Looking for information on the Battles of Lincoln? Try First Battle of Lincoln (1141) or Second Battle of Lincoln (1217).

Strategically sited on high ground overlooking the River Witham, Lincoln was originally established by the Romans as a Legionary Fortress and later it was converted into a colony for veterans. Following the Norman Conquest, the earlier defences were adapted into Lincoln Castle and Town Walls. Key battles were fought in the vicinity during the Anarchy and the First Barons' Wars.



The Romans


Sited on top of a steep escarpment overlooking an otherwise low-lying landscape, Lincoln dominates the surrounding countryside. Coupled with its proximity to the Brayford Pool, originally a broad water where the Rivers Till and Witham converged, it was immediately recognised by the Romans as a strategic location. They established a Legionary fortress on the site as a base for the Ninth Legion (Legio IX Hispana) around AD 60. At the time this was their northernmost Legion with the land beyond controlled by the pro-Roman Brigantes tribe who formed a buffer between the empire and the Caledonian tribes in modern day Scotland. The fortress was an earth and timber construction capable of garrisoning around 5,000 troops and enclosed 41 acres. It was configured in a traditional Roman layout with a Headquarters building and Commanding Officer’s house in the centre of the site surrounded by workshops, barracks and granaries. Ermine Street, the Roman road from London, ran north/south through the fort whilst Fosse Way, the road to Exeter and the first Roman 'frontier' in Britain, ran south-west. It is likely that the Ninth Legion used this base to mount operations against the troublesome tribes in the Peak District.


Around AD 70 the Ninth Legion moved north to York and were replaced by the Second Adiutrix Legion (Legio II Adiutrix Pia Fidelis). This force, which had only been founded the previous year, occupied the site until AD 79 when they were withdrawn to form part of General Agricola’s assault on modern day Scotland. However, despite this withdrawal the fortress at Lincoln was left intact and, by the late first century AD, had been converted into a colony for retiring veterans from the army. Known as Lindum Colonia, the site was vastly expanded from the former confines of the Roman fort and eventually extended down to the waterfront. The town continued to grow and, aided by the construction of the Fossdyke (a canal connecting the Rivers Witham and Trent) in AD 120, became one of the most important Roman settlements in Britain. When, in the early fourth century, the province was sub-divided into four administrative areas, Lincoln became the district capital of Britannia Secunda. Over the long occupation of this colony the defences of the town were enhanced and rebuilt in stone – predominantly to serve as a status symbol rather than to meet any defensive requirement.

The remains of the East Gate of the Roman colony.

After the Romans


Roman administration in Britain came to an end in the early fifth century and Lincoln went into decline although archaeological evidence suggests it remained occupied. As the Vikings started to dominate northern England in the ninth century AD, Lincoln once again became a major settlement with its position on the River Witham supporting a thriving overseas trade. By the time of the Norman invasion the town had a substantial community.


The Normans


William I established a castle at Lincoln, one of numerous Royal constructions, as part of his campaign to suppress a wide-scale revolt in the north in the years immediately following the Norman invasion. He built a motte, now occupied by Lucy Tower, in the south-west corner of the Roman Legionary fort around 1068. The entire enclosure of the former Roman fort, by then referred to as the upper town, was reused as the bailey; the Domesday survey of 1086 records that 166 plots of land stood empty "destroyed on account of the castle". This vast enclosure was huge compared to other motte-and-baileys and, whilst it would initially have been ideal for garrisoning William's army, as his mercenaries were paid off it would have been regarded as too big to be defensible – the Normans lacked the sheer scale of military manpower available to the Romans. However, the Normans re-assigned the surplus cleared area to Lincoln Cathedral as large scale religious buildings were as much a part of their mechanics for securing control as castles. Work started on the cathedral in 1072 and the site evolved over the centuries eventually being surrounded by its own defensive wall with ten different gates.

The Lucy Tower was built on top of the eleventh century motte.

New Castle


By the late eleventh century, with work on the Cathedral well underway, the castle was rebuilt in stone occupying a smaller footprint. The newly built curtain wall carved out a smaller bailey, forging the outline of the fortification seen today. This new enclosure occupied a mere sixth of the former Legionary Fortress. The East and West gates were also added at this time with the former guarded by a second motte, smaller than the first. The original motte was topped with a new stone built Keep, the Lucy Tower.


