Dover Castle, perched high on a hilltop above the sea has the longest recorded history of any major castle in Britain. It was garrisoned continually for nine centuries, with the last soldiers leaving in 1958. This record is matched only by the Tower Of London and Windsor Castle.
Dover's earliest ramparts date from the Iron Age and William the Conq garrisoned his soldiers here after 1066. The bulk of today's castle is 12th century Norman (Henry II), but there are also war time tunnels dating from the Second World War and it is from these that the evacuation of Dunkirk was masterminded. In addition, there are 13th C tunnels hewn from the rock higher up the hill which L and I spent an interesting half hour exploring. And there is a first century Roman Lighthouse next to a Saxon Church as well.
The site is managed by English Heritage who have done a fantastic job in presenting it. The Great Hall in particular was superb, dressed up and peopled to represent how it would have looked in 1184 when it was newly finished. It really brought the whole place to life....
|Roman lighthouse and Saxon Church|
|The lighthouse is very close to the Church!|
|Lighthouse with the Great Hall just visible in the mist behind it|
|Chain Mail. It was incredibly heavy!|
|Detail of chain mail|
|13th century tunnels|
|The castle seen from a distance|
The other place on my list to visit was Canterbury Cathedral.
Canterbury is of course famous above all for the murder of Arch Bishop Thomas Becket in 1170 on the (supposed) orders of King Henry II, but it is a spectacular building in its own right and therefore worth visiting if you find yourself in Canterbury. It remains a place of pilgrimage and has a special atmosphere, especially the vaults where you are asked to be silent and take no photographs.
The place where Thomas was murdered is marked with his name etched into the stone, and the place where his shrine stood for three hundred years is now marked with a white candle that burns continually. Henry VIII had the shrine removed during the reformation. The exact whereabouts of Thomas' body are unknown.
This is an account of his murder:
The wicked knight leapt suddenly upon him, cutting off the top of the crown which the unction of sacred chrism had dedicated to God. Next he received a second blow on the head, but still he stood firm and immovable. At the third blow he fell on his knees and elbows, offering himself a living sacrifice, and saying in a low voice, ‘For the name of Jesus and the protection of the Church, I am ready to embrace death.’ But the third knight inflicted a terrible wound as he lay prostrate. By this stroke, the crown of his head was separated from the head in such a way that the blood white with the brain, and the brain no less red from the blood, dyed the floor of the cathedral. The same clerk who had entered with the knights placed his foot on the neck of the holy priest and precious martyr, and, horrible to relate, scattered the brains and blood about the pavements, crying to the others, ‘Let us away, knights; this fellow will arise no more.
Henry II did penance for the murder, by walking barefoot to Canterbury and allowing the Bishops and all eighty of the monks of the Cathedral to whip him. It was said that the death of Thomas, his one time friend, haunted him for the rest of his life. Henry died on a French battlefield, his remains buried in an unmarked grave. He did, however, capitalise on the murder by building the Great Hall at Dover which housed the more well-off pilgrims en route to Canterbury, thus underlining the King's wealth, position and power by simple display.
The four knights responsible for the murder (Reginald FitzUrse, Hugh de Morville, William de Tracy, and Richard le Breton) disappeared into the wilds of Scotland and Northern England and were never punished for the crime.
Edward, the Black Prince (eldest son of Edward III) is also buried in the cathedral and his burial effects (including a monkey) are on display there.
|Martyrdom of Thomas Becket|
|15th c pilgrim's tunnel constructed to give access to the murder spot without disturbing the monks|
|entrance to the pilgrim's tunnel looking towards the place where Thomas died.|
|The shrine of TB stood here for three hundred years. Today, it is marked by a candle.|
|Burial effects of The Black Prince|
Phew! All caught up now!
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