Dover Castle sits on top of the famous White Cliffs of Dover, a spectacular vantage point for any castle. Building of the stone castle you see today, began in the 1160s by Henry II, and was built on the site of an ancient Iron Age fort. You can still see a Roman Lighthouse nearby today.
Dover Castle History
Before Henry II started the stone castle, William the Conqueror converted an old Anglo-Saxon fortified church and settlement to a Norman earthwork castle with timber stockades, which was replaced with Henry’s stone castle.
Dover Castle has always been seen as the Key to England because of its prominent, defensive position and significance. It is also the largest of all the English castles. It’s great keep is one of the last ever rectangular keeps to be built, and the man responsible for building it was Maurice the Engineer, who built Castle Garth amongst others. Dover Castle was a symbol of power and an opposing monument to any foreign visitors, but it was also a palace designed for royal ceremonies, housing Henry II’s court.
The location of Dover Castle made it possible for visiting nobles to travel on a short pilgrimage to the new shrine of St. Thomas Becket, in Canterbury Cathedral. A place where Thomas was brutally murdered before the altar by Henry’s knights in 1170. He was once a close friend of the king, however things turned ugly and Thomas paid the price with his life. Henry, who perhaps was feeling rather guilty about the Archbishop’s murder, repaid his penance by walking into Canterbury Cathedral and demanded to be flogged by the monks there.
During the First Baron’s War of 1215-1217, where rebels joined Louis VIII of France and made war on King John, Dover Castle’s defences were breached. The castle was never taken, but during the siege, Henry’s men dug tunnels underneath and out of the castle towards the rebels and the French! There they successfully attacked the rebel army! This is the only counter-attack tunnel in the world. These tunnels were later re-used during the second world war as converted air raid shelters and later as a military command centre.
Today, Dover Castle is a historical building and monument of national importance, and a wonderful tourist attraction managed by English Heritage!
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