Dover Castle: Back to the 12th century

Author: By David Keys

So, knowing that foreign kings and princes would be making pilgrimages to Becket’s shrine in Canterbury, Henry decided to create a spectacularly grandiose royal palace at the country’s premier port of entry, which would both provide them with somewhere to stay and could not fail to impress them with a display of England’s royal power.

Now, nine centuries on, one of medieval Europe’s greatest royal palaces has been recreated inside England’s largest castle, Dover.

A team of English Heritage historians has spent the past two years researching what the inside of the 12th-century royal palace at Dover would have looked like.

Based on their findings, a group of 141 craftsmen and artisans recreated more than 1,000 artefacts, everything from furniture, kitchenware, garments and goblets to swords, crossbows and shields. They have even researched and re-created a throne and a royal standard of the period. It is the largest historically researched medieval re-creation ever attempted in Britain.

New research by the British historian John Gillingham, published in the current issue of BBC History Magazine, reveals that Dover’s keep was originally built not primarily as a fortification but as a spectacular royal palace where foreign rulers and dignitaries could stay.

Craftsmen employed by English Heritage to recreate the interior of the palace included weavers, hand-sewers, seamstresses, embroiderers, turners, carpenters, cabinet makers, blacksmiths, glass blowers, potters, silversmiths and armourers.

In terms of historical research, re-creating Henry’s great Dover palace has been a tough challenge because there is no historical or archaeological record of how the building was decorated and equipped in medieval times. Therefore, researchers had to comb hundreds of British and continental sources to work out how a typical royal palace of the period would have been decorated.

The biggest single artefact is an enormous, 180ft-long mural-style wall-hanging, depicting the Norman Conquest.

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