Battle Castle: The White Cliffs of Dover

Battle Castle LogoThis week we travel with host Dan Snow to visit the impressive Dover Castle. Perched high atop the white chalky cliffs, Dover Castle has been a military installation for over 800 years. Dover’s last major military role was during WWII. In this episode of Battle Castle we see the construction set forth by Henry II and the siege of 1216 by an ambitious French prince.

The Construction
Henry II set out to improve Dover Castle in 1179. Dover is situated on the Southeast coast of Britain, with a grand view of the ocean and surround countryside. Henry II enlisted the best engineer/architect of the time, Maurice the Engineer. Little is known about Maurice but his genius can be seen in the construction of the castle. Maurice could not use the soft chalky rock that is located around Dover, so he gathered stone from across the kingdom to build the castle.

The layout of the castle is unique with a barbacan leading into courtyard and a winding path that leads into the keep. The winding path added a level of defense to the castle as besiegers would be unable to maneuver a battering ram into position to breach the keep. Also once inside the courtyard the castle defenders could attack the besiegers from an elevated position and from all sides. The outer wall used a series of round towers instead of the normal square towers. The round towers are better at resisting undermining and deflect siege engine shots better.

On his trip to Guedelon Dan discovers how the masons picked their stone and how to precisely split them into usable pieces. Dan visits the forge and gets the opportunity to work with the blacksmith and create a weapon. And the viewer is able to see the hard physical work that goes into creating weapons and tools out of raw metal.

At Caerphilly Castle he is able to use a perrier siege engine. The perrier is essentially a man powered trebuchet. The one at Caerphilly is manned by 5-6 men, but some were so big it took 16 men to fire. It is quick to load and fires 2-3 shots per minute.

We also meet Kevin Hicks, a crossbow expert that demonstrates the accuracy and lethality of the crossbow. And Kevin is a supreme marksman hitting targets dead center at 80 meters!

The History
Once again the history is exceptional. I don’t think there is any reason to believe this show will settle for anything less than complete and accurate history. In 1215 a group of disgruntled barons, fed up with the terrible rule of King John, force him to sign the Magna Carta. The next year, with little change from John, the barons invite Prince Louis of France to come to England and claim the throne.

Prince Louis landed in England in May 1216, captured Winchester in June and controlled a large portion of the English kingdom. In July Prince Louis set his sights on Dover. Defended by Hubert de Burgh, Dover Castle was ready for the attack. Louis tried to undermine the walls and brought down a section gaining access to the inner wall. Hubert de Burgh used a counter mining technique resulting in fierce underground combat and successfully stopping the French.

Prince Louis was not able to take Dover Castle and the death of King John changed the resolve of the barons. Many of the barons abandoned Prince Louis and accepted the new king, 9 year old, Henry III. Prince Louis would return to France defeated, in less than a year. He would become King Louis VIII “the Lion” of France in 1223.

Final Decree
Battle Castle offers a fresh take on documentaries that I hope others will emulate. The brillant host, use of CGI, re-enactments and hands on demonstration all add to the viewing experience.

As an added bonus this week Battle Castle was tweeting live during the broadcast! This is another example of their exceptional use of social media. Don’t miss out, follow them on twitter @BattleCastle or their Facebook Fan Page to get all the extra content. Also visit the official Battle Castle website to learn about all the castles and their history.

Tune in Thursdays on History Television Canada at 2100 ET to watch Battle Caslte

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