Rochester Castlea fortification or tower within the castle and keep and to hold it forever'
King Henry I
Lying directly opposite Rochester Cathedral, this Norman castle presents one of the finest examples of Norman castle architecture to be found in England. Indeed it made such a great impression on young Charles Dickens that he declared he wanted to be buried here. Despite the turn of the centuries, the ruins amply declare the castle's former grandeur. The great Norman keep rises to 113ft declaring its dominance over the area. An interesting feature of the castle is the unusual fourth tower which was built in a cylindrical shape. Having fallen during a siege in 1215, the cylindrical shape was preferred for the renovation as it offered stronger protection against enemy attack. While the interior floors have been lost, a large spiral staircase will take you to the uppermost level, from where you'll get superb views across to the cathedral and over the town with its historic city walls.
Rochester Castle, Rochester Cathedral, the Tower of London and the White Tower are all the work of Bishop Gundulf. The castle presents his answer to the request to build a fortification to protect invasion from the bridge crossing the River Medway along the historic London to Dover road known as Watling Street. The result was a magnificent fortification with a 21m square keep with 3.5m thick walls. A residence fit for nobles and royalty, Rochester Castle had a grand interior with Norman arches, well-shafts and garde robes or toilets on every floor.
Unlike the many other castles on the British Isles that never saw active combat, with its strategic location, Rochester Castle's fortifications were put to the test on more than one occasion. The most dramatic of these was the siege of 1215. Disagreement between the noble barons and King John arose over his financial oppression and the extent of his right as a monarch. The result was the Magna Carta whose code of conduct, King John went on to disregard. As civil war erupted, a group of rebel barons quickly seized hold of the castle. King John, determined to win the strategic fortification back, used dramatic and innovative military means to wear down the castle's defences. Provisions inside dwindled to nothing and the barricaded men were reduced to eating horse flesh. Despite the five trebuchets or stone catapults which attacked the castle night and day its defences stood strong. Where force failed cunning prevailed. King John's men dug a mine-shaft to the pit-prop or tunnel support. Using the fat of forty pigs, he set the support alight weakening the keep and causing it to collapse. Bravely, the rebel barons fought on but were forced to admit defeat some time later.
Town/city or near: Rochester