Lincoln is a cathedral city and county town of Lincolnshire in the East Midlands of England. The non-metropolitan district of Lincoln had a 2012 population of 94,600. The 2011 census gave the urban area of Lincoln, which includes North Hykeham and Waddington, a population of 130,200. Roman Lindum Colonia developed from an Iron Age settlement on the River Witham. The city’s landmarks include Lincoln Cathedral, an example of English Gothic architecture and the tallest building in the world for over 200 years, and the 11th-century Norman Lincoln Castle. The city is home to the University of Lincoln and Bishop Grosseteste University, and to both Lincoln City FC and Lincoln United FC.
Construction of the first Lincoln Cathedral, within its close or walled precinct facing the castle, began when the see was removed from the quiet backwater of Dorchester-on-Thames, Oxfordshire, and was completed in 1092; it was rebuilt after a fire but destroyed by an earthquake in 1185. The rebuilt Lincoln Minster, enlarged to the east at each rebuilding, was on a magnificent scale, its crossing tower crowned by a spire reputed to have been the highest in Europe at 525 ft (160 m). When completed, the central of the three spires is widely accepted to have succeeded the Great Pyramids of Egypt as the tallest man-made structure in the world.
The Lincoln bishops were among the magnates of medieval England. The Diocese of Lincoln, the largest in England, had more monasteries than the rest of England put together, and the diocese was supported by large estates. When Magna Carta was drawn up in 1215, one of the witnesses was Hugh of Wells, Bishop of Lincoln. One of only four surviving originals of the document is preserved in Lincoln Castle.
Among the most famous bishops of Lincoln were Robert Bloet, the magnificent justiciar to Henry I, Hugh of Avalon, the cathedral builder canonised as St Hugh of Lincoln, Robert Grosseteste, the 13th century intellectual, Henry Beaufort, chancellor of Henry V and Henry VI, Thomas Rotherham, a politician deeply involved in the Wars of the Roses, Philip Repyngdon, chaplain to Henry IV and defender of Wycliffe, and Thomas Wolsey, the lord chancellor of Henry VIII. Theologian William de Montibus was the head of the cathedral school and chancellor until his death in 1213.
The administrative centre was the Bishop’s Palace, the third element in the central complex. When it was built in the late 12th century, the Bishop’s Palace was one of the most important buildings in England. Built by Hugh of Lincoln, its East Hall over a vaulted undercroft is the earliest surviving example of a roofed domestic hall. The chapel range and entrance tower were built by Bishop William of Alnwick, who modernised the palace in the 1430s. Both Henry VIII and James I were guests there; the palace was sacked by royalist troops during the civil war in 1648.
During the Anarchy, in 1141 Lincoln was the site of a battle between King Stephen and the forces of Empress Matilda, led by her illegitimate half-brother Robert, 1st Earl of Gloucester. After fierce fighting in the city’s streets, Stephen’s forces were defeated. Stephen himself was captured and taken to Bristol.
By 1150, Lincoln was among the wealthiest towns in England. The basis of the economy was cloth and wool, exported to Flanders; Lincoln weavers had set up a guild in 1130 to produce Lincoln Cloth, especially the fine dyed “scarlet” and “green”, whose reputation was later enhanced by the legendary Robin Hood wearing woollens of Lincoln green. In the Guildhall that surmounts the city gate called the Stonebow, the ancient Council Chamber contains Lincoln’s civic insignia, a fine collection of civic regalia.
Outside the precincts of cathedral and castle, the old quarter clustered around the Bailgate, and down Steep Hill to the High Bridge, whose half-timbered housing juts out over the river. There are three ancient churches: St Mary le Wigford and St Peter at Gowts are both 11th century in origin and St Mary Magdalene, built in the late 13th century. The last is an unusual English dedication to the saint whose cult was coming into vogue on the European continent at that time.
Lincoln was home to one of the five main Jewish communities in England, well established before it was officially noted in 1154. In 1190, anti-Semitic riots that started in King’s Lynn, Norfolk, spread to Lincoln; the Jewish community took refuge with royal officials, but their habitations were plundered. The so-called House of Aaron has a two-storey street frontage that is essentially 12th century and a nearby Jew’s House likewise bears witness to the Jewish population. In 1255, the affair called “The Libel of Lincoln” in which prominent Jews of Lincoln, accused of the ritual murder of a Christian boy (the Little Saint Hugh of Lincoln in medieval folklore) were sent to the Tower of London and 18 were executed. The Jews were expelled in total in 1290.
Thirteenth-century Lincoln was England’s third largest city and a favourite of more than one king. During the First Barons’ War, it became caught up in the strife between the king and rebel barons who had allied with the French. It was here and at Dover that the French and Rebel army was defeated. In the aftermath, the town was pillaged for having sided with Prince Louis. In the Second Barons’ War, of 1266, the disinherited rebels attacked the Jews of Lincoln, ransacked the synagogue, and burned the records which registered debts.
According to some historians, the city’s fortunes began to decline in the 14th century, although others have argued that the city remained buoyant in both trade and communications well into the 15th century. Thus in 1409, the city was made a county in its own right known as the County of the City of Lincoln.
Thereafter, additional rights being conferred on the town by successive monarchs, including those of an assay town (controlling metal manufacturing, for example). The oldest surviving secular drama in English, The Interlude of the Student and the Girl (c. 1300), may have originated from Lincoln.
Lincoln’s coat of arms, not officially endorsed by the College of Arms, is believed to date from the 14th century. It is Argent on a cross gules a fleur-de-lis or. The cross is believed to derive from the Diocese of Lincoln. The fleur-de-lis is the symbol of the Virgin Mary, to whom the cathedral is dedicated. The motto is CIVITAS LINCOLNIA (Latin for City of Lincoln).
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