The castle at Nottingham was first built by William the Conqueror, who in his usual way built a wooden enclosure on high ground. Nottingham Castle was the main Norman fortress in the Midlands. From then on Nottingham Castle became a focus of national divisions and tensions, in the way that castles usually do. The castle was rebuilt in stone by Henry II, and was squabbled over by his famously argumentative sons. Henry's son Richard used siege tactics to take the castle from his brother John. Then in 1330 the castle was involved in Edward III's struggle for his throne. Visitors to the castle can take a tour of a passage that leads down to tunnels that run through Castle Rock. Edward III entered the castle through tunnels from the Trip To Jerusalem inn at the base of Castle Rock, to arrest Roger Mortimer his mother's lover. Mortimer and Edward's mother, Queen Isabella, had murdered Edward's father, Edward II, and established themselves as rulers. Mortimer was captured in Nottingham Castle's royal apartments, and was subsequently hanged at Tyburn. Since that time the passage taken by Edward to carry out Mortimer's arrest has been known as Mortimer's Hole.
In 1485 it was from Nottingham Castle that Richard III left for Bosworth, where he was killed in battle with Henry Tudor, who became Henry VII. Then in 1642 it was outside the walls of Nottingham Castle that Charles I raised his standard and the English Civil War began. Ironically for most of the war Nottingham Castle was in Parliament's hands, and it was an order from Parliament following their final victory that led to the original castle's demolition in 1651.
Following the restoration of the monarchy in 1660 big and expensive houses were back in favour. William Cavendish, 1st Duke of Newcastle, started to build the mansion we see at Nottingham Castle today. The work was finished by his son in 1678. But still the castle was to be the focus of national tensions. In 1831 the building was attacked by rioters following the Duke of Newcastle's opposition to parliamentary reform, and sat as a ruin for forty five years. It wasn't until 1878 that the mansion was rebuilt for use as a museum and art gallery. When the gallery opened in 1878 it was the first municipal art gallery and museum outside London.
As a footnote to the tensions that have swirled around Nottingham Castle through history, the legend of Robin Hood should be mentioned. Tales of Robin Hood have been told in various forms for over seven hundred years, but they generally place him in Nottingham. In his early incarnations Robin is seen as a threatening figure. In Langland's Piers Plowman he is mentioned in this negative way. By 1528 William Tyndale, the famous sixteenth century printer of the Bible, was still warning against the dangers of the Robin Hood story. But then things slowly began to change. By the 1800s Robin Hood had become something of a cult, written about by writers such as Keats and Walter Scott. He lived in Sherwood Forest, stealing from the rich and giving to the poor. Robin had become a figure of "natural justice". Our view of the natural world had changed. From an attitude of fear, man's control of nature had brought about an equal and opposite reaction, to the point where nature became a cult and a source of good. Gaia becomes a goddess, and Robin Hood, living in the forest, leading a life close to nature with his merrie men, dispensing simple and natural justice, becomes a hero. His enemy is the evil Sheriff of Nottingham who lives in splendor at Nottingham Castle. The story of Robin Hood thus became fitted to modern times. The struggle surrounding our relationship with nature is perhaps the central struggle of the modern world, and fittingly after centuries as a focus for tensions, Nottingham Castle now has a statue of Robin Hood outside its walls.
Opening Times: Please use contact details below.
Address: Off Friar Lane, Nottingham NG1 6EL
Directions: Take the A6005 into Nottingham. There is a multistorey car park in Castle Road which is just off the A6005 next to the castle. Click here for an interactive map centred on Nottingham Castle.
Access: Wheelchair access is good, and there is parking on site for visitors with disabilities only. Cave tours are physically challenging and for the able bodied only.
telephone: 0115 915 3700.