Defending Dover

Yesterday, we drove to Dover to see the Dover Castle, the White Cliffs and the Ferry Port. It was a two-hour drive each way and well worth it. In this picture, you can see all three sites: Dover Castle on top of the bluff at the far left; a ferry leaving port, just to the right of Dale; and, of course, the cliffs to the left of her.

The port is massive and continually in motion with ferries coming and going constantly, carrying cars, trucks and tour buses. I read that it costs about £80 (~$125) to cross to France with a car on one of the ferries.

Dover is the closest point between England and France to make a waterborne crossing and, given the Island Nation’s continual fear of invasion from the European Continent, Dover has always been a defensive coastal outpost.

But, back to our history lesson: After William the Conqueror defeated King Harold at the Battle of Hastings to take the English throne, he proceeded, in November 1066, to Dover where he built a wooden palisade fortress on top of the bluff, just barely set back from the top of the White Cliffs.

A little over 100 years later, William’s royal successor, King Henry II, built a magnificent stone castle to replace King William’s fortress. King Henry II was the king that was responsible for the murder of Thomas Becket, Archbishop of Canterbury, in 1170 (King Henry II was also famous for being the father of King Richard the Lionheart and of King John, villain of the Robin Hood legends and signer of the Magna Carta).

Because of his role in Becket’s murder, King Henry II had lost favor with many of his subjects, as well as with the Pope and the catholic community at large. Almost immediately following his murder, Becket was made a saint and Catholics from the continent began to make pilgrimages to Canterbury to the Becket shrine in the Cathedral there; landing from France was here at the port of Dover.

In an effort to restore his reputation, King Henry II, decided to build his Dover Castle to welcome dignitaries on pilgrimage and to display his wealth and military power to foreign visitors and to his subjects.

As intended, Dover Castle is very impressive. Most of the castle was complete by 1216. Here’s a picture from the top of the bluff, looking southward toward the English Channel:

The outer walls are surrounded by a moat, now dry, complete with drawbridge.

Here’s a photo taken from the drawbridge, looking north (inland) along the outer wall of the castle:

And another, looking South, toward the English Channel:

Once through this first Gate, called the Constable’s Gate, you discover that there is a fortress within a fortress, that is, there is another high stone wall and another Gate, this one called the King’s Gate:

But once through the Gates in the outer and inner defensive walls, the jewel of Dover Castle awaits: The Great Tower; essentially, the King’s house…

…with commanding views from the top in all directions…

…South, overlooking the port and the town…

…and inland to the North, overlooking the defensive walls and outposts (that’s an active military barracks in the background: Dover Castle held active military troops from 1170 until the 1970s).

A photo-op on top before we descend into the Great Tower for a tour.

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