Rochester Castle

Rochester Castle

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Rochester Castle, located in Kent, England, was first constructed shortly after 1066 CE by the Normans, was converted into stone between 1087 and 1089 CE, and then added to over subsequent centuries, notably between 1127 and 1136 CE, and again in the mid-14th century CE. The imposing castle keep or donjon seen today was added in the 12th century CE and is one of the best-preserved and tallest of any medieval castle. Odo of Bayeux, half-brother of William the Conqueror (r. 1066-1087 CE), was a famous resident as well as the bishops of Rochester. In 1215 CE Rochester was the scene of a major siege by King John of England (r. 1199-1216 CE) when rebel barons temporarily took over the castle. Today the site is managed by English Heritage and is an important surviving example of 12th-century CE castle architecture.

Early History

Rochester Castle is located in the English town of that name in the county of Kent, southern England, some 40 kilometres (25 miles) east of London. The castle lies on the banks of the River Medway, strategically located next to the medieval bridge which crossed the river and so directly on the route between London and Canterbury and Dover.

Rochester castle was first built shortly after the Battle of Hastings in 1066 CE and the subsequent Norman conquest of England and is mentioned in Domesday Book (1086-7 CE). The land on which it was built was acquired from the Bishop of Rochester in exchange for land in Aylesford, Kent. This largely wooden structure, likely a motte and bailey castle, included a curtain wall and dry moat.

In 1127 CE Rochester castle was granted to the bishops of Rochester in perpetuity by Henry I of England.

The castle came into the hands of Odo of Bayeux (d. 1097 CE) who was the bishop of Bayeux in Normandy and the half-brother of William the Conqueror. Made the Earl of Kent and second most powerful man in England after the king, Odo used Rochester castle as one of his many bases - mighty Dover Castle was another of his residences. The rapacious Odo fell out with his half-brother for a time, and when William's son William II Rufus, inherited the throne (r. 1087-1100 CE), the new king had no time whatsoever for his scheming uncle, and Odo lost his castle at Rochester to a siege. Shortly after, the castle was then rebuilt in stone between 1087 and 1089 CE (the precise dates are not known), under the orders of Gundulf, Bishop of Rochester (appointed 1077 CE), for its new owner, William Rufus. Gundulf also had the cathedral rebuilt just next door to the castle, using Canterbury as a model, and he is credited with having a hand in the building of the White Tower of the Tower of London.

In 1127 CE Rochester castle was granted to the bishops of Rochester in perpetuity by Henry I of England (r. 1100-1135 CE). The keep seen today was then added under the auspices of the Archbishop, William of Corbeil, between 1127 and 1136 CE. Around 1172 CE Henry II of England (r. 1154-1189 CE) further improved the castle, spending the significant sum of 100 pounds on the project. King John was the next monarch to significantly invest in the castle, spending 115 pounds on upgrades in 1206 CE. Unfortunately for the king, the money was rather wasted as he then had to lay siege to his own castle in 1215 CE (see below).

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Curtain Walls

As was typical of medieval castles, Rochester had a curtain or bailey wall. This no longer survives today except in sections, but the walls were originally an impressive 6.7 metres (22 ft.) high and 1.37 metres (4.5 ft.) thick at the base. Some small stretches of the castle's original 11th-century CE crenellated outer wall remain on the riverside, some of which were built on top of the city's ancient Roman walls. In the 13th and 14th century CE sections of the wall were rebuilt on the southeast and eastern sides of the castle; some parts of these are still visible today as the back walls of gardens belonging to housing in Rochester's High Street. Gundulf added a tower into the eastern side of the curtain walls and the foundations of this were built upon to create a new tower, one of two added in the 14th century CE. As with the Norman original, the later versions of the castle were surrounded by a wide dry moat.

The Castle Keep

Between 1127 and 1136 CE, then, a massive rectangular keep was added in the south corner of the complex. The material used was Kentish rag and dressed stones from Caen in Normandy. The tower, with three floors and a basement, was 34.4 metres (113 ft.) high with smaller corner towers rising above the wall walk by another 3.7 metres (12 ft.). The walls were made especially thick to resist stone missiles, some 3.7 metres thick at the base and tapering to a still-impressive 3 metres (10 ft.) at the top. The thickness allowed for many mural chambers and galleries to be cut into them in the interior at the higher levels. The tower was further strengthened by a massive internal cross-wall, dividing the keep in half from top to bottom. The interior rectangular floor space measured some 14 metres (46 ft.) x 6.4 metres (20 ft.).

For extra protection, the foundations were made extremely deep to deter undermining, there was a drawbridge, and a massive staircase entrance to the first floor of the tower which was entirely enclosed in a fore-building and tower on the north face. The main doorway was protected by a portcullis - its wall grooves are still clearly visible today. The staircase entrance seen today is modern, but it was built on the original entrance ramp. The keep at Rochester had wooden hoardings around the top to act as covered and overhanging firing platforms, as indicated by the presence of holes for beams in the stonework just below the crenellations.

Rochester castle saw its greatest crisis in 1215 CE as it became the pawn in a complex game of kings, archbishops, & barons.

Today, the floors and ceilings are no longer present within the tower following a fire of unknown date, but the impressive windows and arcades are still a reminder of its past grandeur. Spiral staircases in the northeast and southwest corners provided access between floors. Unusually, the tower had the castle's second chapel on the top floor (the other being in the fore-building), a reflection perhaps of its status as a bishop's residence. The middle floor had sumptuous private apartments, and these were given grandeur by ornate, carved decoration on the windows, doorways, and fireplaces, and by making the central cross-wall on this floor a columned arcade. The tower had its own well as a protection against a siege, the door can be seen at the base of a covered shaft which rises to the top of the structure within the central cross-wall, allowing each floor to access water using a rope and bucket. The well itself was cut down 18 metres (59 ft.) into the bedrock and the top half of it then lined in stone.

