The gateway: from within.
The gateway: from within.

After the death of Henry I. a sanguinary struggle took place between the adherents of his daughter Maud and his nephew Stephen of Blois, who claimed the crown as first Prince of the blood Royal. The Castle was besieged and taken by the Earl of Gloucester, half-brother to Maud, and William Peveril’s son was for a time deprived of his posses­sions and placed in captivity; but on regaining his liberty he forced his way through one of the secret passages in the rock and regained possession.

This incident seems to have escaped the notice of William de Newburgh, an ecclesiastical chronicler in a Yorkshire monastery during the reign of Henry II., for he writes concerning the Castle:—“It was made so strong, both by nature and art, that it was esteemed impregnable except by famine, if it had a sufficient garrison in it; that it had never undergone the fate of great castles, having never been taken by storm; once indeed it was besieged by Henry Duke of Anjou in vain, at which time the garrison had burnt down the buildings about it; and once it was taken by surprize by Robert Earl Ferrers, in the Barons’ War (i.e. 1174), who burnt the town and deprived the people of all they had.”

King Stephen died in 1154, and Henry Duke of Anjou succeeded to the crown as King Henry II. He re-built the town walls, and did all in his power to repair the damage caused by the siege of the previous year. The Castle rapidly grew into a place of great importance, being now considered a Royal station, and in 1172 it was chosen as the meeting place of Parliament. It was during one of his frequent visits that the Angevin King, while hunting in the great Forest of Sherwood (Scirwurda), came in contact with Eustace, the holy hermit of Papplewick, which resulted in the founding of the great Abbey of St. Mary —afterwards called the “New-stead” to distinguish it from the “Old-stead” in Long Dale—in expiation of his share in the murder of Thomas-a-Becket.

By this time the “keep” would be a large square stone tower of at least three storeys in height—a living room or hall on the ground-floor, with solar above, and dungeons and store rooms beneath (a good example—another of William Peveril’s strongholds —may be seen in the remains of Peak Castle, at Castleton). The entrance—high above the ground— was reached by a wooden staircase or by a spiral staircase in the thickness of the stone wall, carefully guarded by a portcullis and drawbridge. The kitchens and outbuildings would still be built of wood; the whole surrounded by stone walls and a moat, over which was thrown a drawbridge defended by a barbican tower and gateway.

When Richard I. came to the throne in 1189 his great ambition was, not to rule England, but to take part in a Crusade. He devoted all his father’s accumulated wealth, and sold all honors in his gift, in order that he might further this purpose. He joined his forces with those of Philip Augustus of France and set out on the third Crusade to the Holy Land, leaving his Castle at Nottingham and seven other castles to his brother John, whom he created Earl of Nottingham. After an absence of four years the King returned to find his kingdom in great danger. The confidence and trust he had reposed in his brother had been sadly misplaced, for John had allied himself with the King’s enemies and was safely, as he thought ensconced at Nottingham. But stone walls could not resist the “Lion-heart.” Richard led an attack against the Castle in person, and captured it. John was taken prisoner and his party dispersed ; but he humbly sued for pardon, and his mother interceding on his behalf, it was generously granted, and he was allowed to return to the Castle, where he lived “in dazzling splendour.” Of the 10 years of Richard’s reign only one was spent in England, and that mostly at Nottingham or in the immediate neighbourhood, in the hunting Forest of Sherwood, where a tract of land, exempt from all tithes and forest laws, and still known as the Liberty of the King’s Manor of Lindhurst, had been set aside for “the sustentacyon of the King his Castellum at Notyngaham.” This “Liberty” lies between Blidworth and Mansfield, on the east side of the highway.