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Digital Subscriptions > History Revealed > July 2018 > How to Defend a Castle

How to Defend a Castle

Bombardment, sniping, mining, diplomacy, bribery, psychological warfare, hand-to-hand combat: the great siege of Dover Castle had it all. In 1216, Prince Louis of France tried, and failed, to capture it


The siege of Dover was part of the First Barons’ War, the conflict that sprang up from 1215-17 in the wake of King John’s poor rule.

Prince Louis’ troops undermine Dover’s gatehouse and pour into the castle. But the defenders are ready for them...

Perched high up on a cli top, Dover Castle has long stood on the front line of England’s defences. On more than one occasion, troops have gathered here to face potential invaders from across the Channel. In 1940, it was the headquarters for the evacuation from Dunkirk. Yet this historic castle’s finest hour probably came 800 years ago, when it stood virtually alone against Prince Louis of France – and in doing so lived up to its nickname of ‘the lock and key to the kingdom’.

The year 1199 had seen one of England’s worst kings ascend to the throne. John, youngest son of Henry II, had succeeded his brother, Richard the Lionheart, as ruler not only of England but also of an extensive empire in what is now northern and western France. But within five years he had managed to lose Normandy, Anjou and much of Poitou to the French King, Philip II.

John spent the next decade trying to build up a war chest to finance the reconquest of these territories. Although he succeeded in raising the money he needed, the dubious methods he used to do it alienated not only weak groups like townspeople and the church, but also, far more dangerously, the barons.

In 1214, following the dismal failure of John’s military attempt to regain his lost dominions, his baronial opponents rose against him, demanding a charter of liberties as a safeguard against what they saw as the King’s tyrannical behaviour. In May 1215, they seized London, and the following month John was forced to agree to their demands, attaching his seal to the document that later became known as Magna Carta.

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About History Revealed

In this month's issue… Everything you ever wanted to know about castles The complete story of the greatest emblem of the medieval age: how they evolved from simple forts into impregnable bastions, how they were built without modern machinery and how you could break into one. Plus: the Women's Liberation Movement; the peasant who became Japan's second great unifier; top 10 ancient board games; the football match that sparked a war; and a graphic guide to London Zoo's most famous residents.