The Great Hall was likely on the first floor of the keep as suggested by the presence of several grand fireplaces. This hall would have hosted audiences with the archbishop, receptions, and impressive feasts. One inventory for supplies in 1266 CE, when the castle was the residence of Roger Leyburn, includes 251 herrings, 50 sheep, 51 salted pigs, and quantities of rice, figs, and raisins. Goods came to the castle from far and wide: fish from Northfleet, oats from Leeds, rye from Colchester, and wine from specialised dealers in London.

The Siege of King John

Rochester castle saw its greatest crisis in 1215 CE as it became the pawn in a complex game of kings, archbishops, and barons. In June 1215 CE the castle had been given to Stephen Langton, the Archbishop of Canterbury, but then in August of the same year ownership was transferred to Peter des Roches, the Archbishop of Winchester, a friend of King John. Then, in September, a group of rebel barons led by William de Albini claimed to be acting in the name of the castle's constable, Reginald de Cornhill (an opponent of the king) and seized control of it. King John, then in Dover, reacted swiftly and, leading his troops in person, besieged the castle from 11 October, taking the bridge across the Medway and so isolating the castle from reinforcements. The defenders did not have a great quantity of supplies but they did have the castle's garrison which numbered between 95 and 140 men (the medieval chroniclers do not agree), including a contingent of knights and crossbowmen.

Unfortunately for the rebels, King John organised a constant barrage, day and night, of heavy missiles from five large catapults and rotating units of archers and crossbowmen. The defenders became low on food and were forced to eat their own horses. The combination of catapults and tunnelling eventually did their job and so the attackers pierced the outer wall, allowing the king's men to approach the keep. Sappers were then instructed to mine under a corner of the keep, which they did. Next, props in the tunnel and quantities of flammable pig fat and wood were set ablaze causing the collapse of the tunnel and also the partial collapse of the southeast corner of the tower above. However, the defenders did not give up and continued to resist safe behind the cross-wall. Without food, though, they could not survive indefinitely and were obliged to surrender on 30 November.

The badly damaged tower was rebuilt with a new rounded corner section, and this is the form that can be seen today. The keep was further protected by the construction of a protective wall in front of it. Other additions after the siege included better fortifying the southern gate and, around 1225 CE, an extension and deepening of the moat, which then enclosed the rise called Boley Hill which John himself had used as a useful elevation from which to fire his catapults. In 1233 CE a drum tower was added to the now-repaired curtain walls. Significantly, though, the siege had shown the vulnerability of even the strongest castles and that attack was, indeed, the best form of defence.

Later History

King John's siege was not the end of Rochester's problems as the very next year Prince Louis of France (aka Louis VIII, r. 1223-1226 CE) briefly captured the castle as he launched his claim for the English throne. During more peaceful times, the Queen of Scotland, Marie de Coucy (c. 1218-1285 CE), visited the castle in 1248 CE. Rochester was again besieged, this time only for two weeks, as royalists in support of Henry III of England (r. 1216-1272 CE) took it over in April 1264 CE and they braced themselves to resist the attacking rebel forces led by Earl Simon de Montfort. The siege began on 17 April, once again the curtain wall was breached but the tower keep stood firm until the arrival of an army led by the king persuaded the attackers to withdraw on 26 April. This time, the castle was not repaired for over a century, masonry was even removed and used in other buildings, and the whole complex fell into a state of serious disrepair.

Rochester's saviour was King Edward III (r. 1327-1377 CE). A survey was carried out on the castle in 1340 CE and again in 1363 CE, both of which studies showed the massive funds needed to bring the castle back to its former glory. Work began in 1367 CE and continued, at a cost of 2262 pounds (equivalent to several million dollars today), until 1370 CE. Work carried on, too, over the next decade as every part of the castle was overhauled. Another major addition was made in the 1380s CE, the tower at the north end of the castle, now in ruins.

After the 14th century CE, the castle was not involved in any military events and James I (r. 1603-1625 CE) granted it to the statesman Sir Anthony Weldon (1583–1648 CE) whose descendants kept possession until the end of the 19th century CE. Various schemes regarding the castle came to no end, including a plan to demolish the whole thing or turn it into an army barracks. In 1965 CE the Corporation of Rochester handed over the lease to the Ministry of Public Buildings and Works, and since 1984 CE the castle has been managed by English Heritage.

History of Rochester, New York

This article documents the history of Rochester, New York, in western New York State. Settlement began in the late 18th century, and the city flourished with the opening of the Erie Canal. It became a major manufacturing center, and attracted many Italians, Germans, Irish and other immigrants, as well as a dominant group of Yankees of New England origin. The Yankees made Rochester the center of multiple reform movements, such as abolitionism and women's rights. It was famous as the center of the American photography industry, with headquarters of Eastman Kodak. In the 1970s it became fashionable to call the industrial cities along the Great Lakes 'rustbelt cities' following the move away from steel, chemical and other hard goods manufacturing. Rochester, with the presence of Ritter-Pfaulder, Bausch and Lomb, Eastman Kodak, Xerox, Gannett and other major industries, defied the trend for many decades following WWII.

Of the 19 places in the United States named Rochester, at least 8 were named directly after Rochester, New York, having been founded or settled by former residents. These include: Rochester, Indiana Rochester, Texas Rochester, Iowa Rochester, Kentucky Rochester, Michigan Rochester, Minnesota Rochester, Nevada and Rochester, Ohio.

Crown and Church

The close juxtaposition of castle and cathedral in Rochester is a powerful symbol of the twin poles of authority in medieval society: the secular power of the Crown and nobility, and the ecclesiastical power of bishops and monastic orders. The ensemble at Rochester can be compared with that in other cities in England, notably Lincoln, and continental Europe.

It can be argued that the presence of the castle influenced unusual elements of the cathedral’s layout, such as the location of the monks’ cloister south of the cathedral chancel. The more conventional position, south of the nave, would have been directly overlooked by the castle. It was instead occupied by the bishop’s palace, the residence of the principal ecclesiastical power. [2]

In 1087 Gundulf, Bishop of Rochester began the construction of the castle to command an important river crossing. One of William the Conqueror’s greatest architects, Gundulf was also responsible for the Tower of London. Much of what remains of the walled perimeter remains intact from that time.

