623 the Great Hall had fallen down and James I gave the Castle to the Earl of Rutland who helped himself to 'timber, lead and tile.'
Despite the ruinous state of the Castle, King Charles ! raised his Standard of war on a mound called Derry Mount north of the main gateway on 22 August 1642 in an effort to rally support for his cause. The expected rush of recruits failed to materialise and a disappointed monarch withdrew to Salisbury leaving the Castle to fall into Parliamentary hands.
Colonel Hutchinson, a local landowner and later to be one of the signatories to the King's death warrant, was appointed Castle governor. His wife Lucy recorded that she found the Castle 'very ruinous and uninhabitable.'
The Royalists, under the command of Sir John Digby, hoped to secure all of Nottinghamshire for the King and after occupying Newark their efforts to secure Nottingham suffered a set-back. A stalemate resulted when Colonel Hutchinson rallied Nottingham's willing citizens to form one regiment of foot and one of horse. Made defensible, the Castle was adapted for cannon and became a Parliamentary refuge surrounded by Royalist strongpoints.
Several royalists attacks were repulsed and the one in January 1644 was a close call. When the Royalists attacked the town, the Roundheads abandoned their positions and fled to the Castle. The attackers then fired into the Castle from the surrounding houses - St. Nicholas church had been demolished earlier by the Governor when Royalists had used its tower to fire into the Castle.
The Governor counter-attacked resulting in vicious fighting in the streets leading up to the Castle, and the Royalists, exhausted by their march through the snow eventually fled, leaving 'a great track of blood which froze as it fell upon the snow.'
With the execution of Charles I in 1649 defences all over the country were dismantled including Nottingham Castle which was razed to the ground by order of the Council of State. Never taken by storm, the Castle was demolished by gunpowder, lever and pick and what was left became quarry for the scavengers of the town.
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