A comprehensive gazetteer and bibliography of the medieval castles, fortifications and palaces of England, Wales and the Islands.
The listings
Other Info
Print Page 
Next Record 
Back to list 

Rochester Castle

Also known as, or recorded in historical documents as;
Roff'; Roffensi

In the civil parish of Rochester.
In the historic county of Kent.
Modern Authority of Medway.
1974 county of Kent.

OS Map Grid Reference: TQ74136856
Latitude 51.38936° Longitude 0.50129°

Rochester Castle has been described as a probable Timber Castle, and also as a certain Masonry Castle, and also as a probable Palace.

There are major building remains.

This site is a scheduled monument protected by law.
This is a Grade 1 listed building protected by law*.


Rochester Castle was one of the first Norman castles to be fortified in stone, and also has the distinction of being the tallest tower keep in England. The construction of a castle in Rochester can be dated to between 1066 and 1088. Although a large number of these defensive structures were built between the 12th and 15th centuries, many have been lost through factors such as robbing and quarrying, subsidence, modification and adaptation to other uses. Rochester Castle has survived in its original form, and although some features have been lost over time, it still dominates the town, cathedral and the river crossing it was built to defend. No major excavations have been undertaken in the bailey of the castle and this part of the site will therefore contain significant buried archaeological remains relating to the structure of the site, the history of its occupation and the changing fortunes of its inhabitants. Rochester Castle, which includes a tower keep, a bailey with a curtain wall and an outer ditch, dominates the point where the Roman Watling Street - originally the main road between Canterbury and London - crosses the River Medway. Although the castle dates from the immediate post-Conquest period and has a well-documented history from its foundation onwards, the earliest occupation of the site is likely to have been in the Roman period. The western curtain wall overlies an earlier Roman wall at this point, making it likely that the area of the castle was once within the Roman town of Durobreve. The earliest references to the castle are in Domesday Book - where it is recorded that the Bishop of Rochester had been given land in Aylesford 'in exchange for land on which the castle stands' - and in the Textus Roffensis, where the land on which the castle was built is said to be 'the best part of the city'. The first fortification of the site in stone is generally accredited to Bishop Gundulf after the siege of 1088. The wording of the agreement for work to be carried out also implies that an earlier castle, not built of stone, originally occupied the site, although no trace of this structure has yet been identified. The four-storeyed stone keep, one of the largest in England, is 21m square with walls up to 3.5m thick and 34.5m high to the top of the parapet. The south east corner of the keep has been rebuilt, probably as a result of the breaching during the siege of 1215. To the north of the keep, an irregular bailey, some 120m from north to south, is now partly defined by the curtain wall which once enclosed it; this survives on the west side of the bailey where it is all that can be seen of the Gundulfian period of construction. This section was built on top of the foundations of the Roman city wall and was subsequently altered in the 13th century. A long section of the curtain wall on the south side of the castle was demolished in modern times, but at the east end a section of wall with drum towers (the work of Henry III) survives. Beyond the curtain wall on the landward side, but only now visible to the east and north of the castle itself, are the remains of the castle ditch. Although this has been partly infilled and built on over the years, it still survives as a relatively deep buried feature. Below the levels of modern disturbance, deposits will survive providing evidence for the occupation of the site and the environment and economy of the surrounding area. It has been suggested that a second bailey existed immediately to the south west of the keep. However there is currently no confirmation of this and the area is not included in the scheduling. In 1127 Henry I gave the custody of Rochester Castle to the Archbishop of Canterbury and his successors, and shortly after this Archbishop William de Corbeuil began the construction of a stone keep in the southern part of the bailey. Various repairs to the castle and town defences are recorded in the Pipe Rolls for 1166-1167, 1170-1171 and the castle itself was strengthened during the reign of Richard I (1189-1199). During the siege of 1215, the curtain wall and the south east corner of the keep were undermined by King John's engineers, and the castle eventually fell to the besiegers. Subsequently, urgent repairs were made to the keep and the curtain wall, with the tower on the south east angle being rebuilt between 1221 and 1222 on a circular plan, thereby making it much more difficult to undermine. In 1237 mention is made of a southern gateway to the castle wall and the construction of a drawbridge - no trace of which can now be seen. In 1264 the castle was subjected to another siege, when Earl Warrene and Roger de Leybourne held it for the king against Simon de Montfort and Gilbert de Clare. The barons breached the city wall and the outer defences of the castle, but the great keep held out and they were eventually forced to withdraw. Little effort was made to repair the damage caused by this onslaught, and in the 1340 survey made for Edward III, it was reported that there were 'dilapidations over the whole extent of the castle'. Thus in 1367 a programme of rebuilding was begun. Of the two mural towers to the south of the main gate on the east of the castle, the northernmost was built new at this time and the southern one was rebuilt. By 1370 the programme was complete. Between 1378 and 1383, a new tower was built on the north angle of the curtain wall. Further demolitions and alterations are known to have taken place c.1872. The keep and curtain wall are Listed Grade I, and are included in the scheduling as is the ground beneath them. (Scheduling Report)

