Monday, 12 December 2011

Constable's Gate, Entrance to Lock and Key of the Kingdom, Dover Castle, Kent, UK

The classic view of Constable's Gate, today's pedestrian entrance to Dover Castle and what Matthew Paris (1), a medieval Benedictine monk and English chronicler, once famously described as the "Lock and Key to the Kingdom of England":

Constable's Tower built by John de Fiennes under William the Conqueror. Rebuilt as Constable's Gateway by Henry III after 1216 siege. Now Deputy Constable of Dover Castle residence. English Heritage Listed Building.
(Click this Constable's Gate of Dover Castle text link to see the largest size)


The approach to the drawbridge doorway on the Western Outer Curtain Wall of this 12th century Norman castle is via Constable's Road, a junction on Castle Hill Road above Connaught Park and the Zig-Zags Park (both Victorian).

The entrance for vehicular traffic lies further south at Canons Gate, or Canons Gateway.

Constable's Tower was built by John de Fiennes (John de Fienes) under William the Conqueror (2) and for this reason was once known as Fiennes' Tower.

In the 1216 Great Siege of Dover Castle during the First Barons' War against King John (3), the Dauphin Prince Louis, later Louis VIII of France (4), son and heir-apparent of Philip Augustus (one of the most successful medieval French monarchs), unsuccessfully besieged Dover Castle.

The importance of Dover Castle to the Dauphin's campaign is reflected in this 1784 account (5):

When Lewis the Dauphin of France came hither, at the instigation of the pope, and by the invitation of the barons, and had made himself master of most of the castles in the southern counties, his father, hearing that he had not got possession of Dover Castle, swore by St. James's arm, he had not gained a foot of land in England.

Despite the failure to take Dover Castle, Prince Louis' miners so damaged the Northern Entrance that it had to be closed and sealed. In the 1220s, Hubert de Burgh (6) then rebuilt Constable's Tower as an alternative entry point which probably led to it being called by its other name of Newgate Tower.

The Norfolk Towers (a rare view), the uniquely-sited St John's Tower, Fitzwilliam's Gate (Fitzwilliam's Gateway), and the Spur (an earthwork) were also built as a result of the 1216 siege; a trebuchet, a medieval catapult, was used when the siege briefly resumed in 1217 after Henry III (7) had became King.

Constable's Gateway (alt. Constable's Gate) was modernized in 1882 and is the living quarters of the Deputy Constable of the Castle, who at one time was the commanding officer of any Dover-based battalion but is now the senior military officer for the district.

In the main photo, Constable's Barbican lies out-of-shot to the right on a line with the drawbridge.

Queen Mary's Tower (Porth's Tower) and then Peverell Gateway (alt. Peverell's Gateway, Peverell's Tower) are the next towers to the south of Constable's Gateway; the Treasurer Tower (Treasurer's Tower: also Paymaster's Tower, Clopton Tower) is the next tower to the north, out-of-shot to the left.

The main photo was taken at 4.38 pm on Friday, 20th of May, 2011, looking across the western outer moat, or ditch, from Constable's Road. An earlier view is shown at 2007 Constable's Gate or Tower, Western Outer Curtain Wall, Dover Castle.

The Connaught Road Pumping Station photo (not yet uploaded) was taken from nearby.



Historical Accounts


A Victorian drawing of "GATEWAY - DOVER CASTLE". The illustration, possibly by S or G Winebridge (indistinct lettering), was printed by W. W. Sprague and Co. Ltd. of London in 1869:

Constable's Tower built by William the Conqueror. Rebuilt as Constable's Gateway by Henry III. 1869 illustration, possibly by S or G Winebridge, printed W. W. Sprague and Co., London. English Heritage Listed Building.


Note the additional chimney stack on the highest tower and the presence of raising chains (or ropes) on the drawbridge - an indication it may still have been operational at that time. At top-left is part of Treasurer's Tower.

Abridged extract from the Georgian book, "The History of the Town and Port of Dover and of Dover Castle (With a Short Account of the Cinque Ports)" (8):

John de Fienes, Constable of Dover Castle, his Gate-way, and Tower

John de Fienes (alt John de Fiennes) being placed, by his royal master and kinsman, at the head of the associated knights, and appointed Constable of Dover Castle, he undertook to re-build the principal gate-way, with apartments over it, suitable for a feudal baron of that age; and the particular situation to which he was appointed.

To enable him to discharge the arduous undertaking, the King gave him many lordships and manors; and those which he kept in his own possession, were called Constabularie.

In re-building this new entrance into the Castle, he adopted the plan introduced by Gundulph, the Bishop of Rochester; and he is said to have been the first, who ventured to have a spacious arched passage into the Castles, which he secured with drawbridges, portcullisses, and massy gates. These he considered as preferable to the low gate-ways, and the contracted passages, adopted by the Saxons; when they first sought the aid of the mason, to secure their fortresses with stone walls.

The foundations for the front of this gate-way, and for the piers of the bridge, are laid below the bottom of the ditch (moat), which is, at this place, sunk deep in the solid rock; and it plainly shews, that labour, materials, and expense, were considered as secondary objects by the Constable, in the execution of his plan.

The entrance to the Saxon vallum is between two thick parallel stone walls, and it is arched over with stone. There are two towers on each side of the gate-way, to command the ascent of the hill, and the passage to the bridge.

The entrance into the Castle was secured by two portcullises, and thick gates; and when the bridge was raised up into the recess in the wall to receive it, these barriers rendered the passage perfectly safe.

