Monday, October 24, 2011

Nottingham Castle

With no mention of a Nottingham Castle in the Doomsday Book, there is some debate as to when the castle was first built. The Romans may have occupied the hill as there are historic references to a "strong tower" or "Caesar's Tower" still standing here in the 8th Century. Following the invasion of 600 AD the town was named Snottingham ("home of Snot's people"), after the Anglo-Saxon chieftain Snot (meaning "the wise"). Whether the Anglo Saxons were involved in significant new construction or not is unclear, but there is speculation that the old Roman tower was used as a place for negotiations between Saxons and Danes.

In the 11th century the invading Normans met fierce resistance from the Anglo-Saxons in Nottingham, leading to a stalemate between two settlements: The "French Borough" , between Castle Rock and Market Square, and the "English Borough", between St Mary's and Goose Gate. William the Conqueror ordered the building of a Motte & Bailey Castle here in 1067, forcing the town's occupants to assist with the task, and bringing the timbers in from Thieves Wood / Harlow Wood. The 130 feet red sandstone cliff, within easy access of the River Trent, presented obvious military potential. The Normans built approximately 500 such castles across England in the first 20 years after the conquest to keep the Saxons in their place. In the winter of 1069 / 70, William carried out the notorious "Harrying (Harrowing) of the North", burning lands and replacing Anglo-Saxon lords with Normans. An estimated 100,000 died as a result, mostly from starvation. One popular theory in several films about Robin Hood is that Robin was motivated by the confiscation of his property. Had Robin been a Saxon Yeoman during the Harrying he may have owned a small amount of land, and would certainly have been expected to defend that of his superiors. Even as a descendant of such aggrieved land owners, Robin Hood's avowed dislike of "bishops, archbishops, and the Sheriff of Nottingham" (persons he may have perceived to benefit from Norman rule), might be explained in this way. But all this is just enjoyable speculation, and it should be noted that, unlike the movies, the old ballads make no mention of Robin Hood being so foolish as to enter the castle itself!

In the 12th century King Henry II ordered a stone Castle to be built here as his main Royal fortress in the Midlands, in close proximity to the leisurely pursuits of the hunting lodges of Sherwood Forest, and with its own deer park to the west, still known as The Park. That Castle began to fall derelict during King Richard's absence in the Crusades. (It may possibly have been occupied by the Sheriff of Nottingham at this time, but was never the Sheriff's normal place of business.) Supporters of Prince John captured Nottingham Castle in 1194, only to lose it again when Richard returned from Jerusalem with his "siege machines" and took it back.

In 1330 Edward 3rd staged a coupe here against his mother Isabella of France, thus gaining the throne. In 1346 King David 2nd of Scotland was held a prisoner here. In the early 15th century Nottingham Castle was the main residence of Henry IV's wife, Joan. During the 15th century Wars of the Roses, Nottingham Castle again became a military stronghold. Edward IV proclaimed himself King here in 1476. It remained a royal fortress during the reign of King Henry VII, when the castle was further reinforced and its garrison increased from a few dozen soldiers to a few hundred. But by 1600 it had stopped being a royal residence, and would have been unable to withstand 16th century developments in artillery. Though fast becoming a ruin, Nottingham Castle was the site where Charles 1st rallied his armies at the start of the English Civil War. However, no sooner had he departed than the Parliamentarians took it over. When Charles was executed the castle was burnt to the ground, effectively destroying its royal connections forever.

The first "ducal mansion" (i.e., Duke's Mansion), was built by Henry Cavendish, the 2nd Duke of Newcastle, between 1674 and 1679 on the foundations of the previous castle. But as Nottingham thrived during the Industrial Revolution, the mansion fell from favour with those Dukes deterred by the presence of the city’s slums. Much of that mansion was destroyed by fire as protesters rioted against the Duke of Newcastle's opposition to the 1832 Reform Act. The present mansion, which will ever be affectionately known as Nottingham Castle, is the result of an 1875 restoration. Some of the original stone castle's features still remain, including "Mortimer's Hole" (a passage from the upper medieval bailey to the rocks beneath), the foundations of the "Black Tower" (King Richard Tower), and traces of the bailey wall with its two round towers and large gatehouse (mostly of Edwardian reconstruction).
For information and video about the terrible Curse on Nottingham Castle see THIS LINK. For more about Robin Hood see THIS LINK. For more about the Sheriff of Nottingham see THESE LINKS.

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