Saturday, 29 October 2011

Guest Chamber of King Henry II, Great Tower of Dover Castle, Kent, UK

A view of the Guest Chamber on the first-floor of the Keep, or Great Tower (night view), of Dover Castle after "a major transformation by English Heritage to re-create the splendour of a royal court in the late 12th century" (1):

Royal Palace Guest Chamber also used by garrison and Constable. Angevin Keep, or Great Tower, by Maurice the Engineer. Textiles by RSN. Musical instrument: harp; board game: backgammon. English Heritage Listed Building.
(Click this Palace Guest Chamber text link to see the largest size)

Entry to this representation of a medieval royal palace is via the Forebuilding and King's Hall on the second-floor. Adjacent to the King's Hall (Great Hall) is the King's Chamber (bedroom, or solar). The Guest Hall is on the floor below the King's Hall, and the Guest Chamber is below the King's Chamber.

Embroidered textiles throughout the four-room complex are by the Royal School of Needlework (RSN).

Above the chest at bottom-left is a bed on top of which lie a patchwork blanket, bolster, and two pillows. Next is the main bed which can be completely enclosed by drawing the hanging curtains along their rail. There are two other beds set against the far wall.

The beds are quite small by modern standards which I immediately put down to the average height being less in the 12th Century than it is today. A 2007 newspaper report, however, suggests otherwise (2):

Judged by the height of the door-frames he built, medieval man was assumed to be vertically challenged.

But after examining the bones of those who lived in the Middle Ages, scientists have discovered a much bigger truth.

Evidence gathered from 3,000 skeletons reveals that human height has varied little over the past 1,000 years.

From the 10th century through to the 19th, the average height of adult men was 5ft 7in or 170cm - just 2in below today's average.

Women were an average of 5ft 2in or 158cm - just over an inch shorter than today.
All the bones in the study came from the medieval St Peter's Church in Barton upon Humber, North East Lincolnshire.

...Researchers from Bristol Royal Infirmary studied every skeleton in an attempt to identify its sex, age and size and analysed bones for evidence of disease, injury, and diet.

The real reason for the size of the beds, however, was explained by speaker Steven Lang (Head Custodian of Dover Castle) at the 2010 General Meeting of The Dover Society:

The beds seem unusual and are small by today's standards. In Henry's reign people would not lie down to sleep. They were afraid that if they fell asleep and their mouths opened the devil would enter their bodies. With a shorter bed they could sleep in more of a sitting position and this would not happen.

An additional reason given by a Dover Castle English Heritage guide (Keith Ashley-Thomas) is that sleeping sitting up reduced wood smoke inhalation - for those who could afford such a luxury at night, that is!

On the right-hand side of the photo, the sooty residue above the hearth shows that the fire is still in use.

Two of the objects on the green-topped table in front of the fireplace are a harp and a backgammon board:

As part of the re-presentation of the Norman Keep, Alexandra Buckle, a junior research fellow in the Music Faculty at Oxford University, was employed by English Heritage as a music consultant for the project (3):

"Henry II (Curtmantle) was married to Eleanore of Aquitaine, a lifelong patron of the troubadours (composers and performers of Occitan lyric poetry during the High Middle Ages, 1100-1350) and someone who is credited with spreading the influence of the troubadours to England. Therefore we hear troubadour music in the Guest Hall, reflecting this." (The female equivalent of a troubadour is a trobairitz)
There is a harp displayed in the Guest Chamber, which is sturdier than the other instrument on display and is not fixed to the table. Children are allowed to pick it up so they can engage with the era.

Eleanor has been described as "a remarkable child" (4):

In her time, girls were rarely educated. They learned to embroider and play checkers and backgammon. Eleanor was educated in diplomacy, art, history, and languages.

The Gloucester Tabulae Set was discovered by Ian Stewart in 1983 and is "the earliest surviving Backgammon set found in the world" (5):

The owner of this game was probably a Royal Constable of England called Walter of Gloucester (Walter de Gloucester) who was a close friend of Henry II (1100 - 1135)

(Tabula was a board game in the tables family, and is generally thought to be the direct ancestor of modern backgammon)

King John, one of Henry II's sons, "enjoyed gambling, in particular on backgammon, and was an enthusiastic hunter".