Castle Keep, curtain walls and mural towers to bailey. A building of exceptional significance. Built at the bridging point where Watling Street crosses the Medway. One of the first Norman Castles to be fortified in stone. Bailey walls, 1087-9, built by Gandulf, Bishop of Rochester for William II; keep, 1127, built by Archbishop William of Corbeil, considerable rebuilding and repairs throughout, 1221-32 (after the 1216 siege) and again by Edward III and Richard II, 1367-83; some demolition and alterations, c.1872. Mainly Kentish rag with tufa and chalk rubble. The building is described in detail by R Allen Brown (1986) which should be consulted for further information. Gandulf's curtain wall survives to the W(Mersey side) and incorporates remains of the Roman city wall (see Refs 7/2 and 9/2); strengthened in C13. SE section, including the drum tower, mid-C13; E section (C14) includes 2 curtain walls, one of which (now a cottage) contains vaulted room, spiral stone stair and 2 garderobes. N section of wall, fragmentary, is incorporated into the garden walls to the rear of High Street properties. The N perimeter wall of the present castle precinct is marked by a C20 wall with palings. To the NW, the bastion (1378-83), altered and breached by a prominent Norman-Revival round-headed arched entrance of c1872. Keep, roofless and without principal floors, rectangular on plan with corner turret (that to SE in circular form, Mid C13) and contempotary forebuilding (with chapel and chambers) to N reached from W at 1st floor level. Main building consists of ground-floor basement; 1st floor apartments; great hall and chamber occupying 2 storeys; private apartments above, all divided by massive cross wall pierced by doorways and (at great hall level) a 4-bay arcade. It contains a well shaft. NE stair to all floors; SW stair excludes access to basement. Decoration sparingly applied: externally to principal doorways and upper floor embrasures; internally mainly chevron with some shafting; arcade with scalloped capitals. (Listed Building Report)

It is important to realise the Great Tower was built as a palace for the Archbishop (or even as a joint palace for the archbishop and the king), a place for him to show his might as a great land lord, as well as a religious leader, and to receive homage from his numerous retainers. It was no more designed or built to be a place of last resort in a siege than the grain silos of Stalingrad in 1942/3. As a massive and strongly built tower it could be used as a last resort, as it was in 1215, but explanations of the architectural features, such as the forebuilding, in terms of resisting a siege are misleading and only obscure the way the tower was actually used. The castle itself (the whole structure, within the curtain wall) did, of course, have a military function as a secure base for a garrison and store although policing and administrative functions were the more regular aspect of the 'military' presence. The original timber castle is sometimes argued to have been nearby at Boley Hill, although the earthworks there probably originated as a siege castle. The corner of the great tower undermined in the 1215 siege was replaced by a circular turret. This is normally suggested as being a specific design choice made for military reasons to lessen the risk of undermining. It should be noted this replacement is of poorer quality stone and shows much less skilled masonry work. It was a cheap repair and it may be the round form which, because of the lack of expenses ashlar corner quoins, was chosen as much for economic reasons as for any military concern.

It has been incorrectly suggested that a Royal licence to crenellate was granted in 1127 {Jan} (Click on the date for details of this supposed licence.).

