The 17th Restoration and Late Decline of the Prince Bishops
From the 16th century, the power of the Bishops gradually waned. With the formal union of England and Scotland, the need for a defensive castle was greatly reduced, and during the Civil Wars of the mid-17th century, the fortunes of Durham Castle further declined.
In response to the upheaval caused by the Wars, the Bishop fled the city, and Durham Castle was used as a hospital for Scottish prisoners captured at the Battle of Dunbar in 1650. With the restoration of the monarchy in 1660, substantial rebuilding work was required to return the neglected Castle to its former glory.
After the end of the English Civil Wars, Bishop Cosin (1660-1672) set about undoing the damage. He filled in the Moat, demolished the Barbican and created a wide driveway. He also added a porch to the entrance of the Great Hall and buttressing the east walls. The buildings in south-west corner of the courtyard were refaced, and a fountain was installed. Cosin also extended the Tunstall Chapel and created leisure gardens. He refurbished the interiors, adding panelling to the Great Hall and hanging Flemish tapestries in many rooms.
The Black Stairs were the crowning glory of Cosin’s refurbishment the castle. The structure of the staircase was at the cutting edge of architecture at the time – a true marvel. Reaching a height of 17m (57ft), it was designed as a cantilevered flying staircase, meaning that it constructed without vertical supports. Unfortunately, Cosin’s staircase began to lean inwards soon after its construction. To stabilise the structure, vertical wooden support posts had to be installed, and these remain to this day. Although the Black Stairs are no longer ‘flying’ they are still a grand, impressive part of the Castle.
The days of major building projects were mainly over by the 18th century. Instead, the emphasis shifted to adapting the medieval rooms to make them more comfortable. The lower level of the North Hall was subdivided into a series of smaller fashionable rooms, including the Bishop’s Dining Room, the eight-sided Octagon Room, the Bishop’s Suite, and a withdrawing room (now the Senior Common Room). Whilst providing lavish spaces for entertainment, these rooms also controlled access to the Bishop and his private rooms.