William de Corbeil, Archbishop of Canterbury was also a contributor to this grand castle building project.

Its Norman tower-keep of Kentish ragstone was built about 1127 by William of Corbeil, Archbishop of Canterbury, with the encouragement of Henry I. Consisting of three floors above a basement, it still stands 113 feet high. Attached is a tall protruding forebuilding, with its own set of defences to pass through before the keep itself could be entered at first floor level.

In 1215, garrisoned by rebel barons, the castle endured an epic siege by King John. Having first undermined the outer wall, King John used the fat of 40 pigs to fire a mine under the keep, bringing its southern corner crashing down. Even then the defenders held on, until they were eventually starved out after resisting for two months.

Rochester Castle played no role in the Civil Wars and so it was never slighted. It appears, however, that a violent fire took place in the keep before the 1660s, which reduced the building to ruin.

Artists and writers, including Samuel Pepys in the 17th century and Charles Dickens in the 19th, recorded their impressions of the vast interior and the impressive views from the top of the keep.

In 1870 Rochester Corporation leased (and later bought) the castle and opened the grounds, on the site of the bailey, to the public as gardens. Repairs were carried out in the early 20th century. The Ministry of Works assumed control of the keep in 1965, and responsibility passed to English Heritage in 1984. Since 1995 the City of Rochester, now Medway Council, has managed both the keep and the Castle Gardens.

The Defensive Features of Rochester Castle in 1215

The Defensive Features of Rochester Castle in 1215 Castles were built all over Britain in the 11th Century onwards and they were built to show the Lords sense of power and position. When they were built, the main aspects in mind were to make it as strong as possible and as hard to attack as possible. This was done through natural defences like the river and that it was on a hill. They also used man made defences like ditches, curtain walls and the batter. Another aspect was the keep defences like the stairs which had a right angle in them, bracing of the doors and arrow slits. Firstly, when the attackers decided to attack Rochester Castle, the first obstacle that they would have to overcome was the river. It would slow them down having to get all the heavy siege weapons across. On the other hand, it would give the defenders time to prepare for a siege and to get in any required food. . read more.

of the castle castle. These walls are often connected by a series of towers or mural towers to add strength and provide for better defense of the ground outside the castle, and were connected like a curtain draped between these posts. They were designed to enclose the keep itself and to help a garrison last longer during a siege. The keep walls would be next. They were the thick stone walls of the keep which protected the people who were in the keep, but the attackers would find it very difficult to break down. As breaking down the keep wall was almost impossible, the attackers would use their common sense and break down the door to the fore-building, but would then find it hard to break down the door to the keep as there would also be a portcullis making it a lot stronger and harder to break down. The keep walls would also slope outwards at the bottom which was called a batter. . read more.

Inside the keep, there was one main stairs which turned anti-clockwise and this would give an advantage to people who were coming down the stair (defenders) who were right-handed and make it more challenging for people coming up the stairs (attackers) who were right-handed. They would only take in mind right-handed people as left-handed people in medieval times were thought to be witches and warlocks. A lot higher in the castle, there were hourdes which were covered platforms with holes in the floor for dropping missiles at the enemy at the base of the wall. The cover to the platform would protect the defender making them almost impossible to reach due to very small holes in the bottom being the only way of attack. Even though Rochester Castle had many defensive features, it also had weaknesses, for example, it did not have its own unlimited supply although there was a well in the basement, but this didn't stop it having all it's features. It would have been very difficult to attack, but even more difficult to defend and build. . read more.

This student written piece of work is one of many that can be found in our GCSE Britain 1905-1951 section.

Siege of Rochester Castle I

On 11 October 1215, a crack troop of a hundred knights arrived at the gates of Rochester Castle and demanded to be admitted. The constable of the castle, Sir Reginald de Cornhill, did not hesitate, for he had been expecting them. The drawbridge was lowered, the doors swung open, and the horsemen swept inside.

These men were rebels, come into Kent on a highly dangerous mission. Earlier in the year, along with scores of other noblemen, they had seized control of London in defiance of their king. In recent days, however, they had started to sense that the tide was turning against them, and had therefore decided to take action. Selected by their fellows as the bravest and most skilled in arms, they had ridden south-east to open up a second front. If London was to hold out, they knew they had to distract the king, and draw his fire away from the capital.

Their plan, in this respect, was brilliantly successful. Two days later, a royal army drew up outside the walls of Rochester. King John had arrived.

John was the youngest son of Henry II, and the runt of his father’s litter. He is familiar to all of us as the bad guy from the Robin Hood stories – the snivelling villain who betrayed his elder brother, ‘Good’ King Richard the Lionheart, and made a grab for the English throne. It will hardly surprise most people to learn that this picture of John is a caricature – the Robin Hood legends originated long after the king was dead. Nevertheless, even if we scrape off all the mud that has been flung at John over the centuries, he still emerges as a highly unpleasant individual, and a man unsuited to the business of ruling. Contemporaries might not have recognized the hideous, depraved monster of legend, but they would have acknowledged the basic truth of the matter – John was a Bad King.

To find out what people really thought about King John, we have to leave the stories of Robin Hood, and turn instead to another piece of writing, very different but no less famous. In 1215, shortly before they set off to seize Rochester Castle, John’s enemies compiled a list of complaints about him, and presented it to the king in the hope of persuading him to behave better in the future. The list was drawn up in the form of a charter and, because it was so long, the charter itself was very big. People soon started referring to it simply as the Big Charter or, in Latin, Magna Carta.