The twelfth century also saw a second castle, Thorngate Castle, built in the south-east corner of the former Roman Colony defences near the River Witham. This fortification had a short life - built circa-1141 and out of  use by 1151.

The Observatory Tower was built upon a second motte in the twelfth century.

First Battle of Lincoln (1141)


Henry I died in 1135 without leaving a male heir and, although the leading magnates of the realm had sworn to support his daughter Matilda, the country immediately slipped into civil war over the succession. A significant portion of the nobility supported Stephen of Blois, a grandson of William I, and Lincoln Castle was initially held for him. However, it was cunningly taken by Ranulf de Tailebois, Earl of Chester on behalf of Matilda. Selecting a time when the garrison was widely dispersed around the country, he sent his wife to the castle under the pretence of a friendly visit. Later Ranulf and three Knights arrived, seemingly to escort her home, at which point they dispatched the guards and enabled an armed force to enter and take the castle. Stephen, alerted by loyal members of the populace, sped north and quickly captured the town including a number of Knights who were quartered there. Ranulf himself was in the castle which was besieged by the King. Despite this, Ranulf managed to escape and went to seek support from his father-in-law Robert, Earl of Gloucester. He deployed with a large force resulting in a full scale engagement, the First Battle of Lincoln, being fought outside the town walls. Known as the 'Joust of Lincoln', as many of the magnates started the battle on horseback expecting to fight a non-lethal melee with lances rather than swords, it ended in the defeat of the Royalist force and the capture then imprisonment of Stephen.


After the Anarchy


Stephen was released later that year but was ultimately compelled to recognise Ranulf as Constable of Lincoln Castle. The civil war itself ended when the succession was settled on Matilda's son, Henry II. Despite Ranulf's support for Matilda's cause, the new King appointed Richard de Haye as Constable and it then passed through marriage to Gerald de Canville.


Siege of 1191


Gerald was still in post when Richard I came to the throne in 1189. During the King's absence on the Third Crusade, Gerald supported Prince John in his power struggle with William Longchamps, Lord Chancellor. Lincoln Castle was besieged by William and, under the command of Gerald's wife Nicola, held out for 40 days. A negotiated peace led to the castle being surrendered on the condition that Gerald retained his post as Constable. However, when Richard I returned to England in 1194, Gerald was removed and heavily fined. He was restored to his posts in 1199 when John became King.


King John


John's reign was marked by military failure abroad - Normandy and the continental possessions were all lost - and political destabilisation in England. Relations came to a head in June 1215 when the King was compelled to seal Magna Carta - an attempted peace treaty to prevent civil war. Yet no sooner had he agreed to its terms, the King sought a Papal dispensation to annul the document. Despite having spent years plundering the church, John was reconciled with the Pope when he made England and Ireland fiefs of the papacy. Accordingly the Pontiff enthusiastically supported the King and wrote to those magnates who had supported Magna Carta ordering them to restore their full homage to the King. However, reconciliation was now impossible and England descended into the First Barons' War. This started with a surprisingly successful military campaign launched by King John prompting the opposing Barons to invite Prince Louis of France to invade and take the English throne. He landed in England in May 1216.


Second Battle of Lincoln (1217)


King John died in October 1216, perhaps his most useful contribution to the Kingdom, and was followed by his nine year old son, Henry III. William Marshal, Earl of Pembroke was assigned as Regent and successfully reconciled the monarchy with many of the previously hostile barons. Nevertheless, forces for Prince Louis - under the command of Thomas, Count of Perche - attacked Lincoln in May 1217. The town quickly fell but the castle resisted. William Marshal mustered his forces and moved to intercept resulting in the Second Battle of Lincoln, fought on the 20 May 1217, in which the French were defeated.

