I love the school holidays. My son and I always find something historical to explore. Today, it was Lincoln Castle.
The Castle only reopened on the 1st April, 2015, after an extensive revamp. And it was teeming with visitors (apparently it was the quietest day since they reopened, so the last week must have been incredibly hectic for the staff).
Lincoln Castle was started by William the Conqueror in 1068 and has been in constant use ever since. You can follow its history, just by looking at the buildings that occupy the Inner Bailey. In its time, it has been a military fortification, a Victorian prison and is now home to Lincoln’s Crown Court – and the Magna Carta!
Lincoln Cathedral’s Magna Carta is one of only four surviving originals. It is now on display in an impressive purpose-built, underground vault. The Magna Carta is accompanied by an original copy of the 1217 Charter of the Forest.
There is a 20-minute video, with a very believable King John and the great William Marshal, discussing the Magna Carta and explaining its inception and significance through the centuries.
The Magna Carta Vault is a modern addition, adjoining the imposing Victorian prison. In its day, the prison was an innovation in the harshness punishment; the prisoners were held in solitary confinement for 24 hours a day.
There was no relief from the solitude, even when attending church services; the prison chapel was constructed in a way that each prisoner could see the priest, but could have no contact with his fellow prisoners. The chapel gives me the creeps everytime I visit it. I have a thing about dummies, but it’s also the thought of all those prisoners only able to see the one person, in the pulpit; cut off from society and each other.
The prison included some wonderful interactive displays, with the opportunity to read the diaries of the priest, the wardens and prisoners. Kids can dress-up as prisoners or wardens, explore the separate male and female prisons, and watch videos of the inmates, explaining their crimes – and pleading their innocence!
The Castle grounds give you the sense of the thousand years of history its walls have witnessed.
It was at Lincoln that King Stephen was captured by forces loyal to the Empress Matilda, during the civil war – the Anarchy – that followed the death of Henry I (when Matilda and Stephen both claimed the throne).
Henry VIII and Catherine Howard had visited Lincoln Castle during their northern progress of 1541, shortly before Catherine’s infidelities were uncovered.
You can now walk the whole length of the walls – a third of a mile, though it can feel longer, with all the steps. You can climb the narrow spiral staircase to the top of the Observatory Tower – and take in the whole view of Lincoln, its Cathedral and the Fens.
The Lucy Tower contains within its walls a small cemetery, where executed prisoners, and those who died of disease, were buried.
The West Gate is a little piece of history in itself; opened to William Marshal’s troops during the Second Battle of Lincoln, by the castle’s castellan, Nicholaa de la Haye, whilst the castle was under siege from the army of Louis of France, who had been invited to take England by King John’s disaffected barons. The Dauphin was defeated shortly after, outside the Castle’s walls, and returned to France.
Another memento from history, within the Inner Bailey, is the remnant of Lincoln’s Eleanor Cross. Eleanor of Castile was just 7 miles from Lincoln when she died in 1290 and Lincoln’s Eleanor Cross is the first marker of her funeral procession, which ended at Westminster Abbey. Eleanor’s viscera (her intestines) were buried in Lincoln Cathedral, while her embalmed body was transported to London, an elaborate cross being erected at each stopping place along the way.
The Castle has not forgotten its younger visitors, with a little treasure trail and quiz, based on King John’s loss of the Crown Jewels in the Wash.
The prize was well worth winning – chocolate coins from the Victorian Kitchen. And ‘thank you’ to the Victorian lady, who insisted all children pay a 1 coin tax to their parents out of their winnings – very tasty!
Whether you choose to explore by yourself, take the guided tour or simply bask in the sun of the Bailey, Lincoln Castle is a wonderful day out – for the young and old alike – I can highly recommend it.
My book, Heroines of the Medieval World, looking into the lives of some of the most fascinating women from medieval history, will be published by Amberley on 15th September, 2017. It is now available for pre-order in the UK from both Amberley Publishing and Amazon and worldwide from Book Depository.
All pictures are copyright to Sharon Bennett Connolly, 2015, except the Magna Carta, which is courtesy of Wikipedia.
For further information, visit http://www.lincolncastle.com
©2015 Sharon Bennett Connolly