So, by looking at Magna Carta, we can work out why people were annoyed with King John. What aggravated them most, it seems, was the way in which he constantly helped himself to their cash the first clauses of the Charter are all concerned with limiting the king’s ability to extort money. In 1204, five years into his reign, John had suffered a major military and political disaster when he lost Normandy, Anjou and Poitou to the king of France. These provinces had formed the heart of John’s empire, and trying to get them back had kept him busy for the past ten years. Ultimately, however, by plotting his recovery, John was paving the way to his own downfall. The cost of building an alliance to strike back against the French king was enormous, especially because it was John’s misfortune to rule at a time when inflation was causing prices (of mercenaries, for example) to soar. With increasing frequency, John passed the costs on to his English subjects, imposing ever greater and more frequent taxes, fining them large sums of money for trivial offences, and demanding huge amounts of cash in return for nothing more than his grace and favour. Very quickly, John managed to create a situation where the people who didn’t want him in charge outnumbered those who did – a dangerous scenario for any political leader.

In some respects, however, the rebellion that the king faced in 1215 was not entirely his own fault. Both his father and his brother had governed England in much the same fashion, expanding their power at the expense of the power of their barons. One very visible way of measuring their success is by looking at their castles. At the start of Henry II’s reign in 1154, only around 20 per cent of all castles in the country were royal. The two decades before Henry’s accession had seen a proliferation of private castles (mostly motte and baileys) built without the king’s consent. One of Henry’s first actions as king was to order (and, where necessary, to compel) the destruction of such fortifications. Moreover, Henry and his sons, as we have seen, built new castles – big, impressive stone towers like Newcastle, Scarborough, Orford, and Odiham. By the time of John’s death, the ratio of royal castles to baronial ones had altered drastically almost half the castles in England were in royal hands. Castles, therefore, provide a good index of the king’s power against the power of his barons.

It is evident that the rebels brought long-term grievances such as this to the negotiating table in 1215, because John tried to address them in Magna Carta.

‘If anyone has been dispossessed without legal judgement from his lands or his castles by us,’ the king said, ‘we will immediately restore them to him.’

But John went on to add that his subjects should make allowances for anyone who had been similarly dispossessed ‘by King Henry our father, or King Richard our brother’. Such hair-splitting, however, ignored the basic truth of the matter, which was that Henry and Richard were simply better kings than John. They were skilled warriors, while he was condemned for his cowardice. Although he proved a capable administrator (John could be dynamic and efficient when it came to collecting taxes), he was a bad manager, unfit to command the loyalties of his leading subjects, unable to check or channel their ambitions, and uneven in his distribution of rewards. Most of all, John was just an unpleasant guy. He sniggered when people talked to him. He didn’t keep his word. He was tight-fisted and untrusting. He even seduced the wives and daughters of some of his barons. Henry and Richard might have acted unfairly from time to time, but overall people liked them almost nobody liked John.

It was John’s personality, in the end, that doomed Magna Carta to failure. There was little point in persuading John to make such an elaborate promise, because he was bound to try and wriggle out of it. Sure enough, no sooner had negotiations ended than the king was writing to the Pope, explaining how the Charter had been forced out of him, and asking for it to be condemned. By the time the Pope wrote back, however, John’s opponents had already worked out for themselves that Magna Carta was not worth the parchment it was written on. The king would never keep his promises, and they had no way of compelling him to do so. They too abandoned the Charter as a solution, in favour of the much simpler plan of offering John’s crown to someone else. By the autumn of that year, both the king and the rebels were openly preparing for war.

This war was eventually fought right across the country. The South-East of England, however, and especially Kent, was the most important arena of conflict, because both parties were seeking assistance from the Continent. The rebels, for their part, had decided to offer the crown of England to Prince Louis, eldest son of the king of France. They had already made overtures to him in the course of the summer, and were hoping he would soon arrive and stake his claim in person, bringing with him much-needed reinforcements. John, meanwhile, was also looking across the Channel for help, but in his case from Flemish mercenaries. The king had recently despatched his recruiting agents overseas, and was hovering anxiously on the south coast, trying to secure the loyalty of the Channel ports, and waiting for his soldiers of fortune to arrive.

In such circumstances, control of Rochester Castle, which stood at the point where the main road to London crossed the River Medway, became all-important. John understood this as well as anyone, and for this reason had been trying to get his hands on the castle since the start of May, when the rebellion against him had first raised its head. The king had already written to the Archbishop of Cantebury twice, asking, in the nicest possible way, if he would mind instructing his constable to surrender the great tower into the hands of royal representatives. Both times, however, the request fell on deaf ears. The archbishop was one of John’s leading critics and, realizing only too well what the king’s intentions were, had promptly done nothing. Likewise, there was no love lost between the king and Rochester’s constable, Sir Reginald de Cornhill. He was one of the hundreds who were heavily in debt to the Crown, and John had recently deprived him of his job as Sheriff of Kent. Cornhill’s response was probably more decisive the likelihood is that he got a message through to the rebels in London, pledging his support, and expressing his willingness to help them.

When they realized that Rochester was theirs for the taking, the rebels in London formulated their plan. A detachment of knights would be sent to occupy the castle and hold it against John, and the man to lead it would be Sir William de Albini. Sir William is quite a dark horse: we don’t have a great deal of information about him. Of course, the fact that he was chosen (or volunteered) to lead the mission indicates that he must have been a skilled and respected warrior. One contemporary writer calls him ‘a man with strong spirit, and an expert in matters of war’. More puzzling is the fact that he does not seem to have had any of the personal grudges harboured by John’s other opponents. On the one hand, he was clearly one of the leaders of the rebellion: back in the summer he had been named as one of the twenty-five men who were to enforce Magna Carta. On the other hand, Albini only joined the other rebels a week before the Charter was drafted. Whatever his own motivation for taking up arms against his king, in the weeks that followed there was no doubt about the strength of his commitment to the rebel cause.

Albini and his companions arrived at Rochester on a Sunday. On entering the castle, they found to their alarm that the storerooms were badly provisioned. Not only were they short on weapons and ammunition there was, more worryingly, an almost total lack of food. They quickly set about remedying the situation, plundering the city of Rochester for supplies. In the event, however, their foraging operation only lasted forty-eight hours. By Tuesday, John and his army were outside the castle gates.

