A Castle A Week: Lancaster Castle

One of the main gates at Lancaster Castle called John of Gaunt Gate.
John of Gaunt Gate at Lancaster Castle

(Editor’s note: I recently decided to pull a secondary blog I had from the internet. Titled “Of Castles and Crowns”, I originally started it with the intention of posting about one castle a week. Unfortunately I do not have the time to commit to that so as I reblog all of those posts, I will be deleting the blog altogether. In the meantime, read about Lancaster Castle!)–

On the outside, Lancaster Castle appears to be a typical castle one would imagine with towers and walls and battlements set high up on a hill. The walk itself is steeply uphill, and if you’re slightly out of shape, well, you’d be just a little out of breath. In any case, the castle sits up on top of Castle Hill with a spectacular view of the area around Lancaster. From the grounds even, you can see several prominent landmarks, namely the Ashton Memorial (named after the wife of a famous Lancastrian who helped to industrialize the city during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries). It has a wide and varied history, from medieval castle-graspers and witches to a working prison.

Lancaster Castle was built on the site of an old Roman fort that lay on top of what is now Castle Hill. Indeed, nearby lie the remains of an old Roman bath. Under Roger de Poitou, a follower of William the Conqueror, upon the old ruins was built a stone keep in 1094 that served as Roger de Poitou’s headquarters. The castle was soon joined by a Benedictine Priory which still remains open to this day. Over the next couple of centuries, the castle remained occupied under various persons with visits from royal personages including King David of Scotland and Henry of Anjou (who would become Henry I). King John I conducted one of many expansions on the castle in the thirteenth century. Later on in 1399, Richard II seized control of Lancaster after the death of his uncle John of Gaunt, duke of Lancaster (third son of Edward III), and added the land to the crown. Richard continued to expand the castle, adding a twin-towered gatehouse. More construction occurred under Elizabeth I and during the eighteenth century. Over the course of time, Lancaster Castle began to serve as a prison, as well the site for the well-known Pendle Witch trials of 1612. The Pendle Witch trials saw the execution of 10 men and women as witches convicted as murderers.

During the English Civil Wars, Parliamentarian forces holed up in the castle and fended off attacks by Royalist armies. Many of the original walls were knocked down, but the Parliamentarians still remained in control. At this point, the castle was still being used as a prison and held Scottish Jacobite supporters of James Stuart (who would have been James III of England). Most of the prisoners that were held in Lancaster Castle, however, were debtors.

Presently, the castle remains in great shape, left to its role as a crown prison. Only minor prisoners are held here, however, as most of the larger trials are held and tried in the city of Preston just south of the city of Lancaster. People can take tours (which I recommend) of the castle in which they can experience what it was like to be a prisoner, see the badges and arms for the mayors of Lancaster dating back to medieval times, sit in a really old chair (“the oldest chair I’m sure you ever sat in” I was told when I took my tour), and see the progression of the castle from medieval to present times.

For more information, visit:

Guide to Castles of Europe website

Lancaster City Council website

Lancaster Castle website

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