Writing Medieval Lincoln – the Bishops’ Palace

I don’t get to travel across the Atlantic as often as I would like, so I am revisiting Lincoln today through this post. I could close my eyes to wander medieval Lincoln in my mind’s eye, but it would be hard to type!

I had written about Lincoln Castle and Lincoln Cathedral in previous posts and related how important it was for me to know the state of these magnificent buildings in the 1190s. My knight, Sir Stephan, has one scene – yes, one! – in For King and Country set at the Castle, but that didn’t matter. (It also happens to be one of my favorite scenes in Book II.) Now that I’m writing Book III, Swords of the King, I want to know more about the Bishops’ Palace. Stephan’s lover, Lord Henry de Grey, is on his way to Lincoln as I write this post. The year is 1196.

Henry visited the Cathedral numerous times as a boy before an earthquake left it in ruins in 1185. He remembers the Bishops’ Palace – construction on it dates back to the mid-12th century during the reign of Henry II. The palace, which sits just outside the Cathedral close, wouldn’t have been quite so extensive as the picture above left. That represents additional building in the 13th – 16th centuries.

However, even before the earthquake the Palace was recognized as one of the grandest bishops’ palaces in England. The quake might have caused significant damage to it because Hugh of Avalon, appointed Bishop of Lincoln in 1186, had two major rebuilding projects until his death in 1200. He oversaw the work on the Cathedral and undertook a total rebuilding of the Palace.

Reconstruction of the Cathedral got underway by 1192 – Bishop Hugh had been busy raising funds for the project. But what work would have been completed on the Palace by 1196 when Henry visits? What of the grand kitchen? Or the West Hall? Records appear to indicate that the kitchen, with five huge fireplaces, was completed before Hugh’s death. The West Hall, begun under Hugh, was completed by his successor.

The Alnwick Tower from ‘inside’ the Palace’s West Hall with Lincoln Cathedral in the background

Did the Alnwick Tower exist in the 12th century? Nope. Can’t mention that as something Henry would have seen as it was not added until the 14th century.

a room off the East Hall

Rooms off and beneath the East Hall and chapel existed before the earthquake. Henry might have seen the upper part of the hall as a boy, where business would have been conducted. By the time of Bishop Hugh’s death in 1200, the East Hall range had been rebuilt.

Bishop Hugh made a couple of appearances in For King and Country. He is a friend of the de Grey family so Henry will be visiting with him in Book III and perhaps share a meal in the East Hall.

Medieval Bishops’ Palace, Lincoln, edited by Lorimer Poultney. London: English Heritage, 2002, rev. 2013.

Image credits

All photos are the author’s own, and are licensed for re-use under CC BY-SA. See all my photos of the Medieval Bishops’ Palace on my FLICKR page.

  1. Anna Belfrage Avatar

    Obviously, after seeing these pics, I will have to go back to Lincoln (not exactly a hardship). Nice post!

    1. Char Avatar

      Anna – it was so impressive! The audio tour adds so much to the experience. It’s a must! I would love to go back, too.

  2. bitaboutbritain Avatar

    Excellent! Your meticulous approach to detail helps explain why I’d struggle to write an authentic historic novel. Well, any novel at all, actually!

    1. Char Avatar

      Thanks for stopping by and commenting, bitaboutbritain. Historical research leads the writer down so many rabbit holes and can be fascinating as well as a bit scary. I always wonder what I’ve missed – yet, at the same time, I have to be careful not to overwhelm the reader with too much detail. 🙂

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