In such circumstances, we might not necessarily expect there to have been much of a fight. Just because one side in a dispute occupies a castle, and the other side turns up outside with an army, it does not automatically follow that a siege must take place. The defenders inside a castle might peer over their battlements at a colossal army, rapidly calculate the odds, and conclude that surrender is in their own best interests. Likewise, in many cases the prospective besieger will roll up with his army, assess the defences to be far too strong to break, and move on to take easier, softer targets. In this dispute, however, with each side playing for the highest stakes, and Rochester being so crucial to their respective plans, the king and his enemies exhibited an uncommon degree of determination. The rebels in the castle, in spite of their poor provisions, decided they were going to tighten their belts and stick it out. King John, pitching his camp outside the castle, looked up at the mighty walls of Rochester, and vowed he was going to break them. The scene was set for a monumental siege.

Ralph of Coggeshall, provides us with an account of the preliminary encounter between John and the rebels. The king’s aim on arriving in Rochester was to destroy the bridge over the Medway, in order to cut off his enemies from their confederates in London. On the first attempt he failed his men moved up the river in boats, setting fire to the bridge from underneath, but a force of sixty rebels beat them back and extinguished the flames. On their second attempt, however, the king’s men had the best of the struggle. The bridge was destroyed, and the rebels fell back to the castle.

This kind of reporting is invaluable, and some of the additional details that Ralph provides are no less compelling (he tells us, for instance, in the shocked tones that only an outraged monk can muster, how John’s men stabled their horses in Rochester Cathedral).

For the first time in English history, however, we do not have to rely entirely on writers like Ralph. From the start of John’s reign, we have another (and in some respects even better) source of information. When John came to the throne in 1199, the kings of England had long been in the habit of sending out dozens of written orders to their deputies on a daily basis. But John made an important innovation: he instructed his clerks to keep copies. Every letter the king composed was dutifully transcribed by his chancery staff on to large parchment rolls, and these rolls are still with us today, preserved in the National Archives. The beauty of this is that every letter is dated and located. Even if John’s orders were humdrum, we can still use them to track the king wherever and whenever he travelled. We know, for example, that on 11 October the king was at Ospringe, and that by 12 October he had reached Gillingham. His first order at Rochester was given on 13 October, and on the following day, he wrote to the men of Canterbury.

‘We order you,’ he said, ‘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.’

From the outset, it seems, John was planning on breaking into Rochester Castle by force.

In the early thirteenth century, siege warfare was a fine art with a long history, and a wide range of options were available to an attacker. Certain avenues, however, were closed to John, because the tower at Rochester had been deliberately designed to foil them. The fact that the entrance was situated on the first floor, and protected by its forebuilding, ruled out the possibility of using a battering ram. Equally, the tower’s enormous height precluded any thoughts of scaling the walls with ladders, or the wheeled wooden towers known as belfries. Built of stone and roofed in lead, the building was going to be all but impervious to fire. Faced with such an obstacle, many commanders would have settled down and waited for the defenders to run out of food. John, however, had neither the time nor the temperament for such a leisurely approach, and embarked on the more dangerous option of trying to smash his way in. But simply getting close enough to land a blow on the castle was going to be enormously risky. We know for a fact that the men inside had crossbows.

Crossbows had been around since at least the middle of the eleventh century, and were probably introduced to England (along with cavalry and castles) at the time of the Norman Conquest. In some respects, they were less efficient killing machines than conventional longbows, in that their rate of ‘fire’ was considerably slower. To use a longbow (the simplest kind of bow imaginable), an archer had only to draw back the bowstring to his ear with one hand before releasing it with a crossbow, the same procedure was more complicated. The weapon was primed by pointing it nose to the ground, placing a foot in the stirrup and drawing back the bow with both hands – a practice known as ‘spanning’. When the bowstring was fully drawn, it engaged with a nut which held it in position. The weapon was then loaded by dropping a bolt or ‘quarrel’ into the groove on top, and perhaps securing it in place with a dab of beeswax.

Magna Carta and Canterbury

Yesterday I joined about a hundred people in Old Sessions House at Canterbury Christ Church for the conference organised by Professor Louise Wilkinson, in conjunction with Canterbury Cathedral Archives and Library, entitled ‘Magna Carta, King John and the Civil War in Kent’. Proceedings were opened by the Revd Christopher Irvine, who is Canon Librarian at Canterbury Cathedral. He reminded the audience just how many Magna Carta events are and will be happening in and around Canterbury and just how important the city, its cathedral and archbishop had been in 1215. This set the scene for the opening session on ‘The Church’ in which the first speaker was Dr Sophie Ambler from the University of East Anglia. Her paper on ‘Pope Innocent III and the Interdict’ highlighted the effect the interdict would have had on the lay people of England. She conjured up a world where parish priests had shut the church doors, no longer celebrated Mass and on Sundays and feast days summoned their parishioners to hear a sermon at these same locked doors. However, perhaps even more stark was the vision of laypeople being buried anywhere but in consecrated ground, while the clergy were ‘buried’ in trees above consecrated ground, the bodies of lay and cleric alike exhumed or whatever you did from a tree when six years later the interdict was lifted. As she also noted the absence of church bells would have totally altered the soundscape, an exceedingly disconcerting change that would have affected rural and urban dwellers equally hard because amongst other things it was the bells that indicated the time of day. In this context it is worth noting that even after the introduction of clocks in Kent, especially in parish churches, time was recorded in contemporary documents as ‘six of the bell’ rather than six o’clock as became common thereafter.

