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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. Lincoln castle remains one of the most impressive Norman castles in the United Kingdom. It is still possible to walk around the immense Norman walls which provide a magnificent view of the castle complex, together with panoramic views of the cathedral, the city, and the surrounding countryside.
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 Domesday Survey of 1086 directly records 48 castles in England, with two in Lincolnshire including one in the county town. Building a castle within an existing settlement sometimes meant existing structures had to be removed, and of the castles noted in the Domesday Book, thirteen included references to property being destroyed to make way for the castle. In Lincoln’s case 166 “unoccupied residences” were pulled down to clear the area on which the castle would be built.
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 15 June 1215. After this, a new barbican was built onto the west and east gates.
Other medieval defensive works in Lincoln have been recorded, but are no longer extant.
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.
William Marwood, the 19th century hangman, carried out his first execution at Lincoln. He used the long drop, designed to break the victim's neck rather than to strangle him, to execute Fred Horry in 1872. Until 1868, prisoners were publicly hanged on the mural tower at the north-east corner of the curtain wall, overlooking the upper town.
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.
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. In 2012, a three-year programme of renovation began at the castle. Work involves creating a new exhibition centre in which to display Magna Carta, building visitor facilities, and opening sections of the prison within the castle to the public. The scheme is due to be completed in April 2015, to coincide with the 800th anniversary of the signing of Magna Carta.
Lincoln Castle is bounded by stone wall, with ditches on all sides except the south. From an early stage, the outer walls which enclose the site were built in stone and they date from before 1115. On the south side the walls are interrupted by two earthen mounds called mottes. One is in the south east corner, and was probably an original feature of William's the Conqueror's castle, while the other occupies the south west corner. A square tower stands on top of the first mound, standing above the outer walls to dominate the city of Lincoln. The second mound is crowned by the 'Lucy Tower', which was probably built in the 12th century and was named after Lucy of Bolingbroke, the Countess of Chester until 1138.
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.
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