Wednesday, 5 October 2011

The King's Chamber of Henry II in the Great Tower of Dover Castle, Kent, UK

A view of the King's Chamber on the second-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):

King's Chamber, or Solar, adjacent to King's Hall, Great Hall, in Dover Castle. Bedroom with furniture, tapestries. Keep built by Henry II, Maurice Engineer. English Heritage Listed Building. 12th Century, Medieval Palace
(Click this Palace King's Chamber text link to see the largest size)

An explanation for the size of King Henry II's bed was given by Steven Lang (Head Custodian of Dover Castle) at a meeting held in 2010 (2):

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 - but only for those who could afford such a luxury at night, of course!

As well as being a bedroom, the King's Chamber is where Henry II could have had private meetings and audiences. It was also known as a "Solar" (3):

The forebuilding staircase of Dover Castle leads to a grand entrance portal at second-floor level - one floor higher than usual and another parallel with Newcastle. No doubt this arrangement provided an extra degree of security, but it also means that the forebuilding took the form of a grand staircase communicating directly with the principal apartments, as this floor contained the royal hall and solar.

The solar was a room in many English and French medieval manor houses, great houses, and castles (4):

In such houses, the main room was known as the Great Hall, in which all parts of the household would eat and live, with those of highest status being at the end, often on a raised dais, and those of lesser status further down the hall. But a need was felt for more privacy to be enjoyed by the head of the household, and, especially, by the senior women of the household. The solar was a room for their particular benefit, in which they could be alone (or "sole") and away from the hustle, bustle, noise and smells (including cooking smells) of the Great Hall.

The solar was generally smaller than the Great Hall, because it was not expected to accommodate so many people, but it was a room of comfort and status, and usually included a fireplace and often decorative woodwork or tapestries/wall hangings.

The etymology of solar is often mistaken for having to do with the sun but it is more likely related to the french word for 'alone': seul(e). The name fell out of use after the sixteenth century and its later equivalent was the drawing room, itself a contraction of withdrawing room.

From "The History of the Castle, Town and Port of Dover", published in 1899 (5):

An "Inventory of the furniture in Dover Castle" exists for the year 1536, from which the following is an extract:-

King's Chamber, 2 tabylls, 2 formis, 1 pair of trestyll, 2 copbordis, 2 small formis, and a lader.

The King's Hall, also known as the Great Hall or Throne Room, is the same size as the King's Chamber, or Solar, and is out-of-shot to the right (link below).

Entry to the medieval royal palace is via the Forebuilding attached to the Keep.

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) General Meeting of The Dover Society held on Monday, 18th January, 2010, at St. Mary's Hall, the Parish hall of St Mary the Virgin) in Dieu Stone Lane.
(3) From English Castles: A Guide by Counties by Adrian Pettifer (Boydell & Brewer, 2002)
(4) Wikipedia entry for Solar
(5) "The History of the Castle, Town and Port of Dover", by Reverend S. P. H. Statham, Rector of St Mary-in-the-Castle (St Mary-in-Castro) (Longmans, Green, and Co., 1899), page 285

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

The King's Chamber of 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, a popular tourism and travel destination, 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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