KHLC: Sa/LC1 first page of the earliest surviving copy of Sandwich custumal

copyright: Sandwich Town Council, held at the Kent History Library Centre

Dr Ambler was followed by Professor Nicholas Vincent, also from UEA, who spoke on ‘Stephen and Simon Langton: Magna Carta’s True Authors?’. He drew attention to Stephen Langton’s educational background, including his time at the University of Paris and his several decades as a teacher, when amongst other activities he was writing copious biblical commentaries, but not on the Book of Psalms. As Professor Vincent noted, the Bible was seen as a political text, it was a theatre of moral examples covering topics such as inadequate ‘modern’ kingship and the importance of the law. Taking this as his background about the new archbishop, he went on to consider two interesting aspects of Stephen Langton’s character, his understanding and use of numerical spiritual symbolism and his likely input with regard to particular clauses in Magna Carta. Just to give you a flavour of this, I’ll give one example of each. Taking the symbolic numbers first, he noted that the figure of twenty-five barons who were to act as Magna Carta’s ‘policemen’ to ensure John kept to its terms can be seen as the square of five, the number of the laws of Moses. Regarding the clauses, obviously there is the importance of the first, but I want to mention a more prosaic example that covered the removal of fish weirs from the Thames and Medway. Now their removal from the Thames was for the benefit of the London citizens, but the Medway presumably related in large part to Archbishop Langton’s own interests in the area, for as a major landholder there such weirs would have disrupted river traffic and thus archiepiscopal concerns at Maidstone. And with this link it is worth mentioning that Sir Robert Worcester concluded this session before coffee by alerting his audience to, amongst other things, the issue this year of a set of Magna Carta commemorative stamps.

After coffee the audience was suitably refreshed and were eager to hear Professor Louise Wilkinson’s lecture on ‘Canterbury in the Age of King John’. She drew attention to what can be gleaned from the royal Pipe and Fine Rolls, now held at The National Archives at Kew, as well as the monumental work of William Urry, the former cathedral archivist, whose Canterbury under the Angevin Kings with its maps are a treasure trove of detailed analysis of rentals, charters and other documents from the local archives. Among the examples Professor Wilkinson gave were the likelihood that Isabella of Gloucester was buried in Canterbury Cathedral in 1217. Isabella had a chequered married life, because having in effect been cast off by King John she was later married to Hubert de Burgh, who would be mentioned on several occasions later in the programme. Another local person from King John’s Canterbury was Terric the Goldsmith who was exceedingly wealthy, although perhaps not on the scale of Jacob the Jew whose property lies under the Abode Hotel on the corner of the High Street and Stour Street. But to return to Terric, he was involved in the several royal exchanges, not just Canterbury but also including Canterbury’s great archiepiscopal ‘rival’: York. So even though for some John’s reign was not good news, for others it offered commercial and other opportunities.

The audience was next treated to Professor David Carpenter’s narrative regarding the identifying of ‘Canterbury’s Magna Carta’. This piece of detective work rests largely on a close reading of the text, comparing a nineteenth-century copy of the original charter, which is now sadly in a very poor state at the British Library, with a late thirteenth-century copy of the charter in a Christ Church Priory Register. You can read more about the uncovering of its identity on the Magna Carta Project website and I will confine my remarks here to the point that its early dissemination, particularly in the south of the country away from the territories controlled by the rebel barons was through churchmen, the bishops rather than John’s sheriffs, and thus it is perhaps hardly surprising that of the four survivors, three are linked to the cathedral communities of Salisbury, Lincoln and now Canterbury. After this satisfying session where we also learnt that even distinguished professors can get on to the wrong train and thus see more of Woking than they would ever wish, the audience headed out of the lecture theatre for lunch.

The first afternoon session saw a change of focus to consider examples of rebellion. Dr Hugh Doherty, the final member of UEA’s triumvirate, spoke under the intriguing title of ‘The Lady, the Bear, and the Politics of Baronial London’. This paper explored the real and symbolic value placed on tournaments and, in particular, the monastic chronicler Roger of Wendover’s likely use of correspondence provided by William de Aubigny, Earl of Arundel. Again I am going to just pick out a couple of points that especially interested me, firstly after 1194 it was decreed that certain areas could be used to hold tournaments, including Stamford and a site near Hounslow, but nowhere else, and secondly that tournaments were held on Mondays or Tuesdays. The letter involving the bear stated that the tournament venue had been moved from Stamford to this place just outside London and the prize would be a bear given by a lady. However neither the identity of the lady nor the fate of the bear were recorded, but, as Dr Doherty noted, the rebel barons’ greater interest in such sports was at odds with what should have been their greater duty to their fellow rebel lords (and to God), that is those besieged in Rochester Castle under William’s leadership. The rescue force from the rebel stronghold of London to Rochester was ‘put off by a southern wind’ and so turned back soon after leaving the capital, thus leaving William and his men to their fate as they were besieged by King John and his forces, a sad indictment of the absence of baronial vigour as Roger of Wendover saw it.

Keeping with the theme of baronial activity, or inactivity, in the county, Sean McGlynn examined several episodes from ‘The Magna Carta Civil War in Kent’. In particular he discussed the successful sieges from John’s view at Rochester, which eventually after several weeks produced the rebel garrison’s surrender, and at Dover, where John’s commander Hubert de Burgh held out against Prince Louis and his French forces camped outside the castle’s northern walls, the castle remaining in royalist hands throughout the war. This was interesting but I want to draw your attention to another part of his talk where he explored the activities of Willekin of the Weald. Willekin’s band of archers was an important guerrilla force on the side of the young King Henry III in what is sometimes known as the ‘Sussex Campaign’ against Prince Louis and his forces holed up in Winchelsea in early 1217. Not that these Wealden bowmen were the only royalists involved, both William Marshal and Philip of Aubigny led forces in and around Rye blockading Louis’ escape, but their activities are especially interesting in terms of their social status. The documented involvement of Willekin’s band highlights those below the elite in the civil war, as well as offering a possible southern addition to what would become the legends of Robin Hood in later medieval England.