During the Second Battle of Lincoln, William Marshal led his forces into the town through Newport Arch (North Gate)

Civil War: Third Siege


In 1224 money was spent repairing the castle from the damage sustained during the siege seven years earlier. This included upgrades to Lucy Tower and the installation of a (now demolished) barbican for the East Gate. However, by the fourteenth century Lincoln went into a marked decline particularly when nearby Boston lost its lucrative wool staple, a Royal grant that allowed only certain ports to export wool, in 1353. This significantly reduced trade through Lincoln and, with the downscaled economic activity, the castle was allowed to drift into a dilapidated state


Civil War


After two centuries of decline and increasing irrelevance, Lincoln became a strategic site again during the seventeenth century Civil War. The town was situated between the Parliamentary stronghold of East Anglia and the Royalist controlled Nottinghamshire. Lincoln, as well as the wider county, fluctuated between Royalist and Parliamentary control. At the start of the war the town was held for the King but in March 1643 was taken by Oliver Cromwell as he advanced into the county intent on targeting nearby Newark-on-Trent. However, Cromwell was defeated by William Cavendish, Earl of Newcastle at the Battle of Gainsborough on 28 July 1643. Lincoln was taken by the Earl shortly after forcing the Parliamentarians back to Boston.


The Parliamentary victory at the Battle of Winceby on 11 October 1643 restored Parliamentary fortunes in Lincolnshire but it wasn’t until May 1645 that the town changed hands again. With the Royalist garrison having been weakened by a number of catastrophic defeats, a Parliamentary force was able to storm the castle and take control.


After the War


Despite its involvement in the hostilities, Lincoln Castle avoided slighting at the end of the Civil War due to its importance as a regional gaol and administrative centre. For the former, the castle site underwent a number of upgrades. Following a scathing report on the conditions in Lincoln gaol in 1774, a purpose-built prison was constructed in 1788. By the mid-nineteenth century this too was regarded as inadequate and a new facility was built adjoining the Georgian prison. However, the Prison Act (1877) brought all such institutions under central State control and, being too small to be viable, Lincoln Castle was decommissioned. The last prisoners had been relocated by 1878 with Lindsey Prison becoming the primary facility for Lincolnshire. The site still functions as a Crown Court -  a role it has been performing since the eleventh century.





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What's There?

Lincoln Castle is a major tourist attraction. The site includes a Magna Carta exhibition and Victorian prison. Nearby are ruins of the Roman East Gate, North Gate (Newport Arch) and the medieval entrance to the Cathedral Close at Pottergate.

Lincoln Castle and Town Walls Layout. The Roman Legionary fortress was built around AD 60. Twenty years later it was expanded towards the river. The castle and cathedral within the perimeter of the former fort.

Lincoln Castle East Gate. The stone built East Gate was started in the late eleventh century but has been heavily modified in subsequent years. It would originally have had a drawbridge that crossed a dry ditch.

Lucy Tower. The shell keep was built in the early twelfth century on top of the earlier motte. It took its name from Countess Lucy, wife to one of the Constables of the castle.

Observatory Tower. This tower was added in the twelfth or thirteenth century on top of a second motte.

Lincoln Castle West Gate. The castle's West gate was originally identical to the one on the east side. During the Second Battle of Lincoln (1217) Royalist crossbow men stormed this gate.

Castle Curtain Wall. Aside from the gatehouses and the two mottes, only one additional tower augmented the curtain wall - Cobb Tower on the north-east corner. The curtain wall has been extensively modified since it was built in the twelfth century.

Prison. Lincoln Castle had been used as a prison since it was originally built, however, a purpose built gaol was constructed within the castle grounds in 1788. By the mid-nineteenth century this too was regarded as inadequate and a new facility was built but it was decommissioned after the Prison Act (1877).

Roman Town Defences. Small portions of the Roman town defences are visible including Newport Arch (left), the East Gate (centre) and segments of town wall (right).

Potter Gate. This gate was one of ten built around the Cathedral close.

Lincoln Cathedral. Work started on this structure in 1072.

Getting There

Lincoln Castle is a major tourist attraction and is well sign-posted. There are numerous (pay and display) car parks around Lincoln with several in direct proximity to the castle. One option is shown below.

Car Parking Option

Westgate Street, LN1 3BG

53.236001N 0.540767W

Lincoln Castle


53.234772N 0.540290W

Roman East Gate


53.235305N 0.535486W



53.233237N 0.532813W

Newport Arch


53.237206N 0.538199W

Stonebow Gate


53.229274N 0.540447W