The History Of Lancaster Castle

LocationLancaster, County of Lancashire, England (Google Maps)
Open for VisitorsYes
Owned byDuchy of Lancaster, Her Majesty The Queen of England
Official WebsiteLancaster Castle
Rooms AvailableYes (Wedding, Events, Filming)

Owned by Her Majesty The Queen and the Duchy of Lancaster, Lancaster Castle is a magnificent historic medieval castle representing roots of the cultural, historical, and political significance of 750 years. Apart from its historical legacy, the castle offers an exciting insight into its dark secrets, shocking the visitors to no end.


Lancaster Castle dates back to Roman times when it was built as a bastion on a hilltop commanding a crossing over the River Lune. The earliest standing structure in the castle is the Norman Keep which dates back to the 12th century. The castle had been inherited by different people when King Henry I granted it to his nephew, Stephen of Blois, and later subsequent King. Stephen allowed David I of Scotland in 1141 to hold the castle to secure his northern frontier against possible churning turmoil due to the civil war between him and Empress Matilda. However, in 1164 Lancaster Castle came under the control of King Henry II once again. It was inherited by his son after he died Richard, who subsequently gave it to his brother Prince John.

Henry III granted The Honor, County, Town, and Castle of Lancaster to his younger son Edmund, The 1st Earl of Lancaster, in 1267. It subsequently became a superior fort of administration in the Duchy of Lancaster, housing courts, prisons, and offices. Throughout the centuries, the castle has held numerous prisoners ranging from criminals to political prisoners and persecuted people for their faiths and beliefs.

During the reign of King James I in 1612, nineteen people from the Pendle area of Lancashire called Samlesbury Witches were accused of witchcraft, tried in the castle, and imprisoned. Ten people were found guilty and were hung. The witch trials were one of the famous and drastic events to have taken place in the castle. The castle was extensively renovated as a court and prison in the late eighteenth century. The medieval hall of the castle was knocked down to construct a new building housing the Crown Court and Shire Hall. The castle started sentencing defendants on the premises of the castle itself in the 1800s. A famous moniker used for Lancaster Castle was ‘the hanging town’ as it was considered to sentence more prisoners to death than at any other court in England.

The prison was closed in 1916 due to the decrease in the number of prisoners, although in the first part of the First World War, it used to hold German prisoners of war and civilians. The castle was also used to train police officers between 1931 and 1937 by the county council and became a prison soon after 1954 once again. In 1999, a service was attended by The Queen attended in the adjacent Priory Church to celebrate the link between The Crown and the Duchy of Lancaster on its 600th anniversary. Presently, the Crown Court and Shire Hall of the castle are leased to Lancashire County Council from the Duchy of Lancaster. The Lancaster Prison was renamed HMP Lancaster, a Category C prison operational until March 2011.


Lancaster Castle
Lancaster Castle”, by Stephen Gidley, is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

Lancaster Castle is listed as a Grade I building, built in the Gothic Revival style of architecture by Thomas Harrison, consisting of beautiful features, making it suitable for a queen. It consists of picturesque buildings like the 12th Century Norman Keep, the 14th Century Witches’ Tower, and the 15th Century Gatehouse called the John O’ Gaunt Gatehouse. The Great Keep is a four-story tower, 20 meters high with trivial columns at each corner and halfway along each side, rebuilt in 1585 in the reign of Elizabeth I. The Gatehouse consists of two semi-octagonal towers rising up to 20 meters above enormous sloping plinths and is built over corbels along with its portcullis and its battlements. The Gatehouse was named after Henry’s father, John of Gaunt.

In 1931, the dungeons at the castle were rediscovered and were very primitive and cramped, attracting many visitors. The prisoners are believed to only have the light from a small window above the doors, made from solid oak. This glimpse into the dark past of the royal building attracts modern-day visitors of all ages.

Movie Features.

Hetty Wainthropp Investigates (1996-1998)– Lancaster Castle was featured in Episode: Poison Pen (1996) of the Comedy- Crime Drama TV Series ‘Hetty Wainthropp Investigates’ directed by Roger Bamford and stars Patricia Routledge, Derek Benfield, Dominic Monaghan, John Graham- Davies.

Of Knights & Knaves (2012)– The short fantasy movie directed by Edward Rastelli- Lewis about a medieval knight, Henry of Bolsover, features Lancaster Castle stunningly.

Frequently Asked Questions

When was Lancaster Castle built?

Lancaster Castle was built presumably in 1093 on the site of a Roman Station by Roger de Poitou as a Norman-style bastion.

Where is Lancaster Castle?

Lancaster Castle is situated in the city of Lancaster, in the County of Lancashire, England. It is only 300 meters away from Lancaster Railway Station and half a kilometer away from Lancaster Bus Station.

Does anyone live in Lancaster Castle?

Though the Monarch of England, Duke of Lancaster, i.e. the Queen, owns Lancaster Castle, no one resides in the castle. But it is maintained with dignity for the many Royal visitors. 

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He is a versatile E-Learning Support Officer and former Academic Officer at the University of York, United Kingdom. Not just an expert in education and technology, Debayan also has a deep love for castles and mountains. With a passion for travel, having explored 168+ cities worldwide, and a keen eye for photography, He brings a unique blend of experiences to the table. Specializing in E-learning content, IT support, AR development, and software engineering, Debayan has made a significant impact, educating over 200,000 students on Udemy.

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