Links to archaeological and architectural databases, mapping and other online resources

Data >
PastScape   County HER   Scheduling   Listing   I. O. E.
Maps >
OS getamap   Streetmap   Old-Maps   Where's the path   NLS maps  
Data/Maps > 
Magic   V. O. B.   Geology   EarthTools   GeoHack  
Air Photos > 
Bing Maps   Google Maps   Getmapping   Flashearth      
Photos >
CastleFacts   Geograph   Flickr   Panoramio      

Sources of information, references and further reading
  • Websites (Gatehouse is not responsible for the content of external websites.)
  • Books
    • Goodall, John, 2011, The English Castle 1066-1650 (Yale University Press) passim
      Purton, P.F., 2010, A History of the Late Medieval Siege: 1200-1500 (Woodbridge: The Boydell Press) p. 80
      Purton, P.F., 2009, A History of the Early Medieval Siege: c.450-1200 (Woodbridge: The Boydell Press) p. 170-71, 331
      Humphrys, J., 2007, Enemies at the gate: English castles under siege from the 12th century to the Civil War (Swindon; English Heritage) (1215 siege)
      Worssam, B.C. with an appendix by Ashbee, J., 2006, 'The building stones of Rochester Castle and Cathedral' in Ayers, T. and Tatton-Brown, T. (eds), Medieval art, architecture and archaeology at Rochester (Leeds: British Archaeological Association and Maney Publishing) p. 238-49
      Ashbee, J., 2006, 'The medieval buildings and topography of Rochester Castle' in Ayers, T. and Tatton-Brown, T. (eds), Medieval art, architecture and archaeology at Rochester (Leeds: British Archaeological Association and Maney Publishing) p. 250-64
      Goodall, J.A.A., 2006, 'The great tower of Rochester Castle' in Ayers, T. and Tatton-Brown, T. (eds), Medieval art, architecture and archaeology at Rochester (Leeds: British Archaeological Association and Maney Publishing) p. 265-99
      Tatton-Brown, T., 2006, 'The topography and buildings of medieval Rochester' in Ayers, T. and Tatton-Brown, T. (eds), Medieval art, architecture and archaeology at Rochester (Leeds: British Archaeological Association and Maney Publishing) p. 22-37
      Fernie, E., 2000, 'Castles, Halls, and Chamber Blocks' in The Architecture of Norman England (Oxford University Press) p. 49-88 esp 74-8
      Salter, Mike, 2000, The Castles of Kent (Malvern: Folly Publications) p. 60-5
      Pettifer, A., 1995, English Castles, A guide by counties (Woodbridge: Boydell Press) p. 1246 (plan)
      Coulson, Charles, 1994, 'The Castles of the Anarchy' in King, Edmund (ed.), The Anarchy of King Stephen's Reign (Oxford University Press) p. 79
      Brown, R.Allen, 1989, Castles from the Air (Cambridge University Press) p. 200-202
      Rowlands, I.W., 1989, 'King John, Stephen Langton and Rochester Castle, 1213–15' in Harper-Bill, C., Holdsworth, C.J. and Nelson, J.L. (eds), Studies in medieval history presented to R. Allen Brown (Woodbridge: Boydell Press) p. 267–79
      Drage, C., 1987, 'Urban castles' in Schofield, J. and Leech, R. (eds) Urban Archaeology in Britain (CBA Research Report 61) p. 117-32 online copy
      King, D.J.C., 1983, Castellarium Anglicanum (London: Kraus) Vol. 1 p. 232-3
      Wilcox, R.P., 1982, Timber and iron reinforcement in early buildings (Society of Antiquaries of London occasional papers 2) p. 15, 17, 33-4
      Fry, P.S., 1980, Castles of the British Isles (David and Charles) p. 286-8
      Guy, John, 1980, Kent Castles (Meresborough Books)
      Smithers, David Waldron, 1980, Castles in Kent (Chatham)
      Newman, John, 1976, Buildings of England: West Kent and the Weald (Harmondsworth) p. 490-1
      Brown, R.Allen, 1976 (3edn), English castles (Batsford) p. 15, 40-2, 45-6, 72, 99
      Renn, D.F., 1973 (2 edn.), Norman Castles of Britain (London: John Baker) p. 299-303
      Colvin, H.M., Brown, R.Allen and Taylor, A.J., 1963, The history of the King's Works Vol. 2: the Middle Ages (London: HMSO) p. 806-14
      Toy, Sidney, 1953, The Castles of Great Britain (Heinemann) p. 81-2
