The Lincoln Castle, Bishop’s Palace, and the Magna Carta


Lincoln Castle in the backgroundYou may remember from our first Lincoln post (The City of Lincoln) that in 1068 William The Conquerer built Lincoln Castle as a very visible symbol of power at the top of Steep Hill.  This picture, taken from the Lincoln Cathedral, shows the Cathedral’s Exchequer Gate in the foreground, and in the background, the walls of Lincoln Castle.  It may be a small town, but it is not a small castle!

The main castle entrance is imposing, as shown in the pictures below.  The double-gated

barbican would have been deadly, but after artillery was developed in later centuries a barbican became irrelevant; today its interior court features incongruously elegant rooms.

Model of Lincoln CastleThis model of the castle shows how roomy it is inside the walls.  The barbican entrance shown above is on the right side of the model. The castle has been re-purposed over the centuries, and nothing on the inside, other than the walls and towers themselves, looks anywhere close to its 1068 roots.  Below is the view of the courtyard from the castle wall above the main entrance.  That building straight ahead is the Courthouse, built in 1826.  Lincoln Castle was always a seat of justice,

and even today criminal cases are tried here.  In the 1800’s, trials for serious crimes (murder, arson) were a spectator sport, with fences built to control the crowds.  That last picture above shows Lincoln Castle’s beautifully preserved Victorian Prison; the ladies’ prison and associated exercise yard are in the foreground.  The prison was designed for the “separate system”, an isolating regime that kept inmates away from the corrupting influence of their fellow prisoners.  The Victorians believed that separation would encourage prisoners to reflect, repent, and more importantly, to reform.  Separation even

continued in the chapel, where prisoners sat in walled cubicles with a view only of the elevated pulpit (this chapel is the only original of its kind left in the world).  From 1848 to 1878, men, women and children as young as eight were held here for crimes ranging from

murder and highway robbery to stealing a waistcoat and Bible.  During this time seven murderers were hanged at the castle (again, a spectator sport) and their bodies buried in Lucy Tower (which we’ll see shortly).

One can walk the entire circumference of the medieval walls and enter the few towers.  The pictures below show the wall walk leading to the Lucy Tower, which was built in the late

1100’s.  Originally it was the castle keep, a fortified tower/residence and refuge of last resort (should the rest of the castle fall to an enemy).  It sits on a motte, an artificial mound that in this case is exceptionally high.  Keeps on a motte were a common building practice at the time of the Norman Conquest.

Finally, let me show you Cobb Hall, the small north-east tower dating from the 1200’s that housed the dungeon.  Entry is from ground level, with the dungeon underground.

Hey, as dungeons go, it’s small and would be dark, but I’ve seen worse!


The Bishop’s Palace, built in the late 1100’s, was the administrative center of the Lincoln Cathedral and was one of the most important buildings (and grandest residential structures) in England.  Both Henry VIII and James I were guests of bishops here.
Alas, the palace was sacked by royalist troops during the Civil War in 1648.  Today it’s just an evocative ruin (shown below).

THE MAGNA CARTA (and Charter of the Forest)

There are only 4 copies of this iconic document in existence, and Lincoln Castle is the only place in the world where an original 1215 Magna Carta and a 1217 Charter of the Forest can be seen side by side.  The story of the Magna Carta is fascinating.  One of the more celebrated documents in history, with enduring worldwide influence, it played a central role in England’s political life and greatly influenced our American Constitution.  Yet it is a complete political myth, ignored as soon as it was written, annulled by the Pope, and distorted 400 years later in order to oppose the divine right of kings.  So let me tell you the real story!  It’s a bit long, I’m afraid; my apologies: history is like that.

