April 23, 2024

Leicester Castle & Lincoln Castle

Leicester Castle

Leicester originated as the Roman Ratae, was occupied by the Danes as one of their Five Boroughs, then fortified against them following English re-conquest of the Danelaw. Hugh de Grantmesnil became Sheriff of Leicester after the Norman Conquest and he probably founded the castle on the King’s behalf.

Nothing is left of Leicester’s Roman and medieval town wall. Furthermore, the castle has only survived as a number of isolated fragments. It stood beside the River Soar. Castle Yard marks the site of the inner bailey and the truncated Norman motte can still be seen there. The defenses of the bailey have perished but there are two interesting domestic survivals.

The seventeenth century fa├žade of the Court House conceals a remarkable Norman hall. It was originally divided into aisles by two lines of wooden posts, but only on carved capital remains in place and the building has suffered from later partitioning.

The adjacent church of St. Mary de Castro originated as an unusually sumptuous castle chapel, founded as a collegiate establishment about 1107, by the first Robert de Beaumont. Portions of elaborate Norman work have survived a heavy Victorian restoration. The church stood within its own precinct, entered through the surviving timber-framed gatehouse.

Henry, the blind Earl of Lancaster, enlarged the castle in the 1330s. He added a large outer court known as the Newarke, enclosing a religious complex comparable to the lower ward of the Windsor Castle. The center of this complex was a second and larger collegiate church. This no longer survives but Trinity Hospital is still in use as an almshouse, preserving its chapel and infirmary arcades. Two gatehouses nearby are the only remnants of the defenses, both the legacy of a rebuilding program under the Lancastrian kings. Turret Gate, a simple ruin, led from the Newarke into the inner bailey.

Lincoln Castle

Castle and cathedral have faced each other across the hilltop since Norman times. Lincoln Castle was raised over the southwest quarter of the citadel by order of William the Conqueror in 1068. The site had previously been densely occupied – Domesday Book tells us that 166 houses were destroyed to make way for the castle. Its stonewall is mentioned as early as 1115 and Henry I is regarded as the likely builder.

The high curtain, still intact though frequently patched up in later centuries, preserves portions of herringbone masonry confirming its early Norman date. It stands on top of an earth rampart surrounding a large, roughly square bailey. A rare feature is the presence of not one but two mottes, both on the southern edge of the bailey. Why they should stand so close together is a mystery, since they seem to threaten each other from a defensive point of view. The larger motte is crowned by a polygonal shell keep known as the Lucy Tower, evidently a later Norman addition and possibly erected by the Earl of Chester, who held Lincoln for the Empress Matilda.

The smaller motte carries the so-called Observatory Tower, an early Norman structure extended in the fourteenth century and capped by a Victorian turret. Cobb Hall, a horseshoe-plan tower flanking the vulnerable northeast corner of the walled circuit, is a defensive improvement made after an unsuccessful siege by the Dauphin Louis’ supporters in 1217.

There are two gatehouses. The West gate, now blocked, is a simple Norman gate tower. The East Gate was re-fronted in the fourteenth century with a lofty gate arch and round turrets corbelled out higher up. Foundations of a barbican can be seen in front, but the courtyard extension of the gatehouse is another Victorian embellishment. It incorporates an oriel window from a medieval house in the city.