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Medieval Castles: Dover Castle

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Dover Castle - England - Kent - Medieval England - Medieval History - Medieval Castles - Middle AgesConstructed around the same time as the Tower of London (late 11th century), Dover Castle stands as one of the earliest castles built by William the Conqueror after his conquest of Anglo-Saxon England. Duke William had the castle built near an old Roman lighthouse and burgh, which King Harold (the last Saxon king of medieval England) established sometime before the Norman invasion in 1066. None of William’s constructions, however, survive to this day. The great keep dates back to King Henry II’s reign in the 1180s and is still there today.

The keep is nearly 29 meters high with walls as thick as 6.5 meters in some places; these walls are reinforced by a plinth. Each side stretches to over 30 meters in length, and at each corner is a large turret tower. Securing the entrance to the keep is a massive fore-building with three towers covering the stairs. This fore-building was one of the largest of its kind in medieval England. An interior wall divides the keep into two sections.

The keep consists of three stories, each level being accessed by two stairwells spiraling up the corner turrets. Fourteen projecting rectangular towers, each open to the rear, extend around the inner wall that encircles the keep, with two barbicans defending the north and south gates.

In 1216, Phillippe Augustus’ son, Louis of France, besieged Dover Castle. This was at the time of the barons’ revolt against King John. After assaulting and taking the barbican protecting the northern gate, Louis had his men tunnel beneath the walls and collapse one of the gate’s two towers. Louis then ordered his armies to assault the collapsed section of the wall, but the soldiers within managed to plug the breach and hold off the enemy, preserving the victory and the fall of Dover Castle. Louis would eventually give up and retire his armies from the area.

*Correction to the first paragraph above: The site chosen for Dover Castle was first cleared around 1168 and the area prepared for building. It then lay fallow for over ten years and building work began proper in 1180 overseen by a Master Mason called Maurice who also built the New Castle at New Castle. By 1188 the keep and inner bailey curtain wall were complete.


J.E. Kaufmann, H.W Kaufmann, and Robert M. Jurga. The Medieval Fortress: Castles, Forts and Walled Cities of the Middle Ages. De Capo Press, 2001.

*image retrieved from