A motte and bailey castle was built in about 1068 inside the south-west corner of Leicester, and became the centre of power for the first Norman overlord of the town, Hugh de Grentmaisnil. In 1107 Robert de Beaumont, first Earl of Leicester, established a college of canons (community of priests) at St Mary de Castro and probably rebuilt the castle defences in stone. The second Earl, Robert le Bossu, built the Great Hall in about 1150.
The Great Hall was an immense stone aisled building with a timber roof supported on oak posts and still survives today, although much altered. Following a revolt in 1173, in which the third Earl, Robert Blanchmains was a leading conspirator, Leicester was besieged and captured by Henry II who later ordered the destruction of the castle and town defences. Although excavations have suggested that this was put into effect in a limited way, the Great Hall and other buildings seem to have been spared.
The castle later became the residence of the Earls, later Dukes, of Lancaster and reached its greatest extent in the 14th century. The accounts refer to many other buildings which have long since disappeared, and there was also a herb garden and a watermill in what is now Castle Gardens. In 1399, Leicester Castle ceased to be a ducal residence when the second Duke of Lancaster became King Henry IV, and it began to fall into decline.
Richard stayed at Leicester Castle in 1483 on his way from London to York and again in August of that year when returning south. This was the last known use of the castle as a residence and almost immediately it started to deteriorate, which explains Richard’s decision two years later to stay at the Blue Boar Inn instead.
The Great Hall was extensively rebuilt in the mid-16th century and a brick frontage was added in 1695, leaving the building looking distinctly un-castle-like. A statue of Richard III was erected in Castle Gardens in 1980.