Two other commentaries on the first floor of the Keep:

The first floor was probably intended as the Constable of Dover Castle's residence (presumably only up until the Constable Gateway became available) (6).

The following excerpt from a 1787 book has had the "long s" replaced for readability (f instead of s, formerly used where s occurred in the middle or at the beginning of a word). The account uses "ground", "second", and "third" to describe what are nowadays termed ground, first, and second floors:

The present entrance (ie the Forebuilding) is on the fourth side of the Keep; and by a grand flight of Stone Steps you ascend round the eastern side to the third story; on which, in Gundulph's Castles, were the royal, or governor's apartments. The rooms are large, and lofty; but they have very little at this time, except strength, and security, which can recommend them to our refined tastes.

The second floor was intended for the use of the garrison; and that on the ground, for stores (7).

Notes on King Henry II and Thomas Becket (also known as Saint Thomas of Canterbury, Thomas of London, and later Thomas à Becket):

New research by Professor John Gillingham has shown that the spectre of Thomas Becket, Archbishop of Canterbury, murdered in 1170 by four of the King's knights, was the main reason for Henry II to build something impressive at Dover.

The need to erect a symbol of royal power visible from afar to exploit and counter the growing cult around the saint was top on his mind, so was the need to have a suitably grand place to entertain dignitaries who were passing through Dover to visit Becket's shrine in Canterbury (1).

The Keep, or Palace Tower, is 83 feet (25.3m) high and just under 100 feet (30m) square with walls up to 21 feet (6.5m) thick. The architect was 'Maurice the Engineer' (or Mason) and it was built between 1180-1185.

Henry II (5 March 1133 – 6 July 1189) ruled as King of England (1154–1189), Count of Anjou, Count of Maine, Duke of Normandy, Duke of Aquitaine, Duke of Gascony, Count of Nantes, Lord of Ireland and, at various times, controlled parts of Wales, Scotland and western France. Henry, the great-grandson of William the Conqueror, was the first of the House of Plantagenet to rule England. Henry was the first to use the title "King of England" (as opposed to "King of the English").

He is known as Henry Curtmantle or Curtmantel (French: Henri Court-manteau) and Henry Fitz-Empress.

(1) The Royal Palace project, which costs GBP 2.45 million, took over two years of research by English Heritage, "with a team of historians working closely with some 140 artists and craftspeople". The Great Tower re-opened on August 1st, 2009: Medieval Royal Palace at Dover Castle to re-open to the Public
(2) Our medieval ancestors were just as tall as us
(3) Abridged from: Oxford academic brings music to Dover Castle
(4) Women of Royalty: Eleanor of Aquitaine
(5) Gloucester Tabulae Set
(6) Abridged from English Castles: A Guide by Counties by Adrian Pettifer
(7) A brief history Dover Castle; or description of Roman, Saxon Norman, fortifications. Unknown author but: "Printed for the author, and sold by G. Ledger, Dover, sold also by Simmons and Kirkby, T. Smith, and Flackton and Marrable, Canterbury; W. Gillman, Rochester; J. Hall, Margate; P. Burgess, Ramsgate; and T. Evans, London, 1787".

More information (including sources used) can be found on this photo's original webpage at:

The Guest Chamber of King Henry II in the Great Tower of Dover Castle

Also see:

The English Heritage "Pastscape" entry for Dover Castle states:

"Medieval castle possibly originating as a pre-1066 motte and bailey castle, remodelled during the reign of Henry II (Curtmantle; Angevin), to became a castle with concentric defences, one of the first examples of its kind in western Europe."

All Keep and Dover Castle photos first appear under the Dover Castle, Keep, and Castles category labels.

The castle is one of Dover's Grade I Listed Buildings and English Heritage sites.

A Dover Medieval (Middle Ages) and Norman history photo.

Clickable thumbnails of all Dover Castle-related photos on the main Panoramio Images of Dover website are available on this blog on the Dover Castle Page (also linked to below the blog title).

The Panoramio photos are each accompanied by a Google Earth satellite map. However, the images are smaller than those on the Images of Dover Blog and the captions are less well formatted.

John Latter / Jorolat

Dover Blog: The Psychology of a Small Town

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