Part 2: Rebellion, revelry and royalty

The castle was used as a residence by the Earls of Leicester and saw violence in 1173 during the revolt against Henry II. Vassals of the Earl held the castle against royal forces until 1174 when it was taken. Orders were made for the castle to be destroyed but it seems that they were not carried out.

On the death of Earl Robert Fitz-Parnell in 1204, the land was given to his sister Amice, Countess of Leicester, who was married to Simon de Montfort (senior). In 1207 the de Montfort lands in England and France were seized to settle a debt. It was not until 1231 that Simon de Montfort (junior) was able to reclaim the land and become Earl of Leicester. Famously, in 1263 de Montfort raised a rebellion against the King, which culminated in his death at the Battle of Evesham in 1265. His titles and lands were forfeit and Leicester was given to Edmund Crouchback, Earl of Lancaster, Derby and Leicester, the son of King Henry III.

Edmund’s son Thomas inherited his titles in 1296. He lived in Leicester in great state and spent thousands on lavish entertainments, hosting King Edward I and Queen Isabel, and King Edward II. In 1322, however, Thomas was executed after rebelling against the King. Leicester was badly damaged during the uprising. Thomas’s brother Henry Grosmont was made the 3rd Earl of Lancaster and Leicester.

In around 1330 Henry retired from public life and came to live in Leicester Castle, as he was suffering from poor health. He hosted more royal visits, including Edward III and the queen. His main project was the development of Trinity Hospital, then known as the Hospital of the honour of God and the Glorious Virgin and All Saints and in special reverence of Our Lady. The four acre site chosen bordered the castle precinct. When Henry died in 1345 he was buried in the hospital chapel at a lavish ceremony attended by the King and Queen and various bishops and magnates.

He was succeeded by his son, also Henry, the 4th Earl of Leicester and Lancaster.

In 1351 Henry was ‘promoted’ to the title of Duke following successful military exploits in France. He founded the Church of the Annunciation of the Blessed Virgin Marywhere DMU’s Hawthorn Building now stands. When he died in 1361 he was buried in the church and his father’s body was moved from the hospital chapel so they would be together. Henry had no male heir, so the lands went to his daughter Blanche, wife of John of Gaunt.

The younger son of King Edward III, John of Gaunt had acted as regent to his nephew Richard II. He was one of the most powerful and richest men in the country. He took the title of Duke of Lancaster and came to live at Leicester. Poet Geoffrey Chaucer, author of The Canterbury Tales, was a member of the household and is thought to have married in St Mary de Castro in around 1366. The castle hosted more royal visits, this time Richard II and entourage, who enjoyed entertainments and hunting. In 1394 John’s wife Constance, Queen of Castile (in Spain), died at the castle and was buried in the Church of the Annunciation.

In 1399 John died, but as his son Henry Bolingbroke was in exile, the lands were forfeit to the Crown. However, Henry returned to England and deposed his cousin Richard II, taking over the throne. From this date onwards the Duchy of Lancaster remained in Royal hands and the Lord of Leicester was the sovereign. A steward was appointed to oversee local affairs and the castle became more of an estates office than residence. In 1425 Parliament was held at the Castle Hall, and Courts of Assize – periodic criminal courts that heard the most serious cases – continued to be held here.

Read part 3: Trials and tribulations