The future King Henry II, son of Matilda, laid siege to Nottingham Castle in 1153. The constable, William Peveril, in an attempt at depriving Henry’s soldiers, used the secret tunnels under the Castle and set fire to the town. But Henry made no attempt to capture the Castle, realizing according to a contemporary account:
“………………….that it could not be taken by storm, or well supplied as it was, starved into submission, the site being by nature impregnable, he abandoned the futile task.”
After his Coronation in 1154, Henry II commenced to re-build the town of Nottingham and it’s Castle. Peveril, disguised as a monk, fled first to his monastery at Lenton and then abroad when the king arrived in Nottingham in 1155. New fortifications began to be set up around the town and strong gates at major points were erected. Their names still survive today, Barker Gate, Bridlesmith Gate, Castle Gate, Lister Gate, St Mary’s Gate, St Peter’s Gate and Warser Gate. Also a massive portcullis slung between two drum towers was erected at the West of Nottingham town, known as Chapel Bar.
In the ballad Robin Hood and the Monk, a ‘gret-hedid munke’ discovers Robin Hood praying in St Mary’s Church. He runs out to inform the sheriff and on the way:
Alle the gatis of Notyngham
He made to be sparred* everychon. *barred
In 1171 the castles defences were greatly improved by the replacing of the wooden palisade enclosing the middle bailey with a high stone wall, adding a great square tower over the gateway and a new stone drawbridge over the Middle Moat. Masonry began to replace timber. The living accommodation in the Upper Bailey was improved by the construction of several new buildings, including the ‘‘King’s Chamber’ and the ‘King’s Bed Chamber’
Henry called parliament in 1172 at his ‘Royal Castle’ of Nottingham. But to improve things for future meetings of the ‘King’s Council of Barons’, he ordered, at a cost of £250, a Great Hall in the centre of the Middle Bailey. It was to be a substantial building with aisles, like a great church, large enough for the holding of Parliaments and various entertainments.
During Stephen’s reign (1135-1154) Forest Law and administration had collapsed. Henry claimed back all the land Henry I owned as Forest and afforested even more. The area of Royal Forest reached its greatest extant during this period. It was said about Henry II:
“He was addicted to the chase beyond measure; at crack of dawn he was off on horseback, traversing waste lands, penetrating forests and climbing the mountain tops, and so he passed restless days.”
Henry had a house built at the castle for ‘the King’s falcons’ and at Clipstone in Sherwood Forest, the Royal Hunting Lodge began to be re-built in stone and appears to have replaced Mansfield as the favored accommodation. It later became known as King John’s Palace and eventually spread over an area of at least two acres, with a large fish pond. It was during one of his frequent hunting trips in ‘Scirwurda’ (Sherwood) that Henry met Eustace, the holy hermit of Papplewick which eventually resulted in the founding of Newstead Abbey.
In June 1174, while Henry was in France dealing with the ‘Revolt’ of his sons, William de Ferrers, Earl of Derby raided Nottingham. William was one of the earls who had joined the rebellion, led by Henry’s eldest son, ‘Henry the Younger’. The king had denied William and his father the title ‘Earl of Derby’ since the days of their support for King Stephen. So Nottingham bore the brunt of his fury. The town was over run at the first onslaught, some of the people were cut down, others taken prisoner. Then the rebels ransacked the houses, fired them and rode away. De Ferrers was taken prisoner by the King at Northampton a month later, but let off lightly and lived on to meet a Crusaders death with Richard I at the Siege of Acre in 1190.
In France, Henry tried to satisfy his sons with a redistribution of estates. Prince John received an increased share and was granted the castles of Nottingham and Marlborough, together with the then substantial allowance of a thousand pounds.
Back in England, in August 1175, King Henry II rode into Nottingham in a fit of rage, accusing the local nobility and gentry of breaking his Forest Laws. His Chief Justicar, Richard de Lucy, spoke up showing letters the king had left, instructing the forests and fishponds to be open while he was away. But Henry’s legendary temper did not improve; when he was shown the actual letters, he ignored them.
Henry II died at Chinon on 6th July 1189. Richard I succeeded his father and crossed to England on 13th August . He granted the former Peveril estates to his brother John, but excluded Nottingham Castle from the grant. This was to enable Richard’s government to retain some control over his territories and he reserved to himself the most important castles within them.
“By this time the “keep” [at Nottingham Castle] would be a large square stone tower of at least three storeys in height—a living room or hall on the ground-floor, with solar above, and dungeons and store rooms beneath (a good example—another of William Peveril’s strongholds —may be seen in the remains of Peak Castle, at Castleton). The entrance—high above the ground— was reached by a wooden staircase or by a spiral staircase in the thickness of the stone wall, carefully guarded by a portcullis and drawbridge. The kitchens and outbuildings would still be built of wood; the whole surrounded by stone walls and a moat, over which was thrown a drawbridge defended by a barbican tower and gateway.”
(A Short History of Nottingham Castle - Harry Gill)
During the absence of Richard on Crusade, William de Longchamp, Bishop of Ely, was entrusted with administration of the country, which angered Prince John who resented this appointment as he wished it for himself.
A quarrel broke out between the two and Longchamp dispossessed John of Nottingham Castle and granted it to William Earl of Pembroke. Prince John immediately gathered a small army in April 1191 and after a short siege re-gained possession. After negotiations Roger de Lacy, the Constable of Chester, was eventually installed in the Castle. But he immediately tried to bring about the death of Roger de Crokstone, who had held the castle for Prince John. Roger de Lacy was unsuccessful however and Prince John, in revenge seized de Lacy’s estates and harried his lands. Ralph Murdoc then became constable of Nottingham Castle and Justice Itinerant.
Three times Prince John had to hand over Nottingham Castle. Twice he was induced to give it up and it was in his hands when he heard of Richard’s capture.
© Clement of the Glen 2008-2009
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