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Rochester Castle is strategically placed
on the London Road, the route from Canterbury and Dover to the
capital, and it overlooks the right bank of the River Medway,
commanding a wide view of the surrounding country. Almost as soon as
they had landed, the invading Romans established a military presence
at Rochester in AD 43, but it was the Normans who were responsible
for the castle, building it within the Roman city walls.
and bailey keep was probably built on the site immediately after the
Norman Conquest, and it would have been this that was used as the
headquarters for the rebellion against William II which wanted to
remove him in favour of his elder brother, Robert, duke of Normandy.
William captured the castle, not once but twice, ending the
rebellion on the second attempt. He requested that Gundulf, bishop
of Rochester, rebuild the castle.
Gundulf did that between 1087-1089,
making it one of the first stone keeps in the country. He also worked extensively on
building the neighbouring Rochester Cathedral, and played an
important role in building the White Tower in London. In 1126, Henry
I granted the castle to William de Corbeil, archbishop of Canterbury
(1123-1139). He immediately started work on rebuilding it, producing
what would become one of the finest relics of its kind in England.
The quadrangular four-storied structure, flanked
by turrets, was made of Kentish ragstone, with a maximum height of
34.4 metres (113 feet). It consists of three floors above a
basement, and attached is a tall protruding forebuilding, with its own set of defences which
any attackers would have to pass through before the keep itself
could be entered at first floor level. It was put to the test in
1215, when it was besieged by
At that time the castle, seen here from the south
and showing the curtain wall, was garrisoned by rebel barons in the
lead-up to the signing of Magna Carta. Having first undermined the
outer wall, John used the fat of forty pigs to fire a mine under the
keep, bringing its southern corner crashing down. Even then the
defenders held out within the building, until they were eventually
starved out after a resistance of nearly two months.
The castle was besieged again by Simon de Montfort, during the civil war between
his party of rebel barons and King Henry III. Rochester was held for
the king by the constable, Roger de Leybourne, and the siege began
on 17 April 1264 after Gilbert de Clare, earl of Hereford and
Gloucester, attacked the city from the south-west. On hearing of
Gilbert's approach, the Royalist garrison fired the suburbs towards
Meanwhile, Simon de Montfort approached from
London to attack the city from the northern side via the Medieval
bridge across the River Medway. At first, de Montfort's army was
beaten back at the bridge, but at the third attempt on 18 April,
Good Friday, he succeeded in crossing. A simultaneous assault was
launched by Gilbert de Clare from the southern side, and the two
earls entered the city the same evening. Much destruction and
killing took place within the city.
The next day, both de Montfort and de Clare's
forces entered the inner bailey of the castle, to the south-east of
the bastion shown here, with the garrison beating a hasty retreat to
the keep. Both earls renewed their attack using siege engines and
the castle took a constant battering for over a week before they had
to withdraw. After the conclusion of the siege, Henry
rebuilt the castle. It was besieged for a third time in the reign of
Richard II, during the Peasants' Revolt led by Wat Tyler in 1381.
By this time the castle had reached its maximum
military strength architecturally, and between 1383 and 1393 the
bridge across the Medway was completely rebuilt in stone. The new
bridge was built about fifty metres to the north of the Medieval
bridge, taking it further away from the castle. The castle was
repaired by Edward IV (1461-1470, deposed and then regained the
throne between 1471-1483). By the sixteenth century the castle was
falling into decay, although the massive keep remained in a good
state of preservation.
Remains of the thirteenth century walls which
once surrounded the city also exist, although the remains of the
Medieval bridge were removed in 1857, even though it took a charge
of gunpowder to
do it. The castle grounds were converted into parkland before 1891,
while the gardens were cleared to make an open space for the 1931
pageant. Pageants, fairs, and special events are held there to this