The cunning old woman and the castle

 Last year I wrote a post on Corfe Castle and how it was defended by the formidable Mary Bankes. Well, I have found another such woman.

Meet Nicholaa de la Haye, born in the early 1150s, a wealthy heiress and Sheriff of Lincoln. Her first marriage did not prove fruitful,  however her second marriage was more fruitful, and eventful. She married Gerard de Camville and would have two sons. Most marriages at this time were more for family ties, convenience etc however it is quite possible that this one love developed if it was not already there. I say this as in a time when there were not many roles for women to be in charge Gerard would leave Nicholaa in charge of Lincoln castle rather than leaving a trusted male in charge which was the norm. This would be the first time where we see Nicolaa was no mere meek woman but strong and resilient, good enough as any man. 

During the crusades, Richard I’s brother, infamous Prince John came to blows with the royal chancellor. Gerard would leave Lincoln and join John in securing various strongholds.  Mercenary soldiers were sent to Lincoln castle to take it under the chancellors hands however after 40 days the castle still was under Nicholaas control. 

Their allegiance to John would stand firm even when Richard returned and the couple were stripped of their titles and had to buy them back. Prince John, although has had alot of bad press, recognised the loyalty shown to him by Nicolaa and this can be seen in a meeting between the two in Lincoln around 1215;

And once it happened that after the war King John came to Lincoln and the said Lady Nicholaa went out of the eastern gate of the castle carrying the keys of the castle in her hand and met the king and offered the keys to him as her lord and said she was a woman of great age and was unable to bear such fatigue any longer and he besought her saying, “My beloved Nicholaa, I will that you keep the castle as hitherto until I shall order otherwise”.

The second attack on the castle would come in 1217 during the First Barons War. The French army which had come over at the invitation of the English barons, had captured most of the country including Lincoln itself, one of the largest cities in England. If they took the Castle then the country would be theirs. They were not expecting Nicolaa and her trusted second in command, Sir Geoffrey de Serland. Even the French Dauphin, Louis, came to the castle to request her surrender and promised safe conduct for all which was refused. 

Panoramic view of the Castle. (c) Laura Adkins

The castle was laid to siege from March through to May where it was abandoned for a time. She was in her 60s at this time and was described by her enemies as “a very cunning, bad hearted and vigorous old woman”. This siege was a key event in the history of England. Eventually William Marshall, acting regent, came to her aid and faced the french troops in Lincoln itself, leading to what is known today as the Lincoln fair. The French were defeated, and John’s 9 year old son, Henry, was placed on the throne. 

Eventually Nicholaa would pass over control of the castle in June 1226. She died a few years later in 1230 at her manor in Swanton, Lincolnshire, and is buried in St Michael’s Church.

Lincoln Castle is located on the northern slope of the Witham river valley. At the foot of the Castle there is the Brayford pool and it is from this which the name Lincoln originates. Lind being celtic for pool or lake. The castle was not the first defence building to be on this site. Due to its strategic location the Romans built a colonia there. The castle, built in 1068 by William the Conqueror, was thought to initially be the same size, making it one of the largest early castles recorded in the Domesday book, however it was reduced in size in the 11th century to the size we see today.

(c) Laura Adkins

The main body of the castle still exists however most of the buildings are no more. There are three areas of the castle today which I would like to highlight:

Not one but TWO mottes:

Lincoln is nearly unique in being one of two castles in England to have two mottes. The motte and bailey castles, brought to England when William the Conqueror invaded, had a set up of the keep and main building on top of the mound or motte with the courtyard or bailey at the bottom. (For more on Motte and Bailey Castles head to lincoln initially did just have one motte. The second was created in the 12th century.

The original Motte – Lucys Tower (c) Laura Adkins

Victorian Prison:

From 1788 a Prison was built within the walls of the castle. Red brick and initially housing felons and debtors, the prison was redesigned in 1848. The new design incorporated separating the prisoners from one another with the idea it would prevent them corrupting fellow inmates. An example of this can be seen today in the chapel which is the only one of its kind in existence in Europe. The prison closed in 1878 but the courthouse would still remain and is still in use today. The executed prisoners would be buried within the walls of the castle in the walls of Lucys tower. The last two to be publicly hung at Cobb Hall Gallows in the castle were William Pickett and Henry Carey and the first private execution was  Priscilla Biggadike in 1868 for the murder of her husband.

Heritage Skills Centre: 

Within Lincoln castle there lies the heritage skills centre. It was created to provide “hands on training in skills needed to maintain and protect the historic environment in Lincolnshire and the wider East Midlands region.” The skills and trades which once used to exist which helped create our amazing castles, cathedrals etc are being lost. If we are to keep these buildings in good repair for future generations then we need to keep the grades alive. This is where the centre comes in. 

Funded through the national lottery heritage fund and Delivered by Lincolnshire County Council’s Heritage Skills Centre, Heritage Trust of Lincolnshire and Lincoln Cathedral. Traineeships include archaeology, coir matting, joinery, stone masonry, lime plastering, traditional roofing, managing a building preservation project and community engagement.

Today Lincoln Castle is one of the best preserved castles in the country and in an ‘Excellent state of preservation’ (historic England). The castle grounds are free to explore, exhibitions within the castle including the display of 1 of only 4 copies of the Magna Carta can be seen for a small fee, details of which can be found on Lincoln’s website. 

The Courthouse, still in active use today (c) Laura Adkins


ABERNETHY, s (2017)  King Stephen fights bravely at the first battle of Lincoln. Available from: [accessed 29/1/22]

Bennett Connelly, S (2015) Nicholaa de la Haye, England’s Forgotten Heroine

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Bennett Connelly, S (2017) The Lincoln Fair. Available from:  [accessed 29/1/22]

Dowman, S (2020) Nichol DE L Haye. Available from: [accessed 29/1/22]

Hanley, C (nd) Nicholaa de la Haye. Available from: [accessed 29/1/22]

Jessel (2018) Nicholaa de la haye: the female sheriff of London. Available from: [accessed 29/1/22]

Lincoln Castle (nd) HES Traineeships. Available from:  [accessed 29/1/22]

Lincoln Castle (nd) History. Available from:  [accessed 29/1/22]

Roller, S (2019) How did William Marshall win the battle of England?. Available from: [accessed 29/1/22]

Trembath, A (2021) Lincoln Castle: a complete History. Available from: [accessed 25/1/22]Wilkinson, L (2015) Lady Nichola de la Haye. Available from:

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