We start in the early 1200’s, when King John (following his predecessors) ruled England through a feudal system of laws and the principle of vis et voluntas, or “force and will” – the king’s executive and sometimes arbitrary decisions.  The king had waged war for many years trying to reclaim ancestral lands in Normandy, France, financing this effort with heavy taxes on the English barons.  Following a decisive defeat in 1214, King John was forced to sue France for peace and to pay compensation.  He was already personally unpopular with many of the barons in England, and his defeat galvanized “rebel” barons to organize resistance to his rule; they renounced their feudal ties and formed a militia that marched to London and Lincoln.  In order to avoid a civil war, John instructed the Archbishop of Canterbury (with other bishops, including Lincoln’s) to work out a peace agreement.  The resulting charter (let’s call it the Charter of 1215) promised protection for church rights and protection for the barons regarding illegal imprisonment, access to swift justice, and limitations on taxation and feudal payments to the Crown.  Importantly, it created a council of 25 barons to monitor and ensure John’s adherence to the charter, with the council empowered to seize John’s castles and lands until amends were made.  In return the barons agreed to dissolve their militias.  Although both sides agreed to the charter, neither stood behind their commitments.  King John appealed to the Pope for help, arguing that he signed it under duress and that the charter compromised the Pope’s rights as King John’s feudal lord.  The Pope declared the charter to be “shameful and demeaning … illegal and unjust” and the charter was “null, and void of all validity for ever”; further, under threat of excommunication, the King was not to observe the charter, nor the barons to try to enforce it.  Violence broke out, leading to the “First Barons’ War”, and the rebel barons offered the English throne to the French for their help.  That war, and its conclusion with the treaty of Lanbeth in 1217, was described in the earlier post (The City of Lincoln).  Following the war, a new council was called to re-assess the Charter of 1215 (actually now the Charter of 1216; King John died during the war and his son had issued a new and shorter charter eliminating some of its more radical content such as the council of barons).  The new council issued the Charter of 1217, which resembled that of 1216 with some additional clauses added to protect the rights of the barons over their feudal subjects and to water down restrictions on the Crown’s ability to levy taxation.  Because there were disagreements concerning the management of the royal forests, this issue was separated out as a complementary Charter of the Forest, and issued at the same time.  It pardoned existing forest offenses, imposed new controls over the forest courts, and established a review of the forest boundaries.  To distinguish between these two charters, the term magna carta libertatum, “the great charter of liberties”, was used to refer to the larger document, which in time became known simply as Magna Carta.  Both documents became part of English political life and for generations were renewed by each monarch in turn.  With time (and the advent of the English Parliament) they lost significance as their content was replaced with new laws.  However, 400 years later in the 1600’s, when the Stuart monarchs invoked the divine right of kings, the Magna Carta was revisited and (incorrectly) reinterpreted as a champion of individual rights that placed the king under the law, rather than above it (the “divine right of kings” argument went away with the English Civil War of the 1640’s and the execution of the Stuart King Charles I).

The Magna Carta that is commonly remembered today is the Magna Carta of King John, with the commemoration date of 1215.  That many clauses were omitted or redrafted, and new ones inserted, has made no difference in the collective memory of this venerable document.  The swindle is that the original 1215 charter (and the 1217 charter) concerned the medieval relationship between the monarch and the powerful barons; it did not mention the rights of ordinary people.  However, the political myth of the Magna Carta as a protection of everyone’s ancient personal liberties persists and forms an important symbol of liberty today – “the foundation of the freedom of the individual against the arbitrary authority of the despot” (Lord Denning).

The pictures below show the 1215 Magna Carta and the 1217 Charter of the Forest.  The

charters were written on parchment sheets using quill pins, in heavily abbreviated medieval Latin, which was the convention for legal documents at that time.

Next post – Wales, U.K.

The Lincoln Cathedral

Cathedral Model, 1300's - 1500's

Cathedral Model, 1300’s – 1500’s

In 1072, William the Conqueror ordered that a Cathedral be built at Lincoln.  Construction of the first Lincoln Cathedral was completed in 1092; it was rebuilt and expanded after a fire destroyed its timber roofing (1141).  Destroyed again by an earthquake (1185), it was rebuilt on a magnificent scale beginning in 1192 using local rock; only the lower part of the Cathedral’s front and its two attached towers survive from the original Norman structure.  The choir, eastern transepts and central nave were built in Early English Gothic style, but the rest followed architectural advances of pointed arches, flying buttresses and ribbed vaulting.  Its crossing tower, completed in 1311, was an amazing engineering feat for the time.  With a spire giving it a height of 525 ft, Lincoln Cathedral became the tallest building in the world, and the first to surpass the pyramid of Cheops in Egypt which had held that title for 4000 years.  That honor, however, was lost after 238 years when the heavy, lead-coated but rotting wooden spire collapsed in a storm (1549).  The spire was not replaced, a symbol of Lincoln’s economic and political decline at the time (see previous post, “The City of Lincoln”).  Still, the cathedral is the third largest in Britain (in floor space) after St Paul’s (London) and York Minster (post of Jan 22, 2015; The York Minster).

