And now I’d like to welcome you to my first arbitrarily chosen castle! This one hails from Kent, England in the town of Dover. It has been a very important location since the Iron Age because of it’s very defensible position on the White Cliffs of Dover. It has now been restored to look much like it would have during a visit of an important noble and much of the castle is open to visitors. You can even check out the the underground tunnels that during WWII were used as a hospital, shelter and communications area.
The best part of this castle though, is one of the stories behind it. The current structure was originally started by William the Conqueror as a motte and bailey structure. A motte-and-bailey castle is a fortification with a wooden or stone keep situated on a raised earthwork called a motte, accompanied by an enclosed courtyard, or bailey, surrounded by a protective ditch and palisade. Then Henry II came along and started work on the current structure around the 1160s!
This is where it gets good! Henry had a very close friend named Thomas Becket. When the current Archbishop of Caterbury died, Henry put a bug in the Pope’s ear and convinced him to elect Becket as the new Archbishop. As a result of this, Henry was assuming that he would now have more power over the church because at that time the church reserved the right to oversee the trial of certain crimes and judgements. This didn’t sit well with Henry because he thought that, as King, he should have absolute power.
Dover Castle today
Thomas Becket surprised him though by not handing that power over to him and actually changing allegiances to stand against Henry. Henry was so upset that Becket fled to France where he stayed in exile for 6 years out of Henry’s reach. During this time Becket had excommunicated two bishops who had supported Henry. Around 1170, Henry was in France and the two appeared to reconcile and Becket came back to Canterbury and Henry stayed in France for a time.
Henry was hoping that their reconcilliation would cause Becket to absolve the bishops of their crime. When he refused to do so, Henry purportedly went into a rage and could be heard to shout, “Who will rid me of this meddlesome priest?” Four enterprising knights overheard the King and decided that they would help him out and get on his good side so they immediately took off back to Canterbury in search of Thomas Becket. Becket heard they were coming and took off for the cathedral to hide. They found him at the altar praying in the middle of a service. They proceeded to hack him down right there!!!
Artist’s rendition of the murder of Thomas Becket
These knights quickly fell into disgrace after completing such a sacreligious act. And King Henry, upon hearing what his knights had done, immediately sought penance. He walked barefoot from Dover Castle to the town of Canterbury and upon arriving at the cathedral with bloody feet, prayed at the altar where Becket was murdered while being whipped by 80 monks! OUCH!
The Great Tower of Dover Castle
Upon Henry’s return to Dover, he soon began construction of the Great Tower. Some say he did this so that all the people making a pilgrimage to the site of Archbishop Becket’s martyrdom could look up on the cliffs and see proof of the King’s power and to re-establish his prestige after he had humbled himself during his penance.
Good story, right? Sorry that got so long – it was a little like a soap opera! If you can think of a castle that you would like for me to write about, let me know, I would love to! Also be sure to follow along so you can be notified of new posts. If you think this stuff is worth it you can also share it on Facebook or Twitter or wherever!
*Wikipedia – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Motte-and-bailey_castle
*Sweet info here – www.english-heritage.org.uk
*AWESOME site, I urge you to check it out!! www.castlestories.net
*The Murder of Thomas Becket, 1170″ EyeWitness to History, www.eyewitnesstohistory