A short history of Nottingham Castle
It’s 180 years to the day since Nottingham Castle was almost destroyed by fire. With such a momentous date in mind, I thought I’d write a brief history of this famous place.
Nottingham Castle will forever be associated with Robin Hood but there’s far more to the story that is at the heart of English history and heritage. For centuries Nottingham Castle has been a key stronghold for Kings and Queen’s in their efforts to control and rule the country.
The first castle was built in 1067 shortly after the invasion of William the Conqueror. It was a wooden structure but just three years later it was rebuilt in stone. It remained under the ownership of the monarchy, from the House of Normandy through to the House of Plantagenet when Henry II took the throne from King Stephen.
Henry was quickly followed by Richard I, Richard the Lionheart, and we enter the time of the Robin Hood legend. During his reign, Richard spent much of his time trying to appease his younger brother, John’s, ambitions.
When Richard left to fight the Crusades without an heir to the throne, John seized his chance to try and claim control of England. Although John had been given control over Nottinghamshire (including Sherwood Forest), he hadn’t been granted permission for control of Nottingham Castle. With Richard away, John took the castle.
It was in 1194 when Richard returned from the crusades to find England virtually under his younger brother’s control that he took action to reclaim it. Using siege tactics, Richard was able to reclaim the Nottingham Castle from soldiers loyal to John and it became the only time in the castle’s history that the castle fell to an attacking army.
The castle continued to be a key residency for royalty but evidence suggests that by the time of Henry VIII it had fallen into decline. James I sold the castle to the Earl of Rutland and very soon afterwards the castle was at the heart of English history.
In 1642, James I son, Charles I was faced with growing discontent with his rule. The very personal rule of the monarchy was under fire from parliament which at this time was not a permanent structure but a temporary body of landed gentry that advised the King and helped raise taxes.
Among an increasingly tense backdrop of war in Europe, religious conflict, and debt, Charles I came to Nottingham Castle and raised his royal standard to demonstrate his authority and effectively started the Civil War.
Ironically, shortly after Charles I left Nottingham, the Castle fell into Parliamentarian hands and remained in their control throughout the war. The Royalist troops based out in Newark tried to regain this strategic stronghold many times but could never succeed.
Nottinghamshire remained at the centre of the English Civil War when in 1646, following a night at what is now the Saracen’s Head in Southwell, Charles I surrendered to the Scots in Kelham.
After the execution of the King, the original Nottingham Castle was destroyed much to the apparent frustration of Oliver Cromwell. It wasn’t until 1679 that the current building was constructed for the Duke of Newcastle.
We then have to jump forward to 1831 for the next big episode in the Castle’s history. In the early 19 century, industrialisation was putting pressure on the way England was governed. Whilst Parliament was now a prominent feature, vast amounts of people didn’t have the right to vote.
In 1831 the Whig Government won the General Election promising, electoral reform and put forward a Reform Bill. The House of Lords were deeply opposed to change at this time and it created huge conflict. When the second Reform Bill was turned down by the House of Lords it triggered riots across the country.
Nottingham Castle’s owner the then current Duke of Newcastle was a prominent Lord opposed to reform and rioters took out their vengeance by looting the castle and setting it on fire. He was eventually paid £21,000 to restore the building but kept the money and didn’t do anything.
In 1878 the castle was finally in the hands of Nottingham City Council who opened it as a museum and art gallery to the general public and it remains so today.
All in all an amazing history and this is indeed the brief version. Visit the castle and explore the art that’s available today and take in the tremendous view from the castle terrace. You’ll then begin to see why this special place has been at the centre of British History for nearly 1,000 years.