      Oman, Charles W.C., 1926, Castles (1978 edn Beetham House: New York) p. 10,18
      Armitage, Ella, 1912, The Early Norman Castles of the British Isles (London: John Murray) p. 195-201 online copy
      Evans, Herbert A., 1912, Castles of England and Wales (London) p. 98-113
      Harvey, Alfred, 1911, Castles and Walled Towns of England (London: Methuen and Co)
      Gould, I. Chalkley, 1908, in Page, Wm (ed), VCH Kent Vol. 1 p. 419-20 online copy
      Sands, Harold, 1907, 'Some Kentish Castles' in Ditchfield and Clinch, Memorials of Old Kent (London) p. 172-6 online copy
      Mackenzie, J.D., 1896, Castles of England; their story and structure (New York: Macmillan) Vol. 1 p. 32-4 online copy
      Clark, G.T., 1884, Mediaeval Military Architecture in England (Wyman and Sons) Vol. 2 p. 405-23 online copy
      Timbs, J. and Gunn, A., 1872, Abbeys, Castles and Ancient Halls of England and Wales Vol. 1 (London) p. 286-90 online copy
      Britton, John, 1835, The Architectural Antiquities of Great Britain (London) Vol. 4 p. 129-31
      Hasted, Edward, 1798 (2edn), The history and topographical survey of the county of Kent Vol. 4 p. 45- online transcription
      King, Edward, 1782, Observations on Antient Castles (London) p. 5-27
      Buck, Samuel and Nathaniel, 1774, Buck's Antiquities (London) Vol. 1 p. 138-9
      Grose, Francis, 1785 (new edn orig 1756), Antiquities of England and Wales (London) Vol. 3 p. 94-107 online copy
  • Periodical Articles
    • Eales, Richad, 2013-14, 'Book Review - Rochester Castle Guide Book' The Castle Studies Group Journal Vol. 27 p. 307-9
      Mesqui, Jean, Renn, Derek and Smals Laurens, 2008, ''The Portcullis in Medieval Great Towers: An Impression' Château Gaillard Vol. 23 p. 289-95
      Coulson, Charles, 2007-8, 'On Crenellating, in Kent and Beyond - A Retrospection' Castle Studies Group Journal Vol. 21 p. 189-201 esp p. 193
      Renn, Derek, 2004, 'Refortification at Rochester in the 1220s: a Public/Private Partnership?' Archaeologia Cantiana Vol. 124 p. 343-364
      Ward, A., 1998, 'The castles of Kent No. 3: Rochester Castle' Kent Archaeological Society Newsletter Vol. 40 p. 1-3
      Coulson, C., 1994, 'Freedom to Crenellate by Licence - An Historiographical Revision' Nottingham Medieval Studies Vol. 38 p. 104n50
      Harfield, C.G., 1991, 'A Hand-list of Castles Recorded in the Domesday Book' English Historical Review Vol. 106 p. 371-392 view online copy (subscription required)
      Thompson, M.W., 1986, 'Associated monasteries and castles in the Middle Ages: a tentative list' The Archaeological Journal Vol. 143 p. 310
      Harrison, A.C., 1981, 'Rochester 1974-75' Archaeologia Cantiana Vol. 97 p. 95-136
      Coulson, C., 1979, 'Structural Symbolism in Medieval Castle Architecture' Journal of the British Archaeological Association Vol. 132 p. 83
      Flight, C. and Harrison, A.C., 1978, 'Rochester Castle, 1976' Archaeologia Cantiana Vol. 94 p. 27-60 and plates following
      Winter, J.N. Guy, 1972-3, Cantium p. 78-85
      (Rigold), 1966, Medieval Archaeology Vol. 10 p. 191 download copy
      Brown, R, Allen, 1959, 'A List of Castles, 1154–1216' English Historical Review Vol. 74 p. 249-280 (Reprinted in Brown, R. Allen, 1989, Castles, conquest and charters: collected papers (Woodbridge: Boydell Press) p. 90-121) view online copy (subscription required)
      Brown, R. Allen, 1955, 'Royal Castle-building in England 1154-1216' English Historical Review Vol. 70 (Reprinted in Brown, R. Allen, 1989, Castles, conquest and charters: collected papers (Woodbridge: Boydell Press)) p. 19-64
      Clapham, A.W., 1926, The Archaeological Journal Vol. 83 p. 314-5 online copy
      Livett , Rev. Grevile M., 1905, 'The Reparation of Rochester Castle' Archaeologia Cantiana Vol. 27 p. 177-192 online copy
      Armitage, E., 1904, 'The Early Norman Castles of England' English Historical Review Vol. 19 p. 209-245, 417-455 esp. 424-8 online copy