Prince Louis, too, had what might be described as a colourful character among his men, and Eustace the Monk was well to the fore in my talk on the Battle of Sandwich, a sea battle that has been described as ‘worthy of the first place in the list of British naval successes’. Even though Eustace swapped sides and operated on his own account when it suited him, terrorising shipping in the Channel and plundering ships from the Cinque Ports when he could, in 1217 he was working for Louis and the rebel barons. In the summer of 1217 he was engaged as the naval commander to bring a relieving force of knights to join Louis in London. Having left Calais, the French ships sailed northwards around the Kent coast where they were met by a smaller fleet from Sandwich and the other Cinque Ports. However the English did had a larger proportion of big ships among their out-numbered force, including William Marshal’s cog. Without going into details, it is perhaps interesting to note that the French were the victims of chemical warfare – the use of quick lime hurled down from great pots which then turned to slaked lime when it reacted violently with the water. Eustace, aboard the French flagship, fought ferociously but was captured and executed, his death demoralising the French. Thereafter, even though the other great French ships escaped, the English took the majority of the smaller vessels, killing most aboard and gathering the booty. Some of the booty is documented as having been used to found a hospital – St Bartholomew’s to accommodate the town’s poor. Furthermore, and moving on in time it is feasible that the town’s copy of the reissued Magna Carta by Edward I, recently discovered by Dr Mark Bateson at the Kent History Library Centre, can be linked to the construction of the Sandwich custumal of 1301, which included the hospital’s custumal. Thus the battle, hospital, custumal and Magna Carta are in many ways inseparably connected – part of the negotiating process for greater civic autonomy between town and Crown and important in the construction of civic identity.

The final lecture in the second session on rebellion was given by Richard Eales. His topic, the baronial conflict of the 1260s, drew on his expertise regarding the political circumstances of Henry III’s reign, and more particularly his considerable research on Kent’s royal castles. As he noted, this year is also a significant anniversary for Simon de Montfort’s activities regarding parliament and thus is an appropriate topic at a conference on Magna Carta and Kent. Moreover, events in the county need to be seen both in terms of its location vis-à-vis continental Europe, but equally with respect to people and politics further inland. For the Church’s dominance in terms of landholding in the county meant that its lords were deeply involved in national politics and of the lay lords only the Clare family of Tonbridge were great magnates, yet whose main power base was beyond the county boundary. Thus, what happened in Kent mattered to those in other parts of the kingdom, and what happened in other parts of the kingdom mattered to those in Kent. Among the events he discussed was the second siege of Rochester, about which we know far less than the first except in terms of what the garrison ate daily and the de Montforts’ ‘last stand’ at Dover Castle, a far stronger and impressive fortress on which the Angevin kings had lavished vast funds. This provided a fitting conclusion to a fascinating day, and to round off proceedings Professor Wilkinson thanked her postgraduate helpers who had worked tirelessly throughout the day, Cressida Williams from Canterbury Cathedral Archives who had worked with her on the Magna Carta exhibition at the city’s Beaney Library, and her colleagues at Canterbury Christ Church, Dr Leonie Hicks and Diane Heath who had chaired sessions and also helped in other ways. Now I appreciate this is quite a bit longer than normal, but it seemed a good idea to offer a snap shot of each of the lectures given yesterday because the conference was a major event in the Centre’s calendar.


One of the major considerations in determining the size of the castle is what size of soldiers will be used with it: 1/32, 1/64, 1/72, 1/132 scale, etc. Conversely, the scale of the soldiers will be determined to some extent by the physical size you have already set for the castle. Selecting soldiers is not an easy proposition. Medieval knights in some of the scales are not all that easy to come by. Noncombatants – serfs and castle workers –are not available at all, except perhaps from very expensive specialty museum model companies. The small figures (1/72, 22 mm) allow for the construction of smaller castles, but the detail is not as good as with some larger figures. Middle-sized figures (1/64 scale, 25 mm) are small enough to make relatively small castles and are large enough to have good detail. However, these figures are among some of the most expensive. Larger figures (1/32 scale, 54 mm) usually have the best detail and are the easiest to play with. However, at present, this is the most difficult scale to find figures. The 54 mm scale figures are what we typically think of as “toy figures.”In making suggestions on castle occupants, I will confine consideration to two types of soldier: the classic medieval knight and soldier in armor, and the classic “toy soldier,” that is, the 18th century Napoleonic soldier. If the former is your choice then the typical medieval castle will be the best. If you choose the latter then it would be better to include the later additions made in castles for cannon placements, or the specific cannon forts. In cannon forts, the sides were sloped to deflect cannon balls.

There are several companies around, which can be found on the internet by searching for “toy soldier.” I purchase my figures from three companies:

The Michigan Toy Soldier Company
1406 E 11 Mile Road
Royal Oak, MI 48067

Silver Eagle Wargame Supplies
4417 West 24th Place
Lawrence, KS 66047

Games Workshop
8 Neal Drive
Simsbury, CT 06070

Michigan Toy Soldier has the greatest selection of 1/72 (22 mm) figures, at the best price (less than $10, including shipping, for a box of 30-40 figures). They also have a limited number of 1/32 (54 mm) figures at a reasonable price ($15 for 12 figures). They have figures from many periods, such as Roman, Celt, and Egyptian armies (all 1/72), which are difficult to find elsewhere. They have figures in lead and rubber. Silver Eagle offers 1/64 (25 mm) lead figures. There are few from the medieval period – the most common early figures are from the 17th century. However, these figures can be painted, with striking results. The price is reasonable ($1 or less per figure). Games Workshop is the source for Warhammer Fantasy miniatures in 1/64 (25 mm) scale. These are plastic, with some lead, and are larger and more detailed than other 25 mm scale figures. For example, although the men are actually 25 mm – the same height as other 25 mm men – they are thicker and more detailed than other figures. Horses from this company are twice the size of the rather undersized horses offered by other companies in the 25 mm scale range. These are probably the best, most detailed figures available and they paint up beautifully. There are also lots of fantasy characters available, such and fairies and goblins. They are somewhat limited, however, in the range of available figure choices. They are also the most expensive ($1.50 to $35.00) per figure.No matter which type of soldiers you decide to use in your castle, it is important that you purchase at least one figure in your scale of choice before beginning construction. That will allow you to make the battlements, and other features such as arrow slits and windows, just the right size. Throughout the construction guide itself, I will assume that you have chosen your scale and have a figure to work with, so I will limit any further reference to scale.

