Portchester Castle

Portchester Castle

Location: Castle St., Porchester, Hampshire   Map

Constructed: 11th century by William Maudit
Tel. 023 9237 8291
Open: daily
Closed: 1 Jan, 24- 26 Dec

Description of Portchester Castle

Portchester Castle

Portchester Castle is a medieval castle incorporated into a former Roman fort in Portchester, east of Fareham in Hampshire, England.

The fort ensemble is situated at the north end of Portsmouth Harbour. The castle, which was probably built towards the end of the 11th century, belonged to a baron and was placed under royal control in 1154. The Crown controlled the castle for several centuries; it was the preferred hunting lodge of King John the Landless. In 1216, Portchester Castle was besieged and taken by the French, but shortly thereafter returned permanently to English hands.

The castle occupies a dominant position at the end of Portsmouth harbor and had its own important harbor in medieval times. From there, troops led by English kings embarked for a number of attacks against France. To guard against a possible French attack in the first quarter of the 14th century, Edward II invested £1100 in repairs and improvements to Portchester Castle. A plot to overthrow Henry V was discovered and the conspirators arrested at Portchester Castle. This event also occurs in William Shakespeare's drama Henry V. Later the castle was also used as a prison.

Today Porchester Castle is a Scheduled Monument and has been listed as a Grade I Historic Building by English Heritage. The castle has belonged to the Southwick Estate since the 17th century but is managed by English Heritage and is open to the public all year round. The Norman parish church of St Mary's in the south-east corner of the property is part of the Anglican Diocese of Portsmouth.


Portchester Castle

Roman fort and Saxon burh

The Romans recognized the strategic importance of Portchester no later than the 3rd century AD, although it is not known exactly when this fort was built, but it is attributed to Marcus Aurelius Carausius, who had it built between 285 and 290 at the behest of Emperor Diocletian . It was part of the chain of fortresses on the Saxon coast (Litus saxonicum) and served as a defense against Germanic plunderers and immigrants from the mainland. Portchester was also believed to be a base for the Classis Britannica, the Roman fleet tasked with protecting the waters around Britain. Today it is the best preserved Roman fortress north of the Alps. Although Roman troops withdrew from Britain in the early 5th century, it is unlikely that the fort was abandoned as a result. After that, it was only used to a much lesser extent. A 10th-century hall building and tower have been discovered inside, suggesting that it served as a residence for high-ranking figures in the Anglo-Saxon period. In 904 Porchester came under the rule of King Edward the Elder and the fort was expanded into a burh to help defend the island from Viking attacks.


Medieval castle and palace

It is not certain when the castle was built, but it is believed to be at the end of the 11th century. After the Norman conquest of England, the lordship of Porchester was given to William Maudit, a companion of William the Conqueror and a powerful magnate. It was probably he who had Portchester Castle built. The form of this early castle is also uncertain, but Maudit is credited with creating the central bailey in the north-west corner of the castle. At that time, the fortifications probably consisted of a wooden palisade and a moat, with the old stone walls of the Roman fort serving as fortifications for the outer bailey. William Maudit died around 1100 and his estates passed to his son, Robert Maudit. He died in 1120 and a few years later the family estates passed into the hands of William Pont de l'Arche by marriage to Robert Maudit's daughter. Although the castle was not mentioned in a document at the time, it was probably rebuilt in stone. Evidence of this is that the masonry of the castle is similar to that of the parish church of St. Mary, which was built in the outer bailey in the 1130s. The church was created for Augustinian priory that Pont de l'Arche founded in 1128 within the castle walls. Other buildings were planned for the priory, but no trace of them remained. As the monastic community moved to their new site in Southwick between 1147 and 1150, these buildings are believed to have never been completed.

William Pont de l'Arche probably kept Portchester Castle until his death in 1148 and it is not known who then inherited it. It may have fallen to William Maudit, a descendant of the Maudit family, or to Henry Maudit, William de l'Arche's son. The first explicit mention dates from 1153 and states that Henry Plantagenet, the later English king Henry II, gave the castle to Henry Maudit as a fief. Regardless, Henry took possession of Portchester Castle when he came to the throne in 1154. From then on, the castle remained in the hands of the crown for several centuries. More records survive of the castle as a royal fortress than of the previous period. Details of the condition and structure of Porchester Castle are included in the pipe rolls. For example, from the fact that only small sums of money were invested in the keep throughout its period in royal hands, one concludes that it was mostly complete, and for the year 1183 these records show that there were royal apartments in addition to the keep at the castle gave. Henry II regularly visited Porchester Castle and the castle is mentioned in his dispute with Thomas Beckett. Here King Henry met the Bishop of Évreux, who advocated for Thomas Beckett. The castle also served as a prison for important people, such as B. the Earl of Leicester. When Henry II's son, with the help of some leading barons, rebelled against his father in the revolt of 1173-1174, Porchester Castle was made ready for war. In order to be able to defend the castle, it was equipped with catapults and a garrison headed by 10 knights, a number later increased to 20 knights.

