Rich and powerful people often make their home a statement: “This is who I am.”
King Henry II, great-grandson of William the Conqueror, struggled for twenty years to consolidate and expand his kingdom. With Thomas Becket’s murder hanging over his head, he built himself a home to show all he was the richest and most powerful man in Europe. When you are King, your home really is your castle.
Dover, England is just twenty one miles from France. It has been the entry point to England for millennia. Henry built his castle between 1179 and 1189 on a hill overlooking Dover. Nearby is a church, Saint Ann in Castro, built in A.D. 1000. Next to it is the even older Roman lighthouse dating from A.D. 120. All three sit on the site of a bronze-age dirt and timber fortification built 1200 years earlier. Did the ruins make Henry reflect on possessions’ ephemeral nature; probably not.
Henry’s home was a large square “keep.” It was a fortification and a palace, designed to impress those arriving from Europe with both his power and his wealth.
A stereotypical castle, the keep is surrounded by an “inner bailey” [a courtyard], an outer gated-wall and moat.
In the 13th Century, an outer bailey, wall and fortifications were added. Medieval tunnels were dug underneath to store men and supplies.
Like Europe, war was never far from Dover. The tunnels and fortifications were expanded when Napoleon threatened to invade. The tunnels were expanded again in World War I. They were expanded again in between 1940 and 1945 when German long-range guns fired 2226 shells at Dover from Calais. Then, during the cold war, the tunnels were improved to provide a nuclear bomb shelter for top government officials during the Cold War.
The modern [post-18th Century] tunnels are about four miles long on four levels. “Operation Dynamo,” the miraculous 20 May to 4 June 1940 evacuation of 338,226 soldiers and civilians from Dunkirk, was directed from these tunnels.
Tourists have been invited in to see the top level since World War II. But modern leaders have a different idea about making statements to foreign foes: the lower three levels were carefully kept secret by law until 1987. Even then, the public was not told of their existence until 1991, and our visit was still limited to the top level.
Click on photos to enlarge.
P.S. From 1939 to 1945, Dover was “Frontline Britian” under siege by German guns and bombs. But today, tourist signs at Dover Castle are in English, French and German.