After Richard’s death John was crowned King, and soon the whole land groaned under his savage rule, for John was not only at open rupture with the Barons, but, worse still, he quarreled with the Pope— Innocent III.—who laid the whole land under an “interdict.” For six years the churches were deserted, and no religious services were held in the land—even the dead were committed to the ground without any religious ceremony. It was in the midst of this period of terror and distress (1212) that one of the darkest blots of this dark reign was committed at Nottingham. The great struggle between the Crown and the Baronage, which culminated,three years later in the Great Charter, was at its height. In order to keep the Welsh Prince Llewellyn in subjection, John, had taken as hostages 28 boys, ranging from 12 to 14 years of age, and kept them in his Castle at Nottingham. It is said the news came to the King while staying at his hunting palace at Clipstone that the Welsh Prince had again broken out in revolt. Hastily summoning his followers, he held a Council beneath the spreading branches of an oak tree (now known as Parliament Oak), when the execution of the. hostages was decided upon. Then he swore “by the teeth of God” that he would not eat again until he had wreaked his vengeance, and mounting his steed, he rode in all haste to Nottingham Castle, where he gave instructions for the execution of the hostages, as a preliminary to quelling the rising; and the shameful order was immediately carried out before his eyes, the boys being taken from their play—some screaming, others pleading in vain for mercy—and hanged on the Castle walls. Another barbarity recorded by Matthew Paris, confirms the despicable character of the King. A clerk of the Exchequer—Geoffrey by name — on small suspicion was thrown into a dungeon at Nottingham Castle and there done to death: “He closed him in leade, and so, by depryvinge him of al ayre bereft him of his life withal.”

During the reign of Henry III., many reparations and additions were made to the “new buildings” on the north side of the old Norman keep, and the Castle was referred to as a place “beautiful and gallant.” Thoroton says: — “Tis certain that from the beginning of the reign of Henry III. this Castle of Nottingham hath for the most part belonged to the Crown ; neither is there any place anything near so far distant trom London, that I know of in all England, which hath so often given entertainment and residence to the Kings and Queens of this realm since the Norman Conquest.”

The Liberate Rolls in the Tower of London contain many orders to the Sheriff of Nottingham, for work to be done at the Castle. From the references to the “Great Hall with its dais,” the “Chambers of the King and Queen,” the “Queen’s Chapel,” and the “Chapels of St. Catherine and St. William,” we get an idea of the size and importance to which it had grown.

The next incident of historical importance is perhaps the one that is best known in connection with the Castle, and it has given a lasting name to a subterranean passage that had existed in the rock for centuries. When the Ducal mansion was left in a blackened and ruined state previous, to its” conversion into a Museum of Art, one of the chief attractions in connection with a visit to the Castle was to get a peep into “Mortimer’s Hole”; and how many visitors in these later days, gaze into the mysterious depths of ‘ the cavernous opening near the flagstaff and think upon “the gentle Mortimer.”

When Edward III. ascended the throne he was only 15 years old, and although a Council of Regency was appointed, the Kingdom was governed to a large extent by his mother Isabella, and her friend and lover the Lord Mortimer, who had taken up residence at Nottingham Castle, feeling that it was a retreat of absolute security. After three years of strife and contention with the Scots, the Treaty of Northampton was signed whereby Scotland was recognised as a separate and independent Kingdom. This step, taken on the advice of Mortimer, intensified the disaffection already kindled among the nobles, and Edward, now 18 years old, beginning to realize what a danger such an evil counsellor was to the welfare of his kingdom, decided to deprive him of all his power. He came to Nottingham in disguise, but how could he effect an entrance into such “a formidable fortress? Only one course was open to him, and that was by strategy. He went to the residence of the Deputy Governor at Algarthorpe, in the parish of Basford (then a secluded woodland district), and made a friend of Sir William Eland, from whom he learned that a secret passage existed in the heart of the rock, through which he and his followers might be taken, almost into the presence of Mortimer himself. A chronicler of the time of Henry VI. thus records the Governor’s words: “Well ye understonde that the yats of the Castell beth loken with lokys, and Queen Isabell sent hidder by night for the kayes thereof .unde the chemsell of her beddes hede unto the morrow, and so 1 may not come into the castell by the yats no manner of wyse, but yet I know another waye by an aley that stertchith oute of the warde under the earthe into the castell that giveth into the west, which aley Queen Isabel!, ne none of her meayne, ne the Mortimer, ne none of his companye knowith it not, and so I shall lede you through the aley, and so ye shall come unto the castell without a spyes of any man.”

Through this secret passage, leading up from the Castle Mill into the heart of the stronghold, at midnight on the 19th October, 1330, Edward and his followers stealthily advanced, and soon surprized and captured Mortimer—

"At night almost a King—before the morn
A hopeless captive in a narrow cell.”

In spite of the pitiful entreaties of Isabella, who beseeched her son to spare “the gentle Mortimer,” he was taken away to London, and after a mock trial he was tied to a hurdle and dragged through the streets to Tyburn, where he was executed, after’ enduring nameless indignities and torture, November 29th, 1330. The Queen mother was taken to her mansion at Risings, where she spent a lonely existence for 27 years, being visited by her son only once in each year.

This is the version of the story that is generally accepted, but there are several other accounts, varying slightly in minor details; for instance, John Capgrave, a chronicler of Lenton Priory (1393-1404), says the expedition started from Lenton. These are his own words:—“In the IIII. yere was a Parliment at Notyngham; where Roger Mortimere was take be nyte in the qween chamber behind a corteyn. It is seid comounly that there is a wave fro the hous of Lenton onto the castel of Notyngham, under the ground; and this wey cam thei in that took him, of whech the principals were two Ufforthis. The queen was logged in the castelle, and this Mortimere next hire, and the King forth in the court. The keyes were in the keeping of Mortimere. So these knytes, whan they were com into the castelle, thei cleped up the Kynge, and told him who Mortimere had ymaged his deth, that he myte be King : thei told him eke who he mysused his moder the queen, and then thei broke up the dore and fond him behinde the curteyn, as we saide, and sent him to London, and there was he ded.”

In 1346 the English and Scots were again at war, and eventually David, King of Scotland, was defeated and taken prisoner at Nevils Cross, near Durham, October 17th. There is a very persistent tradition that for 11 years David was confined in a dungeon at Nottingham Castle, where he carved a representation of the Sacred Passion on the rock wall of his cell. Mrs. Hutchinson mentions “the cavern where King David scratched with his finger nails the story of Christ and His apostles.” But this dungeon has never been discovered, and the tradition is probably due to the fact that several caves in the rock, containing rude sculptures of great antiquity, have been discovered from time to time by the banks of the Leen to the west of the Castle rock. King Edward had two Royal prisoners to look after at this time—David of Scotland and John of France. John eventually died in London at his palace in the Savoy, and it is almost certain that David arrived in London on the 2nd of January, 1347—less than three months after his defeat and capture—and there spent the years previous to his ransom, probably occupying the chambers in the Tower set apart for Royal prisoners.