Friday, 28 October 2011

Guest Hall of King Henry II in the Great Tower of Dover Castle, Kent, UK

A view of the Guest Hall 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):

Guest Hall of Royal Palace also used by garrison and Constable. Keep, or Great Tower, by Maurice the Engineer. Backcloth by RSN. Troubadour music: Alexandra Buckle, Oxford University. English Heritage Listed Building.
(Click this Palace Guest Hall text link to see the largest size)

The Guest Hall, or lower hall, is shown being prepared for a feast, although it would have been a multi-purpose room (see below). Leading off this hall are the pantry and the buttery (2).

The Guest Hall backcloth above the 'high table', a powerful reminder to the guests of whose palace they are visiting, shows the mounted King Henry II (Curtmantle), ready for battle in mail, although without helmet so that all might see his face, wearing his crown and holding his sword aloft (3). The backcloth was made by the Royal School of Needlework (RSN):

2009 for the re-presentation of The Great Hall, Dover Castle. Six large pieces were produced in an extremely short timescale including the King’s Hall backcloth; a canopy and tester; the Guest Hall backcloth and a standard and altar frontal. These were completed with the help of volunteers from the RSN Certificate Course (4).

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 (5):

"Henry II 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)

At other times:

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).

Out-of-shot to the right of the Guest Hall is the Guest Chamber with the King's Chamber directly above it on the second floor. The King's Hall is above the Guest Hall. See below for links.

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) Making a Visit to Dover Castle: Notes for Teachers
(3) The Textile Society: Traditional Crafts Bring Dover Castle Back to Life
(4) RSN work on display
(5) Oxford academic brings music to Dover Castle
(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 Hall 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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