Rochester Castle is a magnificent example of Anglo-Norman architecture and a tribute to their construction skills. Its state of preservation is outstanding and the massive central ‘keep’ is the tallest surviving great tower of its kind anywhere in Europe.
What is most surprising is that this monument to military prowess was not built by a military genius but actually by a bishop who loved castles. It is located directly opposite Rochester Cathedral, an equally impressive structure. There are few places in the world where a Cathedral and a Castle are such immediate neighbours and in Rochester they send a clear reminder of the enormous power once held by the Crown and the Church in Britain.
The original Rochester castle was constructed of wood and rammed earth. It was held by the dissident Bishop Odo of Bayeux during the 1088 ‘Rebellion of Royal Succession’ that took place between the sons of William the Conqueror. Odo supported Robert but the castle was recaptured after a seven week siege by the rightful king, his younger brother, William Rufus.
The construction of the current castle started shortly after William Rufus assumed the throne. William asked Gundulf, the new Bishop of Rochester to replace the existing castle with a significant stone fortress. Some of the original construction still survives to this day. Gundulf was so successful that he also oversaw the construction of Colchester Castle and the world famous Tower of London.
Over the years that followed the castle was modified and expanded. In 1127 King Henry I officially gave the castle to the William de Corbeil, the Bishop of Canterbury, and granted the rights to the castle to his successors in perpetuity. William embarked on a massive programme of construction and built the exception central tower that remains to this day.
The castle was captured during the First Barons’ War of 1215-1217 by opponents of King John the Bad. The castle fell and was occupied by forces of the Barons but was soon besieged again, this time by the royalist forces of King John. For seven weeks the army of King John unleashed the full terror of their siege engines and even tunnelled under the main keep and by using the fat of forty pigs together with a small mountain of wood created an underground fire so strong that part of the central Keep collapsed. The garrison clung on and only surrendered when finally overcome by starvation.
During the Second Barons’ War the castle was besieged for the third time in 1264. This time, under the command of Roger de Leybourne it survived being taken.
The next and last time Rochester castle would see conflict was in 1381 when it was overwhelmed and ransacked by rebels during the Peasants Revolt. It was never fully restored or used as serious defensive centre and thus escaped being destroyed, as many other castles were, during the English Civil War.
The White Lady
Rochester castle is believed to be haunted by the ghost of Lady Blanche de Warenne who was killed during the siege of 1264 when rebel forces under the leadership of Simon de Montfort attempted to capture the Castle. Defending the Castle was Roger de Leybourne and one of his trusted companions, Ralph de Capo who was betrothed to Lady Blanche. As was tradition at the time, the fighting paused on Good Friday and a knight called Gilbert de Clare, 7th Earl of Gloucester, disguised himself as de Capo and infiltrated the castle with the intention of capturing Lady Blanche with whom he was desperately in love. Lady Blanche resisted his forceful advances and was chased by de Clare to the battlements where the rogue knight’s intentions turned to murder.
Seeing his chance de Capo shot an arrow at de Clare but it bounced off his armour and killed Lady Blanche instead who then fell from the battlements. Gilbert de Clare escaped, switched sides and betrayed Simon de Montfort by burning his ships at the port of Bristol and destroying the bridge over the River Severn at Gloucester. He was forgiven by the King, his lands restored and even rose to the rank of Guardian of England. The spirit of Lady Blanche – now known as the White Lady of Rochester – has haunted the battlements since that dark day unable to rest until Gilbert de Clare is properly punished for his misdeeds. This tragic event is regularly re-enacted at the castle during open days and pageants.
The famous 18th century British author is said to have loved Rochester castle and had asked to be buried there. His adoring readers deemed that the great man deserved to be buried at Westminster Abbey and so he was. However, people have reported seeing a ghostly man looking just like Dickens walking along the moat and near to the burial grounds – perhaps trying to see his wish fulfilled.
Camping and Caravanning Club Site
Styants Bottom Road, Seal, Sevenoaks
Kent, England, TN15 0ET
+44 (0)1732 762 728
- Address: Epaul Lane, Rochester, Kent, England, United kingdom, ME1 1SW
- GPS: 51.38975192162204,0.501507184655793
- Phone: 0044 (0)870 333 1181
- Part of UK: England
- Sat Nav Postcode: ME1 1SW
- Entrance Fees: Yes
- Disabled Access: Limited
- Visibility from Road: Excellent
- Image Credits: Header Image: Standa Riha