Sitting on top of a hill, Lincoln Cathedral is visible for miles around and absolutely

dominates the city in an awe-inspiring, gorgeous way, irresistibly drawing your eyes.  It’s a high point of medieval architecture, and also a navigation beacon; where are you in the city?  Look for the Cathedral.

Let’s take a walk around the Cathedral.  The overall plan is shown below; we’ll start with Lincoln Cathedral planthe west-facing entrance. The previous Norman churches were short and thick-walled, with small windows resulting in dark interiors.  The Gothic style made churches bright and spacious, but during the building of the Lincoln Cathedral the architects were writing the rule book, and it was literally trial and error (you’ll see some of this in the interior).  As shown in the picture to the left, the The Exchequer Gate blocking the viewExchequer Gate that was the main entrance to the Cathedral close (arrow) does a great job of blocking the view of the stunning front of the Cathedral – particularly the preserved Norman (lower) structure.  Further, as you can infer from the picture, once inside the gate you’re too close to get a good overview.  Ah well, here’s the best I can do for the Cathedral entrance.

Let me show you that entrance in detail, top to bottom, Gothic to Norman.

Again, the lower part is from the early 1100’s, now set within the harmonious upper region from the early 1200’s.  The art that decorates the front entrance is impressive, from the Gothic repeating arch motifs in the first picture below to the many Norman carvings, two of which are shown below.  The next-to-last picture shows the faithful being rescued from the mouth of hell (far right), the detail in the last picture showing that hell is not a nice

place.  At the corners of this west-facing entrance are small towers that frame the front screen while continuing the arch motif – shown in the first 2 pictures below from the south side of the Cathedral.  And we can’t leave the entrance view of the Cathedral without showing the commanding towers that flank the nave just behind the entrance.

The south transept also has an entrance to the Cathedral, shown below.  In that last

picture, look at the base of the central column between the doors – it’s being hugged by

little devils, shown above.

The south side of the Cathedral is also highly decorated, with some interesting statues, many of them restored (Cathedral restoration costs $1.3 million/yr).

Then we come to the beautiful east side, and the chapter house.

The north side is more of the same, first picture below.  It’s a stunningly beautiful

Cathedral, and inside it’s impressive as well.  The first picture below is from near the entrance showing the many stained glass windows; the next pictures are from the nave looking inward and then looking back to the entrance.  In that last picture, the blue overtones highlight the preponderance of blue in the stained glass!

Notice in the pictures below how the vaulting changes going down the side aisles.  The vaulting was experimental during the building; it varies between the nave, aisles, choir and chapels, particularly in how the vaulting interacts with (ignores or enhances) the

Cathedral’s bays.  The transept crossing that separated public access from the choir and alter is pretty spectacular.  In addition to the tranquility of repeating designs, as

shown in the first picture below, there are interesting (and playful) carvings everywhere.

The choir dates from 1360-80 and is amazing, with beautifully carved wood stalls and bench-ends.  I wasn’t happy with my capture of the choir, so I cribbed that last picture from the internet.  It shows the “pulpitum”, the wood choir screen that separates the choir

from the nave; it dates from even earlier, the 1330’s.  In addition to the intricately carved bench ends such as the one in the first picture below, the choir has 62 fascinating misericords or “mercy seats”.  In the early medieval church, prayers were said standing,

Detail of the misericord carving, a lion fighting a dragon

Detail of the misericord carving, a lion fighting a dragon

and seats were constructed so they could be turned up.  However, the seat underside could have a small shelf (the misericord), shown in the right picture above, which allowed the user to slightly reduce discomfort by leaning against it.  The seats and carvings are in oak, all different, and delightful.  Most of the seats were unfortunately in the down position (and the lighting was poor), so I bought their book and took some pictures of misericords from it, and I’ll share a bunch with you – they’re just that cool.  I was told that the folding parts of the seats were installed as single blocks of oak, and each misericord was carved in place.  No mistakes allowed!  I didn’t believe that story at the time, but when I looked closely at the carvings, I could see that the wood grain in the seat and the carving line up!  You can also see that in some of the figures below.

