Lincoln Castle is a major castle constructed in Lincoln, England during the late 11th century by William the Conqueror on the site of a pre-existing Roman fortress. The castle is unusual in that it has two mottes. It is only one of two such castles in the country, the other being at Lewes in Sussex. Lincoln Castle remained in use as a prison and law court into modern times, and is one of the better preserved castles in England; the Crown Courts continue to this day. It is open to the public as a museum.
When William the Conqueror defeated Harold Godwinson and the English at The Battle of Hastings on 14 October 1066, he continued to face resistance to his rule in the north of England. For a number of years, William's position was very insecure. In order to project his influence northwards to control the people of the Danelaw (an area traditionally under the control of Scandinavian settlers), he constructed a number of major castles in the north and midlands of England. It was at this time that the new king built major castles at Warwick, Nottingham and York. After gaining control of York, the Conqueror turned southwards and arrived at the Roman and Viking city of Lincoln.
When William reached Lincoln (one of the country's major settlements), he found a Viking commercial and trading centre with a population of 6,000 to 8,000. The remains of the old Roman walled fortress located 60 metres (200 ft) above the countryside to the south and west, proved an ideal strategic position to construct a new castle. Also, Lincoln represented a vital strategic crossroads of the following routes (largely the same routes which influenced the siting of the Roman fort):
A castle here could guard several of the main strategic routes and form part of a network of strongholds of the Norman kingdom, in Danish Mercia, roughly the area of the country that is today referred to as the East Midlands, to control the country internally. Also (in the case of the Wolds) it could form a center from which troops could be sent to repel Scandinavian landings anywhere on the coast from the Trent to the Welland, to a large extent, by using the roads which the Romans had constructed for the same purpose.
The castle was built in the south-west corner of the upper walled town, the remainder of which was occupied by the town. The Domesday Book entry for Lincoln records that of the 1164 residences in the city, 166 were demolished to make way for the castle. Of the 1164 pre- Conquest residences, perhaps 600 will have been in the upper town.
Work on the new fortification was completed in 1068. It is probable that at first a wooden keep was constructed which was later replaced with a much stronger stone one. Lincoln castle is very unusual in having two mottes, the only other surviving example of such a design being at Lewes. To the south, where the Roman wall stands on the edge of a steep slope, it was retained partially as a curtain wall and partially as a revetment retaining the mottes. In the west, where the ground is more level, the Roman wall was buried within an earth rampart and extended upward to form the Norman castle wall. The Roman west gate (on the same site as the castle's westgate) was excavated in the 19th century but began to collapse on exposure, and so was re-buried.
The castle was the focus of attention during the First Battle of Lincoln which occurred on 2 February 1141, during the struggle between King Stephen and Empress Maud over who should be monarch in England. It was held but damaged, and a new tower, called the Lucy Tower, was built.
Lincoln Castle was again the site of a siege followed by the Second Battle of Lincoln, on 20 May 1217, during the reign of King John in the course of the First Barons' War. This was the period of political struggle which led to the signing of Magna Carta on June 15, 1215. After this, a new barbican was built onto the west and east gates.
As in Norwich and other places, the castle was used as a secure site in which to establish a prison. At Lincoln, the prison Gaol was built in 1787 and extended in 1847. Imprisoned debtors were allowed some social contact but the regime for criminals was designed to be one of isolation, according to the separate system. Consequently, the seating in the prison chapel is designed to enclose each prisoner individually so that the preacher could see everyone but each could see only him. By 1878 the system was discredited and the inmates were transferred to the new jail in the eastern outskirts of Lincoln. The prison in the castle was left without a use until the Lincolnshire Archives were housed in its cells.
Lincoln castle remains one of the most impressive Norman castles in the United Kingdom. It is still possible to walk around the immense 12th century walls with its ramparts providing a magnificent view of the castle complex, together with panoramic views of the cathedral, the city, and the surrounding countryside.
Another attraction is the opportunity to see one of the four surviving originals of the Magna Carta, sealed by King John after his meeting with the Barons at Runnymede in 1215, a document which is now housed within Lincoln castle. There is also an accompanying exhibition, explaining the origin of the Magna Carta and its far reaching effects. Parts of the prison are also open as a museum, including the 19th century chapel, which is the only original chapel designed for the 'Separate System' (every seat is enclosed) left in the world today. The women's wing of the prison opened to visitors in 2005.
In the castle grounds are the graves of those executed here for various crimes. They have simple markers featuring only the initials of the condemned and the date of death. William Frederick Horry is buried in the Lucy Tower, along with many other criminals' graves.
The grounds also contain remains of Lincoln's Eleanor cross, an oriel window moved from Sutton Hall and incorporated into the main gate, and the Bust of George III.
At the western end of the castle is an ivy clad building built in 1826 as the Assize courts. These are still used today as Lincoln's Crown Courts. The castle's grounds are used for music concerts and other public entertainment. The castle is now owned by Lincolnshire County Council and is a scheduled ancient monument.