Thursday, 20 June 2013

Nottingham - Castle

On Monday I went to Nottingham for a visit of its castle and the museum.

  • 11th century: In 1068, two years after the Battle of Hastings, William the Conquerer builds a timber castle high on a natural outcrop of rock. It controls the important route to the North that passes through Nottingham, one of the few places where it is possible to cross the River Trent.
  • 12th century: King Henry II replaces the timber walls and buildings in the Upper and Middle Baileys, two of the defensible areas within the castle, with stone ones.
  • 13th century: King Henry II rebuilds the Outer Bailey wall and the gatehouse in stone. He transformes the castle´s accomodation and creates a royal palace. Here the kings of England hold court and Parliament meets. The castle becomes one of the greatest in England, comparable to those at Windsor, London and Dover.
  • 14th century: King Edward III carries out an expensive repair and re-building programme, making the castle even more impregnable. In 1315 the people of Nottingham attack and besiege the castle for eight days to free one of the townspeople unlawfully imprisoned here by the castle Constable.
  • 15th century: King Edward IV creates another magnificient royal palace by building new apartements within the Middle Bailey. In 1485 King Richard III marches out of Nottingham Castle with his army to Bosworth Field and his death at the hands of Henry Tudor.
  • 16th century: Under the Tudor monarchs increasing political stability means that great, heavily defended castles are no longer required and Nottingham Castle falls into "decay and ruyne".
  • 17th century: King James I sells the castle to the Earl of Rutland. He strips it of its fittings, allowing further decay. In 1642 the Civil War starts in Nottingham when King Charles I raises his Royal Standard here and defies Parliament. The castle becomes a Roundhead stronghold and parts of the defences are repaired. After the Civil War Parliament orders the destruction of the castle. In 1663, following the restoration of King Charles II, William Cavendish, the first Duke of Newcastle-Upon-Tyne, buys the castle site. Eleven years later he clears away the remains of the medieval castle and builds the magnificient mansion the shell of which now stands at the top of the castle rock.
  • 18th century: The Duke´s mansion is not lived in and is neglected, becoming a "magnificient palace, languishing in a premature state of decay and desertion", with "dreary inhabited apartements".
  • 19th century: In 1831 the mansion is deliberately set on fire during the Reform Bill riots. The tapestries and furnishings are looted and sold to bystanders. The fire is so hot that the roof pours down in a stream of molten lead. Two mutilated bodies are found in the smoking ruins. The mansion remains an empty shell for forty years until aquired by Nottingham Corporation. In 1878 the first municipal art museum outside of London opens to the public.

The gatehouse was strongly fortified to control the approach to the Middle Bailey. It was first built in stone in the late 12th century when King Henry II replaced the earlier timber structure. Later the entrance to the gatehouse was strenghtened and it had a long narrow passage containing a series of portcullises and gates and a tower.

In front of the gatehouse and crossing the dry moat was a timber drawbridge that could be let down over the gap between the stone piers. These are the only surviving parts of the gatehouse, the drawbridge having been replaced by a modern arch. In the 16th century a traveller noted that the approach to the gatehouse was a stately bridge adorned with statues of heraldic beasts and of two giants that symbolised the defiant strength of the castle.

The Royal Apartements in the Upper Bailey were used by the English monarchs during their visits to the castle. There were seperate suites of rooms, one for the King and another for the Queen. These suites were at first floor level and consisted of reception rooms, a chapel and a bed chamber. Beneath them in the cellars were storerooms for wine and grain and a kitchen. There was also a bakehouse and wells cut through the castle rock. The apartements were grouped around a garden in the open courtyard. In the 13th century King Henry III had the apartements thoroughly overhauled for his new bride. He put timber panelling on the walls and the rooms were replastered and decorated with painted borders and scenes. New windows were inserted and iron torch holders provided for light at night. There was more building activity in the 14th century when King Edward II designed new rooms to replace some that had been damaged by fire.

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