If you look back at the pictures of the choir shown earlier, the upper-right picture looks into the beautiful east end of the cathedral, completed in 1280.  Other views are below.

The central region behind the main choir is called the Angel’s Choir because the upper arches are framed by stone carvings of angels playing medieval musical instruments.  I’ve shown some of them below.  That first picture is an angel playing a guitar precursor

The Lincoln Imp in the Angel Choircalled a citole.  A famous stone carving in the Angel’s Choir is the Lincoln Imp.  According to legend, two mischievous imps were sent by Satan to do evil work; after causing mayhem elsewhere in England, the imps came to Lincoln Cathedral where they smashed furniture and tripped up the Bishop.  An angel appeared in the Angel Choir and ordered the imps to stop.  One imp sat on a stone pillar and threw rocks at the angel, whereupon the angel turned him to stone; there he now sits.

Before I show you the cloister, let me backtrack to the transept crossing to look up at the Cathedral’s massive central tower from underneath.  It’s gorgeous, but because I didn’t quite capture what I wanted to show, I’m including a

picture from the internet.  Isn’t the geometry beautiful?

Corridor to the cloisterNow to the cloister.  Access is via this impressive windowed corridor that duplicates the cloister design.  The cloister itself (shown below) has a recent history – it was used for filming The Da Vinci Code, standing in for Westminster Abbey (which refused to permit filming).

What is impressive is the view of the cloister against the magnificent Cathedral (and its “Dean’s Eye” north transept window), shown below.  And there is an added bonus; part of the floor in a corner of the cloister is a mosaic from the Roman fort that occupied this hill!

At last, now the stained glass windows!  There are a lot of them, including some fabulous medieval glass.  We’ll start with the west entrance, pictures below.  Beautiful, yes?

A few of the windows in the naveThere are many, many windows in the nave.  Like most churches, the stained glass is mostly from the mid 1800’s, following a rebirth in its popularity.  There’s too much to show, so I’ll just do a little (which will still be a lot).  Although the windows do not present the life of Jesus sequentially, it seems that all the stories of the New Testament are here, examples shown below.  The windows are gorgeous, aren’t they?

You didn’t think we were done with the nave windows, did you?  There’s also the Old Testament, and monk history, and ….

Now let me show you the gorgeous east end windows.  The first picture below shows most of that east wall, overwhelmingly in blue.  The next three pictures show the left and right side windows in normal light; then I’ve shown the right side window at night, lit by the outside lights of the cathedral.  The windows are beautiful in any light!

The large, central – and very blue! – window is simply spectacular, commanding attention.  It is one of England’s largest windows.

At last, the good stuff!  Although stained glass reached its height as an art form in the Middle Ages, there isn’t that much of it left; huge numbers of windows were destroyed in the French Revolution and Protestant Revolution (for instance, the English Parliament ordered all images of the Virgin Mary and the Trinity removed from churches; Protestant mobs were less selective).  Until its revival in the mid 1800’s (600 years later), stained glass was a lost art.  Colored glass became scarce, necessitating the painting of white glass.  The little decorative glass that was produced was mostly small heraldic panels for city halls.  Lincoln Cathedral has some examples of stained glass from this time in one of its side rooms, shown below.

The medieval stained glass in the Lincoln Cathedral resides mostly at the ends of the transepts.  Each transept has a rose window, an uncommon feature in English medieval architecture.  The north transept has the “Dean’s Eye”, shown below, which depicts the Last Judgement.  It’s part of the original structure of the Cathedral, finished in 1220.

Underneath the rose window are a set of 5 windows with gorgeous geometrical designs,

and below them these final two windows.


The south transept has the “Bishop’s Eye”; it too was built in 1220, but rebuilt around 1330.  It’s one of the largest examples of curvilinear tracery in medieval architecture, and was a challenge for the designers (and glass artists).  The window from outside the Cathedral and from inside the transept is shown below.

Most cathedral windows during this time displayed biblical images; that’s hard to do with such curvilinear shapes, so the window is instead a mosaic of color.  I was told that within the window there are images of the saints Paul, Andrew, and James; if so, it requires imagination!  The Bishop’s Eye is shown in more detail below.