      Round, J.H., 1902, 'Castle Guard' The Archaeological Journal Vol. 59 p. 144-159 online copy
      Payne, George, 1895, 'Mediaeval Rochester' Archaeologia Cantiana Vol. 21 p. 21-38 online copy
      Arnold, A.A., 1889, 'Medieval remains at Rochester' Archaeologia Cantiana Vol. 18 p. 196-9 online copy
      Clark, G.T., 1875, 'Rochester Castle' The Archaeological Journal Vol. 32 p. 205-28 (reprinted in MMA) online copy
      Hartshorne, C.H., 1863, 'Rochester Castle' The Archaeological Journal Vol. 20 p. 205-23 (history only) online copy
      Larking, 1859, 'The Fabric Roll of Rochester Castle' Archaeologia Cantiana Vol. 2 p. 111-32 (history only) online copy
      Beattie, W., 1854, 'Historical Sketch of Rochester Castle' Journal of the British Archaeological Association Vol. 9 p. 215-30 (history) online copy
      Duesbury, 1854, Journal of the British Archaeological Association Vol. 9 p. 339-48 online copy
      Denne, S., 1782, 'Observations on Rochester Castle, by the Rev. Mr. Samuel Denne. In a letter to Mr. Gough' Archaeologia Vol. 6 p. 381-91
      King, Edward, 1777, 'Observations on antient castles' Archaeologia Vol. 4 p. 364-413 esp 367-89 (reprinted in Antient Castles) online copy
  • Guidebooks
    • Ashbee, J., 2013, Rochester Castle (London: English Heritage)
      Brown, R. Allen, 1999, Rochester Castle Handbook (London: English Heritage)
      Port, Graham, 1987, Rochester Castle (London: English Heritage)
      Brown, R. Allen, 1986 (2edn), Rochester Castle, Kent (London: English Heritage)
      Brown, R. Allen, 1969, Rochester Castle (HMSO)
      Taylor, 1951, Rochester Castle (Rochester)
  • Primary (Medieval documents or transcriptions of such documents - This section is far from complete and the secondary sources should be consulted for full references.)
    • 1086, Domesday Book i. 2 b online copy (under Aylsford)
      Ingram, James, (ed) 1912, The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle (Everyman Press, London) Laud Chronicle AD1088 view online transcription (Ingram's translation and notes date from 1823. More recent translations of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicles should be consulted for serious study)
      Hearne, T. (ed), 1720, Textus Roffensis (Oxford) p. 145-8 online copy
      Johnson, C and Cronne, H.A. (eds), 1956, Regesta Regum Anglo-Normannorum Vol. 2 p. 203 no. 1475 online copy
      Stubbs, W. (ed), 1880, The Minor Works, by Gervase, the Monk of Canterbury (Rolls series 73) Vol. 2 p. 382 online copy
      Potter, K.R. (ed), 1955, The Historia Novella of William of Malmesbury (Nelson's Medieval Texts) p. 66 (A revised edition by Edmund King (Oxford University Press, 1999) should also be consulted)
      Pipe Rolls 1166, 1170, 1173-4, 1191-1205 (see Pipe Roll Society for published references)
      Hardy, T.D. (ed), 1835, Rotuli Litterarum Patentium in Turri Londinensi Asservati (1201-16) (Record Commission) p. 47 view online copy
      Stevenson, J. (ed), 1875, Radulphi do Coggeshall Chronicon anglicanum (London: Rolls series 66) p. 175-6 online copy
      Stubbs, W. (ed), 1873, Memoriale fratris Walteri de Coventria: the historical collections of Walter Coventry (London: Longman rolls series 58) Vol. 2 p. 226-7
      Rickard, John, 2002, The Castle Community. The Personnel of English and Welsh Castles, 1272-1422 (Boydell Press) (lists sources for 1272-1422) p. 274-6
      C145/142(5) (Survey of 1340) The National Archives reference (calendared in Maxwell Lyte, H.C., 1916, Calendar of Inquisitions Miscellaneous (Chancery), preserved in the Public Record Office (H.M.S.O.) Vol. 2 p. 426 No. 1726 online copy)
      C145/187(10) (Survey of 1363) The National Archives reference (calendared in Stamp. A.E. (ed), 1937, Calendar of Inquisitions Miscellaneous (Chancery), preserved in the Public Record Office (H.M.S.O.) Vol. 3 p. 192 No. 522 online copy)
