Centuries prior to the building of the Norman castle, the Romans had built a legionary fortress on the hill overlooking the River Witham.
The Normans created a motte and bailey castle here in 1068. Stone castle walls were erected by the end of the 11th century, replacing the original wooden palisade and a stone keep was also added shortly afterwards.
In 1141, Lincoln was the site of a battle ‘The Joust of Lincoln’ in the war between Stephen and Matilda for the English throne. King Stephen was captured during the battle and was held for some months before being exchanged for Matilda’s half-brother. Stephen went on to win the war and established himself firmly as England’s King.
It was beseiged 1191 and again in 1217 during the troubles between King John and the Barons and the castle held on both occasions under the control of its formidable constable, Lady Nicola de la Haye. It was also beseiged in 1644 when it was held by Royalists against the Parliamentarian forces although on this occasion it was forced to surrender.
In 1788 a prison block was built within the castle holding both criminals and debtors. In 1826 a courthouse building was added to the castle interior and in 1848 the criminal part of the jail was demolished and a new prison was built to hold short term prisoners awaiting trial at the Lincoln courts. This prison was one of the first to use the ‘separate system’ in which prisoners had their own cells. However, due to the number of prisoners who needed to be housed this was soon abandoned. The prison closed in 1878, just 30 years after its opening.
Today the prison and the castle walls are open to the public. In a specially designed vault in the castle grounds, it is also possible to see a number of ancient documents including Lincoln’s copy of Magna Carta.