Details from two of the lower windows are shown below.

Goodness!  Could there be more to show of this majestic cathedral?  Of course!  But we never caught the chapter house when it was open.  There’s also lots of treasure, but I’ll only show two pictures.

Enough is enough!  I will simply end with a view of the The Lincoln CathedralCathedral at night.  It is stunningly beautiful.

You masochists that have waded the whole way through this long, long post, I salute you!

The next (shorter!  Promise!) post will finish the fair city of Lincoln, and will include the Lincoln Castle, the Magna Carta, and the Bishop’s Palace.


The City of Lincoln

Why visit Lincoln, you ask?  This backwater city of 100,000?  It’s not on most tourist’s maps, but the city was important historically.  It has an amazing cathedral (English Gothic, 12th century), a castle (Norman, 11th century), a medieval Bishop’s Palace (12th century), one of only 4 original copies of the Magna Carta, a Christmas market and an annual Steampunk Festival, so it does get some tourists.  More pertinent to us, however, is that it is home to younger son Britt and family, and we can visit!  And visit.  And visit.  Little did poor Britt know that we would be there for an extended time.  After Ginger and I left to visit Barcelona (Spain), I separated my shoulder trying to tackle a would-be camera thief on marble stairs (a topic for a future Barcelona post), so back to Lincoln we went to recover.  There I fell and broke (badly) 2 ribs, and as I was recovering, Ginger needed major abdominal surgery.  So we basically moved into Britt’s house for quite a while.  Newly recovered and off to Wales, I slipped in a castle stairwell and broke two fingers (badly; spiral fractures); so back to Britt’s we went.  Soooooo – let me show you some of Lincoln!  It’s actually a very interesting town.

The Witham Shield, a 4th century decorative bronze covering for a wood backing

The Celtic Witham Shield

First some Lincoln history – and there’s lots of it.  We’ll ignore the early part, such as the arrival of Homo heidelbergensis (500,000 years ago) or the Neanderthals a bit later (Europe has HISTORY!).  Lincoln the city began as an Iron Age settlement of round wooden dwellings in the first century BC, established at a river (Witham) by a deep pool (Brayford Pool) at the foot of a large hill.  The origin of the name “Lincoln” likely comes from Celtic for pool, Lindon.  After the Romans conquered this part of Britain in AD 48 (using 40-50,000 soldiers), they built a fort on top of the (steep!) hill overlooking this settlement and at the northernmost end of the Roman road (Fosse Way) that went across England all the way to its southwest peninsula.

With two rivers accessible from the sea, the settlement flourished; when the Romans left, the city waned until the arrival of the Vikings, under whom it became an overseas trading center.  In the late 800’s, with an influx of Danes, Lincoln’s economy took off.  In 1068, after the Norman conquest, William I (The Conquerer) ordered Lincoln Castle to be built on the site of the Roman fort, for the same strategic reasons as the Romans.  Four years

later he ordered a cathedral to be built, completed in 1092.  Subsequently the diocese of Lincoln grew to became the largest in England, with more monasteries than the rest of the country put together.  By 1150 Lincoln was one of the wealthiest towns in England and soon became its 3rd largest city, with an economy based on cloth and wool (known especially for their scarlet and green cloth; Robin Hood wore woolens of Lincoln green).  In 2014, English barons rebelled over high taxes spent on King John’s failed wars in France and his arbitrary exercise of power.  The Archbishop of Canterbury (plus a Lincoln bishop) was appointed to organize peace talks, leading to the Magna Carta; when that document was repudiated, the rebel barons aligned with France and the First Barons’ War began, a dynastic war for the throne of England.  The turning point in this war was the Battle of Lincoln in 1217.  The French forces of Louis VIII breached Lincoln’s city walls and occupied the city, but English loyalists successfully held the castle.  The arrival of a loyalist relief force subsequently overwhelmed the French (and pillaged Lincoln on the pretense that the town was loyal to the French).  After the French tried to replenish their forces but were defeated at sea, Louis VIII signed the treaty of Lanbeth, relinquishing his claim to the English throne.  Lincoln’s fortune thereafter continually declined, particularly in the 1500’s after Henry VIII’s Dissolution of the Monasteries cut off a major source of income.  Buildings were destroyed in the 1600’s when Lincoln was caught between factions during the English Civil War.  In the late 1700’s, however, with the arrival of railroad links and the Industrial Revolution, Lincoln bloomed again.  During WWI Lincoln invented, designed and built the world’s first tanks.