      C145/197(15) (Survey of 1369) The National Archives reference (calendared in Stamp. A.E. (ed), 1937, Calendar of Inquisitions Miscellaneous (Chancery), preserved in the Public Record Office (H.M.S.O.) Vol. 3 p. 281-2 No. 743 online copy)
      C145/314 (Survey of 30 Henry VI) The National Archives reference
  • Antiquarian (Histories and accounts from late medieval and early modern writers)
    • Speed, John, 1611-12, The Theatre of the Empire of Great Britain online copy
      Camden, Wm, 1607, Britannia hypertext critical edition by Dana F. Sutton (2004)
      Chandler, John, 1993, John Leland's Itinerary: travels in Tudor England  (Sutton Publishing) p. 250
      Toulmin-Smith, Lucy (ed), 1909, The itinerary of John Leland in or about the years 1535-1543 (London: Bell and Sons) Vol. 4 p. 45 online copy
      Celia Fiennes, 1888, Through England on a Side Saddle in the Time of William and Mary (London: Field and Tuer, The Leadenhall Press) Vision of Britain online transcription
  • Other sources: Theses; 'grey' literature; in-house reports; unpublished works; etc.
    • Fradley, Michael, 2011, The Old in the New: Urban Castle Imposition in Anglo-Norman England, AD1050-1150 (University of Exeter PhD Thesis) available via EThOS
      Flight, Colin, 2010, Baronies and knight's fees owing castle-guard service to Rochester online copy
      Kent County Council, December 2004, Kent Historic Towns Survey (Kent County Council and English Heritage) view online copy
Most of the sites or buildings recorded in this web site are NOT open to the public and permission to visit a site must always be sought from the landowner or tenant.
It is an offence to disturb a Scheduled Monument without consent. It is a destruction of everyone's heritage to remove archaeological evidence from ANY site without proper recording and reporting.
Don't use metal detectors on historic sites without authorisation.
The information on this web page may be derived from information compiled by and/or copyright of English Heritage, County Historic Environment Records and other individuals and organisations. All the sources given should be consulted to identify the original copyright holder and permission obtained from them before use of the information on this site for commercial purposes.
The author and compiler of Gatehouse does not receive any income from the site and funds it himself. The information within this site is provided freely for educational purposes only.
The bibliography owes much to various bibliographies produced by John Kenyon for the Council for British Archaeology, the Castle Studies Group and others.
Suggestions for finding online and/or hard copies of bibliographical sources can be seen at this link.
Minor archaeological investigations, such as watching brief reports, and some other 'grey' literature is most likely to be held by H.E.R.s but is often poorly referenced and is unlikely to be recorded here, or elsewhere, but some suggestions can be found here.
The possible site or monument is represented on maps as a point location. This is a guide only. It should be noted that OS grid references defines an area, not a point location. In practice this means the actual center of the site or monument may often, but not always, be to the North East of the point shown. Locations derived from OS grid references and from latitude longitiude may differ by a small distance.
Further information on mapping and location can be seen at this link.
Please help to make this as useful a resource as possible by contacting Gatehouse if you see errors, can add information or have suggestions for improvements in functality and design.
Help is acknowledged.
*The listed building may not be the actual medieval building, but a building on the site of, or incorporating fragments of, the described site.
This record last updated on Saturday, November 15, 2014

Home | Books | Links | Fortifications and Castles | Other Information | Help | Downloads | Author Information | Contact