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Rochester Cathedral


Rochester can claim to be the second-oldest earliest cathedral in England after Canterbury. It was founded by King Ethelbert of Kent in AD 604. The Cathedral was personally consecrated by St Augustine and dedicated to St Andrew, the patron saint of monasteries.

The first Bishop of Rochester was Justus. The original 7th-century Cathedral has long since vanished through centuries of rebuilding, but in 1889 restoration work uncovered the foundations of the original 7th-century building under the west end.

The foundations were about 1.5m (5 feet) deep and what was left of the walls were 70 cms (2' 4") thick. The walls were made of stone and Roman brick. The original Cathedral had a round end named an 'Apse.' The length was about 14 metres (46' 6") and the width was about 8.8 metres (29' 6") When the Normans invaded England in 1066, Gundulf became the Bishop of Rochester in 1077.

Gundulf built the Castle opposite the Cathedral, and he also built the Tower of London. Gundulf started to design the new Cathedral for Rochester. In 1115, Ernulf was inaugurated as the Bishop of Rochester. In 1137 and 1179, fires engulfed the Cathedral and it was badly damaged. In 1215 the Cathedral was looted, first by King John and then in 1264 by Simon de Monfort's men when they laid siege to the City.

It is traditionally thought that King Henry VIII met Anne of Cleves in the cloisters of Rochester Cathedral. Unfortunately, in the 1800s Rochester had become one of the poorest dioceses in the country. Again it was robbed of its treasures by unruly soldiers.

Unbelievably, the Cathedral became a place of ill repute, where often gambling and drinking took place. Samuel Pepys described it as a 'Shabby place.' Through the 1800s, the Cathedral had gone through a number of restoration processes, and finally, in 1880, Gilbert Scott restored the Cathedral to its present-day appearance.

Here's a tip - though the cathedral looks wonderful from any angle, the best view of all is looking down on the west front from the keep of the castle.

More Photos

Most photos are available for licensing, please contact Britain Express image library.

About Rochester Cathedral
Address: Garth House, The Precinct, Rochester, Kent, England, ME1 1SX
Attraction Type: Cathedral
Location: access from M2, Junction 3
Website: Rochester Cathedral
Location map
OS: TQ743 684
Photo Credit: David Ross and Britain Express


We've 'tagged' this attraction information to help you find related historic attractions and learn more about major time periods mentioned.

Historic Time Periods:

Find other attractions tagged with:

12th century (Time Period) - 13th century (Time Period) - castle (Architecture) - Gilbert Scott (Person) - Henry VIII (Person) - King John (Person) - Restoration (Historical Reference) - Roman (Time Period) -


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Rochester Castle - History

In 1899 George L. Heins replaced Issac G. Perry as state architect he held the office until 1907. Heins designed armories in the castellated/Richardsonian Romanesque style. During his tenure he designed numerous armories, but to date, seven are known to survive. Heins’ armories incorporate features of castle-like fortresses, including: soaring towers, crenellated parapets, massive sally ports, and iron portcullises. Hein’s armories however, tend to reflect a more modern and stylized interpretation of medieval forms and details.

The Main Street Armory is by far the largest and grandest armory designed by Heins and is among the most sophisticated early 20th century armories in upstate New York. Reflecting Rochester’s prominent position in the state at the turn of the century, the East Main Street Armory is worthy of comparison to some of New York’s finest pre-World War II armories.

The Main Street Armory, built in 1905 as headquarters for western New York’s 3rd Battalion, is also historically significant for its association with American military history. The volunteer militia (ie: the National Guard) has been and to an extent still is the backbone of the American military system since the colonial era. The Main Street Armory, like virtually all other National Guard armories, remains a prominent visual reminder and monument of the pivotal role played by the volunteer militia in American military history.

The Main Street Armory was commissioned by the state at the turn of the century and constructed by the Army Corps of Engineers. A castle was chosen to represent the Main Street Armory to historically commemorate the original design used by the Corps. Soldiers on their way overseas to fight in World War I and World War II passed through the armory for final training and processing. The East Main Street Armory was used by various divisions of the National Guard and other reserve forces in the Rochester area over the years. The last personnel to inhabit the armory were personnel from the 209th battalion and the 2nd division of the 174th Infantry Battalion of the National Guard. In 1990 the military decided that renovations to the building would be too costly and built another armory in Scottsville to continue military operations.

In the early 20th century, the 35,000-square-foot main arena (designed originally for drill exercises) hosted circuses, concerts, balls, and auto shows. It was the home arena for the Rochester Iroquois indoor lacrosse team in the 1930s. The Iroquois’ most famous player was Jay Silverheels who played Tonto in the Lone Ranger television series from 1949-57. Silverheels played lacrosse under his real name of Harry (Harold) Smith.

The building was also the home of the Rochester Centrals, the city’s first professional basketball team from 1925-31. The Centrals played in the American Basketball League for six seasons. The ABL was the country’s first professional basketball league. In addition to professional basketball the Armory also hosted many high school games and served as the home court for Rochester East High School. Two future National Basketball Association players came out of East High School in the late 1940s and early 1950s. Walter Dukes (Seton Hall, Detroit Pistons) and Al Butler (Niagara University, New York Knicks, Boston Celtics) played their home games for East High at the Armory.

When the Rochester Community War Memorial Arena (now the Blue Cross Arena) opened in 1955 most of the Armory’s signature events shifted venues. The Damascus Temple Shrine Circus left after their 1960 performance. The Main Street Armory remained for mostly military use up until 1990.

Watch the video: Rochester Castle Walk Through Tour 2019. 4K


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