King John was a frequent visitor to Portchester Castle and was there when he heard of the loss of Normandy in 1204. The Forest of Bere was close by, making Portchester Castle a favorite retreat for the king. English troops also made their way to France from Portchester when John was attempting to retake Normandy from Philip Augustus, King of France, in 1205 and 1213. Johann's trips to France ended in defeat. After John signed the Magna Carta in 1215, he approached the Pope with a request for annulment. As a result, his opponents were excommunicated in September. He besieged Rochester Castle and the rebels turned to France for help. The barons offered the English throne to Prince Louis, the eldest son of the French king. Louis' attack was initially successful, taking London and Winchester before Portchester Castle surrendered to his troops in June 1216. Johann Ohneland died on October 19, 1216 and nine days later his eldest son became King Henry III. crowned. Louis' tide of war turned and the English recaptured Portchester Castle in the spring of 1217. As a result, there was a stalemate between Henry III. and Louis until English victory at the Battle of Lincoln on May 20, 1217. After his supply lines to France were severed in August 1217, Louis was forced to leave England. Henry strove and recaptured Normandy, which his predecessor had lost, until conditions in England forced him to abdicate in 1259. During this period, military expeditions to France often departed from Portchester Castle.

Little attention was paid to the fortifications of the castle for most of this century, but towards the end of the century a wooden tower was built to reinforce the eastern part of the Roman wall. Fearing another French invasion during the reign of Edward II (1307-1327), a garrison was placed at Portchester Castle. Between 1320 and 1326 the Crown invested more than £1100 in the repair and enlargement of Portchester Castle. The buildings of the main castle were rebuilt and the outer gatehouse expanded. Despite the costly work ordered by Edward II, an appraisal from 1335 found that many of the castle's buildings were in a state of ruin and that the south wall of the Roman fort had been damaged by the sea. Although he rarely stayed at Portchester Castle, Edward III assembled. in June 1346 his army of 15,000 men there before launching an attack on France that ended in victory at the Battle of Crecy. More work was done in the 1350s and 1360s; the residential buildings in the castle were rearranged and the wall facing the sea was repaired. The royal bedchambers were built between 1396 and 1399 and can still be seen today, albeit in a ruinous state. They were built for King Richard II under master builder Walter Walton.

In 1415, King Henry V had Portchester Castle prepared for an attack on France that was part of the Hundred Years' War between the two countries. While he was at Portchester Castle in July, a plot to overthrow him, later called the Southampton Plot, was discovered. In the castle he had the traitors imprisoned: Richard of Conisburgh, 1st Earl of Cambridge, Henry Scrope, 3rd Baron Scrope of Masham, and Sir Thomas Grey. The three men were executed in early August.

In the 15th century the nearby town of Portsmouth, around 10 km away, developed into a prominent commercial center and important port. It took over the role of important military facility from Portchester and Portchester Castle began to fall into disrepair. An assessment from 1441 called the castle "rather ruinous and weak". Despite its condition, the castle was chosen in 1445 as the site for the landing of Margaret of Anjou, wife of Henry VI. The castle continued to crumble until the last decade of the 15th century when efforts were made to restore the castle buildings. When King Henry VIII and his Queen Anne Boleyn came to the castle in October 1535, it was the first time a reigning monarch had stayed there in over a century. From October 1562 to June 1563, the English occupied the port of Le Havre on France's north coast. During this period, the castle served as a military hospital for soldiers injured in the conflict with France. As relations with Spain deteriorated, Queen Elizabeth I had Portchester Castle ready for war to forestall a Spanish invasion. In 1603 the castle was in a suitable condition for the queen to hold court there. Sir Thomas Cornwallis became constable and had the buildings along the east side of the main bailey remodeled. A royal appraisal of 1609 documents the improved condition of the castle and mentions that the buildings that Cornwallis had remodeled now contain "four fine bedchambers upstairs and as many offices downstairs".


Use as a prison

The Crown relinquished control of the castle when King Charles I sold it to Sir William Uvedale in 1632. Since then, Portchester Castle has been passed down to his descendants, the Thistlethwaite family. The castle saw no action during the English Civil War, although it was briefly garrisoned by Parliamentarian Dragoons in 1644. A possible role for castles at that time was that of a prison. From the late 17th century this became Portchester Castle's most important function. In 1665, 500 prisoners of war from the Anglo-Dutch War (1665-1667) were housed in the castle. Some of them lived in the church in the outer bailey. They damaged the building by setting fire. The church was not repaired again until 40 years later. From 1702 to 1712 the Crown leased Portchester Castle from the Uvedales to house prisoners taken during the War of the Spanish Succession. The first detailed descriptions of the conditions of detention date back to the mid-18th century.

The castle was last used as a prison in the 19th century, for over 7000 prisoners from the Napoleonic Wars. On Hospital Lane (formerly Seagates Lane), which runs along the west side of the castle, was the prison hospital, now a private residence known as Portchester House. Deceased prisoners were often buried on the mudflats south of the castle, and the occasional storm would wash away their remains.



Today Portchester Castle is mainly used for leisure activities: there are exhibitions in the main bailey. The castle is a popular destination for school trips, while the beach is used at high tide by anglers fishing for flounder and perch.


Local Legends

Local legend has it that Pontius Pilate was brought here in old age in a galley for a last resort.