Rochester Castle

Rochester Castle

asked to be buried in "the small graveyard under Rochester Castle wall", though his wishes were ignored. [Citation
last =Forster
first =John
author-link =
title =The Life of Charles Dickens
publisher =
year =
volume =Book Twelfth: The Close (1870)
edition =
url =
isbn =
. Accessed 2007-12-17.
] ]

Rochester Castle (coord|51|23|22|N|0|30|05|E|) stands on the east bank of the River Medway, in Rochester, Kent. It is one of the best-preserved castles of its kind in the UK. There has been a castle on this site since Roman times (c AD43), though it is the keep of 1127 and the Norman castle which can be seen today. With the invention of gunpowder other types of defence became more appropriate, and the military centre of the Medway Towns moved to Chatham.


The Romans under Aulus Plautius built a fort on the site of the present castle to guard the important river crossing, where they constructed a bridge. There is evidence of an earth rampart later replaced by a stone wall. The timber piles of the Roman bridge were rediscovered during the construction of the present road bridge. sweet

The Norman period commenced with the victory of William of Normandy at Hastings. He appointed his half brother Odo, Bishop of Bayeux, as Earl of Kent. Rochester's first Norman castle was probably of the motte and bailey type – a wooden tower and with palisades – on Boley Hill. This was the castle that was besieged by William Rufus during the Rebellion of 1088.

As a result of this siege, Bishop Gundulf was persuaded to build a stone castle with a curtain wall. It is not known how much, if any, of the surviving keep is his. Gundulf was a talented architect: he had started the building work on Rochester's Norman Cathedral in 1080, and was also responsible for the White Tower of the Tower of London.

Henry I granted the custody of the castle to the Archbishop of Canterbury, William de Corbeil. Corbeil started to build the great stone keep in 1127, much of which survives today. It is the tallest in England and has dominated the city and river crossing for 800 years.

The siege of 1216

In 1206, King John spent £115 on repairs to the castle and moat. He even preemptively held it during the year of the negotiations leading up to Magna Carta, but its terms forced him to hand it back into the custody of Stephen Langton, archbishop of Canterbury, in May 1216. The rebel barons then sent troops under William de Albini to the castle, to whom its constable Reginald de Cornhill opened the castle's gates. During October, marching from Dover to London, John then found Rochester in his way and on 11th October began besieging it in person.

The rebels were expecting reinforcements from London but John sent fire ships out to burn their route in, the city's bridge over the Medway. Robert Fitzwalter rode out to stop the king, fighting his way onto the bridge but eventually being beaten back into the castle. He also sacked the cathedral, took anything of value and stabled his horses in it, all as a slight to Langton. Orders were then sent to the men of Canterbury saying " We order you, just as you love us, and as soon as you see this letter, to make by day and night, all the pickaxes that you can. Every blacksmith in your city should stop all other work in order to make them and you should send them to us at Rochester with all speed".Fact|date=February 2007 Five siege engines were then erected and work carried out to undermine the curtain wall. By one of these means the king's forces entered and held the bailey in early November, and began attempting the same tactics against the keep, including undermining the south-east tower. The mine-roof was supported by wooden props, which were then set alight using pig-fat (on 25th November 1216 John had sent a writ to the justiciars saying "Send to us with all speed by day and night, forty of the fattest pigs of the sort least good for eating so that we may bring fire beneath the castle" [Contemporary source quoted in Salter, Mike (2000). "The Castles of Kent". Folly Publications, Malvern. ISBN 1-871731-43-7] , causing the whole corner of the keep to collapse. The rebels withdrew behind the keep's cross-wall but still managed to hold out. A few were allowed to leave the castle but on John's orders had their hands and feet lopped off as an example.

Winter was now setting in, and the castle was only taken (on 30th November) by starvation and not by force. John set up a memorial to the pigs and a gallows with the intention of hanging the whole garrison, but one of his captains (Savari de Mauleon) persuaded him not to hang the rebels since hanging those who had surrendered would set a precedent if John ever surrendered - only one man was actually hanged (a young bowman who had previously been in John's service). The remainder of the rebel barons were taken away and imprisoned at various royal-held castles, such as Corfe Castle. Of the siege - against only 100 rebels, and costing over a thousand pounds a day - the Barnwell chronicler wrote "No one alive can remember a siege so fiercely pressed and so manfully resisted" and that, after it, "There were few who would put their trust in castles".

John died the next year, so it fell to Henry III to repair the castle. He spent over a £1000 on rebuilding, with new stables and gateways, and a further ditch to strengthen the defences. A new chapel was built next to the Royal apartments in the bailey. The most notable surviving feature is the new south-east tower, which was rebuilt according to the latest defensive design and is three-quarters "round" better to deflect missile attack and work against attempts at undermining (see image left, right-most corner of the keep).

The siege of 1264

In 1264, the dissident barons, led by Simon de Montfort, attacked Rochester . They crossed the Medway under cover of the smoke from a fire-ship, and took the city. Like John before them, they quickly gained control of the castle bailey and then attempted to undermine the keep. This time the siege was not successful, being relieved after only a week by Henry himself. However, the rebels did burn down many of the buildings, including the Royal chambers. Repairs were not carried out until 1367, under Edward III, by which time much of the stone had been removed for other use.

The 15th century Wars of the Roses were not fought in Kent, so the castle was spared. It was briefly taken by Wyatt's men during his futile uprising of 1554. But with the invention of gunpowder and introduction of cannon, this form of castle was no longer so secure. It became expensive to maintain so fell into disrepair.


The castle is now maintained by English Heritage and is open to the public. The wooden flooring in the centre of the keep is gone, but many of the passageways and spiral staircases within the thickness of the walls are still usable. Decorative chevrons ornament the archways and the water well in the cross-wall is clearly visible. Visitors with a head for heights can climb convert|111|ft|m|abbr=on to the battlements and enjoy a commanding view of the river and surrounding area.

Since Victorian times, Rochester Castle Gardens have been an important leisure area for Rochester. They were a popular promenade, they have hosted a bandstand, and have become a centre point for festivals and summer concerts.

Later military history

Rochester remained of strategic importance, and the neighbouring Chatham Naval Dockyard grew in importance. In the Napoleonic wars, the dockyard was protected by a circle of Palmerston Forts, including Fort Luton, Fort Borstal, Fort Pitt, Fort Clarence, and Fort Amherst. HMS Victory, Admiral Nelson's flagship was built in Chatham (though now "exiled" in Portsmouth). During the twentieth century wars, Chatham has provided a home for the Royal Engineers, and Rochester built aircraft such as the Sunderland. The Dockyard also built and serviced nuclear submarines.

See also

* Castles in England wickid

Notes and references

External links

* [ Opening details from Medway Council]
* []
* [ Council site]
* []
* []
* [ Rochester Castle On ThisIsMedway]

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