Abridged extract from the Victorian book, "The History of the Castle, Town and Port of Dover" (9):

The Constable's Tower (Constable's Gate, Constable's Gateway)

"One of the grandest gateways in England. Its plan is that of a triangle with its obtuse angle presented to the field. The angles at the base fall within the line of the curtain and are capped by two large drum towers. The salient angle in like manner is capped by an oblong tower, rounded at each end and flat in the centre."

The three towers are connected with an embattled curtain. Within the triangle a central tower rises to a greater height, and commands the whole. It was supported by the manors of Allington and Tunstal.

This gate, called New Gate or Fiennes' Tower (Fienes' Tower) at different times, has undergone several alterations, none of which have added to its beauty. The brickwork arches are supposed to have been added in the reign of Charles I (10), and the cement covering to the central tower during the present century (nineteenth).

The modern additions are more in keeping with the building, and have rendered it a convenient dwelling-house for the Officer Commanding the troops in the South-Eastern District. The hall was used as a court house at one time, and there is a general belief that the tower was the ordinary place of execution for the Castle, but we have discovered no proof of it.

For a long time the porter's lodge contained a sword, an old key, and a horn, which were described as belonging to the days of Julius Caesar (11).

The horn was supposed to be the original one used in summoning the labourers to their work when engaged in building the Castle. They are now exhibited in the Keep (Great Tower, or Palace Tower).

The small room, now used as an engine room, was formerly the record office, and the Ports' Domesday Book used to be kept there.

About the beginning of the seventeenth century these invaluable documents were either sold to, or stolen by, tradesmen of the town, fortunately transcripts were made of some which have survived to the present day.

The caponiere (caponier) was erected during the great war with France (Napoleonic Wars) at the beginning of the 19th century, and the outwork, remains of which can still be seen, was built about the same time.

The main entry into the Castle was not until comparatively modern times through this gate, but through Mamignot's Towers farther north. The original approach to this tower was up a flight of steps.



Notes and Sources


(1) Matthew Paris (Latin, Matthæi Parisiensis, ie. Matthew the Parisian) (c. 1200 – 1259) was a Benedictine monk, English chronicler, artist in illuminated manuscripts and cartographer, based at St Albans Abbey in Hertfordshire. He wrote a number of works, mostly historical, which he scribed and illuminated himself, typically in drawings partly coloured with watercolour washes, sometimes called "tinted drawings". Some were written in Latin, some in Anglo-Norman or French verse. His Chronica Majora is an oft-cited (but not always reliable) source.

(2) William I (circa  1028 – 9 September 1087), also known as William the Conqueror (Guillaume le Conquérant), was the first Norman King of England from Christmas 1066 until his death. He was also Duke of Normandy from 3 July 1035 until his death, under the name William II. Before his conquest of England, he was known as William the Bastard because of the illegitimacy of his birth.

(3) King John (24 December 1166 – 18/19 October 1216), also known as John Lackland (French: Sansterre - landless, without land), was King of England from 6 April 1199 until his death. During John's reign, England lost the duchy of Normandy to King Philip II of France, which resulted in the collapse of most of the Angevin Empire and contributed to the subsequent growth in power of the french Capetian dynasty during the 13th century. The baronial revolt at the end of John's reign led to the signing of the Magna Carta, a document often considered to be an early step in the evolution of the constitution of the United Kingdom.

(4) Louis VIII of France: Louis VIII the Lion (5 September 1187 – 8 November 1226) reigned as King of France from 1223 to 1226. He was a member of the House of Capet. Louis VIII was born in Paris, France, the son of Philip II Augustus and Isabelle of Hainaut. He was also Count of Artois, inheriting the county from his mother, from 1190 – 1226.

(5) "The antiquities of England and Wales", by Francis Grose (1784), an English antiquary, draughtsman, and lexicographer. The same account also appears in the September 1773 edition of "The Universal Magazine for Knowledge and Pleasure".

(6) Hubert de Burgh, 1st Earl of Kent (c. 1160 – before 5 May 1243) was Earl of Kent, Justiciar of England and Ireland, and one of the most influential men in England during the reigns of King John and Henry III.

(7) Henry III (1 October 1207 – 16 November 1272) was the son and successor of John as King of England, reigning for 56 years from 1216 until his death. His contemporaries knew him as Henry of Winchester. He was the first child king in England since the reign of Æthelred the Unready (Ethelred the Unready).

(8) Excerpt from "The History of the Town and Port of Dover and of Dover Castle (With a Short Account of the Cinque Ports)".

Volume I dedicated by the Reverend John Lyon, Minister of St Mary the Virgin of Cannon Street, to John Gunman, Esquire, on May 14th, 1813, and published the same year.

Volume II dedicated to Jonathan Osborn, Edward Thompson, and John Shipdem on April 21st, 1814, and published the same year.

(9) "The History of the Castle, Town and Port of Dover" by Reverend Samuel Percy Hammond Statham, Rector of St Mary-in-the-Castle (ie St Mary-in-Castro) (Longmans, Green, and Co., 1899)

(10) Charles I (19 November 1600 – 30 January 1649) was King of England, King of Scotland, and King of Ireland from 27 March 1625 until his execution in 1649.

(11) Julius Caesar (July 100 BC – 15 March 44 BC) was a Roman general and statesman and a distinguished writer of Latin prose. He played a critical role in the gradual transformation of the Roman Republic into the Roman Empire. "Caesar's Tower" and "Caesar's Altar" were once local names given to Dover's East Roman Pharos and Bredenstone, respectively.



The main photo first appeared at:

The Constable Gateway, Entrance to the Key of the Kingdom, Dover Castle

To be uploaded:

Constable Gateway and Drawbridge, Western Outer Curtain Wall, Dover Castle
The South Wing of Constable Gateway, the Stately Home of Dover Castle

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 castle photos first appear under the Dover Castle 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.

More Dover Architecture and History photos.

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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