Rochester Castle Essay, Research Paper
Was Rochester Castle an Important Military Site in the Middle Ages ?
Rochester Castle was built in 1088, by the Bishop of Rochester – Gundulf. It was known that the Bishop owed the King – King William Rufus, a sum of ?100. To settle the dispute the King ordered Gundulf to build a motte and bailey castle at Rochester. Th cost was ?60, and the money came from Gundulf. The structure of the castle consisted simply of a single stone wall. In 1122, a square stone keep was built inside the bailey, by John of Worcester. In 1230 a cross wall was built. It divided the Bailey into two parts – the outer bailey and the inner bailey. This information was extracted from the Textus Roffensis – Register of Rochester castle.
During it’s existence, Rochester Castle was sieged three times. Once in 1088, then 1215 and finally in 1264.
The siege in 1088 was against King William II, as his brother, Robert and his uncle, Odo, wanted to overthrow him and place Robert on the throne. The plan failed and Robert remained king.
The siege in 1215 was against King John because he refused the nomination of Simon Langton as Archbishop of Canterbury. Langton became Archbishop, and was appointed to ‘look after the castle’, but the king asked for it to be returned himself as the agreement to which this adhered to had expired. Langton refused the order and so a siege took place.
According to Roger of Wendover, the king undermined the east tower and set fire to it. This shows that the King valued the castle a lot as he was prepared to fight for it.
In 1264 another siege occurred. There was a civil war between he king and his subjects, so they capture Rochester Castle. However when they heard that the king was returning to Rochester accompanied by his son, they abandoned the siege and fled.
I think that the reason for the abandonment of the siege was that they did not think that they had a chance against the king and his son.
From each of these sieges we can see that the opponents used the castle as a ‘lever’ against the king to get what they wanted. They had the king’s ‘prize possession’ and would not return it until they had what the desired. For example from the 1264 siege the outcome was that the king lost control over Rochester Castle and did not rule for one whole year as he was imprisoned, and the Barons ruled the country during this time. This shows that Rochester Castle was an important military site as people considered it worth sieging, although their plans were often not effective. The king also obviously thought it was an important military site as he was prepared to defend it.
The fact that in 1216, King Louis of France also sieged the castle, although by this time the castle had been reduced to a ruin after the siege of 1215, shows that people overseas also thought of the castle as important.
We now know that Rochester Castle was an important military site during the middle ages, but what were the reasons?
During the middle ages, the main means of transportation was by ship or boat. Anyone intending to get to London from the south coast of England had to pass through Rochester first.
Rochester was located on the south bank of the River Thames. It is also situated next to the River Medway. This puts the castle at an advantage as the inhabitants of the castle would be able to see attackers approaching on the River Medway.
Below is a picture of the view of the River Medway from the top of the castle.
Rochester Castle was also built on a hill – Boley Hill which made it harder for attackers to invade the castle.
Because Rochester Castle was en route to London it may have meant that attackers were dealt with at Rochester instead of at London.
The first siege in 1088, did not damage the castle much. It was the siege of 1264 that turned the castle into a ruin. The King John undermined the east tower and then set fire to it, using the fat of forty pigs. The part of the castle was later rebuilt in the strongest and latest design – a round tower instead of a the usual square shape.
This shows that the castle was thought to be significant as the King had it rebuilt in an updated design and strengthened it.
Over the 282 years(1088 – 1370), several changes and repairs were made to the castle. The table below shows the changes, additions and repairs made to Rochester Castle, and with them their costs and when they were made. This information was taken from the Pipe Rolls.
(The pipe rolls were the annual roll of accounts rendered at the Exchequer by sheriffs and other royal bailiffs)
Date Repair/ change Cost
1088 The castle was built as a simple motte and bailey castle ?60
1126 A square stone keep was built inside the bailey unknown
1227 Repairs to the keep
Floors laid ?100
1230 – 1231 Drum tower and cross wall built ?20
1239 Chapel decorated unknown
1244 New chapel built ?132
1254 External steps and new doorway ?150
1256 Repairs to the keep ?120 +
1367 – 1370 Repairs to the keep and defences consequent to the events of 1264 ?2262
As you can see, a large amount of money was spent on the maintenance of the castle, in total, at least ?2884 was spent on it. Therefore the king must have considered Rochester castle as an important military site, otherwise he would not have spent so much ,money on it.
The building itself provides us with evidence that Rochester castle was an important military site:
· Very thick walls to withstand attack – The curtain wall was built thicker at the base so that it was a stronger and more sturdier structure.
· The entrance on the first floor of the fore building – if the entrance was on the ground floor it would be easier for the attackers to enter the castle. Below is a picture of the fore building, As you can see metal steps have been put up to support the steps which would have been made form stone.
· Spiral staircases inside the towers of the keep with many landings were there to confuse attackers of where they were going.
· Windows were mere narrow slits, their purpose was to allow arrows to be shot out of them. The were narrow so that attackers outside could not shoot arrows inside.
From all of the evidence I have collected, I can see that Rochester Castle was an important military site. The location is ideal, as it was on the way to London, so people are bound to attack it as the King is so protective of it. The fact that Rochester castle was sieged so many times, and even when it was ruin also proves that it was an important military site. Obviously people thought that it had enough significance that it was worth the effort of sieging it.
Rochester castle also had many repairs made to it which means that the King wanted to keep it and thought that it was important enough to maintain and repair.