Everything You Need to Know About Castles at Dover
What is a castle? In this Study Day, Dr Marc Morris, one of the country’s leading experts on castles, explains everything you need to know in a fascinating day at Dover Castle.
About Dr Marc Morris
Dr Marc Morris is a historian who specializes in the Middle Ages. He studied and taught history at the universities of London and Oxford, and his doctorate on the thirteenth-century earls of Norfolk was published in 2005. An expert on medieval monarchy and aristocracy, and a fellow of the Royal Historical Society, Marc has written numerous articles for History Today and BBC History Magazine
In 2003, he presented the acclaimed television series ‘Castle’ and wrote its accompanying book. Subsequently, he has written a biography of Edward I, published in 2008 as ‘A Great and Terrible King’, a history of the Norman Conquest and most recently, ‘King John: Treachery, Tyranny and the Road to Magna Carta’. Marc regularly talks at museums and literary festivals, and is a popular television pundit.
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Study Day -
What is a castle? How do castles differ from earlier and later forms of fortification? Castles originate in northern France around the turn of the first millennium AD. The introduction of castles to England was during the Norman Conquest, and the castle-building campaigns of William the Conqueror. Almost all these early castles are built from earth and timber, but a tiny handful — Tower of London, Chepstow, Colchester, Richmond, etc. — are built in stone.
11am-11.30am Break for tea and coffee
11.30am–12.30pm Tour of Dover Castle exterior
A walking tour of the architectural highlights of the site. Beginning at the Roman lighthouse (first century AD, one of the oldest standing buildings in Britain), moving on to the Anglo-Saxon church (c. 1000 AD) and passing through Constable’s Gate (1220s). This leads to a discussion of the siege at the end of the reign of King John in 1216.
1.30pm–2.30pm Tour of the Great Tower
Built by Henry II from 1180 as a monumental statement of royal power, and lavishly refitted by English Heritage in 2008, this is the highlight of the tour. Henry is now chiefly remembered for his role in the death of Archbishop Thomas Becket, but in his day he was the greatest ruler in Europe, and the grandeur of this building reflects that status. We will explore each of the tower’s four levels, from roof to basement, talking about the functions of each room and the tower’s overall purpose. It boast an exquisitely well-preserved chapel for the king’s own use, and the deepest castle well-shaft in Britain.
2.30pm–3pm Break for tea and coffee
3pm–4pm Castles of the Later Middle Ages
The period between Dover’s construction in the 1180s and the siege of 1216 was a major turning point in the history of castle design. Partly because they were seen as vulnerable to new weapons of attack, great towers fell out of favour in the thirteenth century, when curtain-wall castles became the new norm: witness, for example, the great string of such fortresses built by Edward I at the end of the thirteenth century to subdue Wales. In the later Middle Ages, however, new castles were less viable as fortifications, but continued to be built because of their symbolic role. As we discover, however, symbolism was present in castle design from the very first, as a final examination of Dover will show.