So enough history!  Let me show you some of Lincoln, starting with it’s Roman heritage.  A cool thing about Lincoln is that a lot of its major roads still go through Roman or medieval gates.  Newport gate, shown below, was the walled city’s north gate in the 3rd century.

A few sections of the Roman wall and foundations of its towers are still present.

The Lincoln Cathedral had its own walled perimeter, or close, and some of those walls and a number of gates remain as well.

Lincoln’s allure lies less with its Roman ruins than with its medieval heritage, not just its castle and cathedral but also its medieval buildings (and a few streets).  For instance, of the 3 buildings in the first picture below, take a look at the timbered building on the far right.  Gravity has not been kind to this house – it’s called “The Crooked House” for good reason!

The oldest buildings in Lincoln date from the mid 1100’s and are associated with the Jewish community in Lincoln (before they were expelled en mass in 1290).  The Jew’s House shown in the first 2 pictures below is one of the earliest town houses in England, built from local limestone in the Norman (Romanesque) style and dating from about 1150.  Part of the façade survives; the elaborately carved doorway, the remains of two

double-arch windows, and much of the stonework on the upper story.  Next door is the Jew’s Court building, dating between 1150 and 1180, although the medieval stonework is mostly at basement level.  It was originally built as a duplex.

The Norman House, formerly known as “Aaron the Jew’s House”, dates between 1170 and 1180 and is another example of Norman domestic architecture.  I do love the way

the stone intercalates with the brick of the adjacent building.

Another interesting building/gate is the Lincoln Guildhall and Stonebow.  The Stonebow arch is located where the southern gate to the old Roman city once stood.  The Tudor Guildhall, finished in 1520, was built on top; in the medieval period the Lincoln guilds met here to administer the city government.  The pictures below show the front and back.

Other interesting houses are a merchant’s house of 1543 – the Leigh-Pemberton House (now the tourist office), and timbered shops (including the fabulous Stokes High Bridge Cafe) built on the west side of the High Bridge in 1540.  The High Bridge was built over

the River Witham about 1160 and is the only medieval bridge in England with houses still on it.

There are many, many other interesting buildings in Lincoln, and I’m showing just a few in the pictures below.  In the first picture note the filled arch in the middle of the building (left of the blue door)!  Such reworked facades are common.

Alas, I neglected to take pictures of some of the really cute bars in old houses along the river (who takes a camera to a bar?).

I’ll finish this post on Lincoln with a description of Steep Hill.  The 4th picture at the beginning of this post is the city plan of Roman London, which shows an “uptown” (the Roman fort) and “downtown” (the associated city); and that plan is not too different from the structure of Lincoln over the ensuing 2ooo years.  Uptown, at the top of a steep hill, was the location of the castle, the cathedral, and the rich and powerful.  Downtown was everybody else.  Connecting them then and now is a main shopping street (High Street, downtown) that becomes a medieval street called Steep Hill, lined with cute shops and restaurants.  The Jew’s House, the Norman House, the Guildhall and Stokes are on those streets.  The pictures below show the upper part of Steep Hill heading downtown

(gentle slope).  The following pictures show a middle section of Steep Hill (and also the Harding House, from the 1400 and 1500’s).   It’s hard to capture steepness in a photo, but

the upper right picture showing pedestrians walking ahead of me gives you a good idea.  And that’s not the steep part!  The really steep part begins where the road veers to the right (and drops out of sight), shown in that last night picture.  Alas, I don’t have a picture of the steep part so I had to crib one from the internet, left picture below.  Again, its

steepness is hard to capture in the photo; it’s steep enough to merit a handrail, as well as park benches for the out-of-shape to avoid cardiac arrest. You can buy t-shirts that say “I survived Steep Hill”.  The last picture is from further down Steep Hill – why, it’s almost level!

Guess that’s enough introduction to the city of Lincoln.  An interesting place, yes?  And you haven’t seen anything yet.  Next post will be about the fabulous Lincoln Cathedral.