Nottingham castle is located in an area known as “Castle Rock” with cliffs that are 130 feet high to the south and west. It was a major royal fortress and royal residence in the middle ages, however in 1649 it was largely demolished. Later on a large mansion was built on the site by the The Duke Of Newcastle, which was then burnt down in 1831 by rioters. It was later rebuilt and till present day it remains as an art gallery and museum for visitors. Little of the original castle remains, however you can still see the layout of the original site.
William the Conqueror ordered the original wooden castle to be built in 1068 two years after the Battle of Hastings. During the reigns of King Henry II the wooden structure was replaced with a more defensible stone structure containing royal apartments and a large outer bailey.
Due to the castle being located near a crossing of the River Trent, it was also known as a place of leisure. It was close to the royal hunting grounds at Tidswell and also close to royal forests of Barnsdale and Sherwood. It also has it’s own deer park and is still known as The Park.
Prince John and the Sheriff of Nottingham occupied the castle whilst King Richard I was away on the third crusade. Legend says the final showdown between the sheriff and Robin Hood (heroic outlaw) took place at Nottingham Castle.
In 1194 a battle took place at Nottingham Castle to overthrow Prince John. King Richard used machinery similar to the ones used in the crusade. The castle surrendered after just a few days.
On October 1330 King Edward III with the help of Sir William Montagu staged a coup d’etat at Nottingham Castle against his mother Isabella of France and her lover Roger Mortimer. It is believed Isabella ordered the murder of King Edward II and became regent on behalf of her son Edward III. On 19th October 1330 William Montagu was accompanied by William Eland entered a secret tunnel, climbed up to a door which was either unlocked by Edward III or a trusted servant. Mortimer’s personal guards were killed and Mortimer was arrested along with Isabella of France. Mortimer was held in the Tower of London and was executed a month later. Isabella of France lost her regency and was put under house arrest for two years.
In 1365 Edward III ordered a new tower to be built on the west side and a prison under the High Tower. He used the castle as a residence and regularly held parliaments.
Richard II held the state council in 1387 and the last visit recorded was in 1397 for another council.
Henry IV’s queen Joan used Nottingham Castle as a main residence between 1403 and 1437. Nottingham Castle was again used as a military strong hold in the Wars of the Roses. In 1476 King Edward IV ordered a construction of new royal apartments and a new tower.
The castle remained as a royal fortress during the reign of King Henry VII and before his visit in 1511 he ordered new tapestries for the castle. He also had had the castle reinforced by 1536 and increased the number of soldiers from a dozen to a few hundred men.
By 1600 the castle stopped being used as royal residence and a short time following the beginning of the civil war the site was in a semi ruined state after a number of clashes on the site. In 1642 Charles I used Nottingham Castle as a place to rally his troops but soon after he departed the parliamentarians made castle rock defensible again. In 1648 commander Marmaduke Langdale was held at Nottingham Castle following the defeat in the Battle of Preston but he escaped to Europe. Two years after the execution of Charles I in 1649 the castle was prevented from being used again.
Between 1674 and 1679 the present ‘Ducal Mansion’ was built by Henry Cavendish, 2nd Duke of Newcastle. Beneath the mansion some rock cut cellars and medieval pointed arches remain together with a long passage to the bottom of the rock, known as Mortimers’s Hole. Guided tours take place through this passage starting at the Castle and ending at Brewhouse Yard.
The mansion was designed by Samuel Marsh of Lincoln and it’s thought the design was influenced by Rubens’s engravings, in his book Palazzi di Genova.
During the industrial revolution the mansion lost its appeal to the later Dukes and Nottingham was left with reputation of having the worse slumps in the British Empire outside India. The mansion was burnt down following riots which were started by the residents of slumps in 1831. The riots were in protest against The Duke of Newcastle opposition to the reform Act 1832.
The exterior stairs of the mansion were demolished to accommodate a parade ground for the Robin Hood Rifles.
Thomas Chamber Hine restored the mansion in 1875 and was reopened in 1878 by the Prince of Wales as Nottingham Castle Museum.
The medieval castle’s gatehouse and majority of the walls of the outer bailey were retained as a garden wall for the Ducal mansion. In 1830’s a road was constructed for the development of The Park Estate which resulted in the loss the northernmost part of the outer bailey.
On 25th December 1996 a leaking water main caused a landslip which resulted in 80 tonnes of earth and the retaining wall from the restoration terrace to fall to the bottom of the castle rock. The terrace was later reinstated with a traditional stone facade offering great views to the south of the city.
John Player & Sons used drawings of the Ducal Mansion on their rolling tobacco packets and cigarettes.
Nottingham Castle Museum
The Ducal Mansion is used as a museum and art gallery. It houses City of Nottingham’s fine and decorative art collections, galleries on the history of archaeology and regimental museum of Sherwood Foresters.
As of July 2018 the castle will be closed for 2 years for a £30 million redevelopment.