Imatges de pàgina

the living body. The framework is there, but the life is fled, the light is extinguished; and in the full glare of day, like the wreck of mortality, it assumes only a more melancholy aspect. But still, the interest connected with this landmark of antiquity is increased, rather than diminished, by contemplation. Fancy repeoples its courts, rebuilds its towers, restores its original order and dimensions, till we enjoy the picture which imagination thus embodies, and seem for the time, as if we were transported into romantic ages and took a part in those historic scenes of which its walls were once the theatre. At every one of those loop-holes and unlatticed casements, we seem to discern the warlike forms that once animated the building, and hurled defiance on the assailants. We hear the sound of revelry in the hall, the clang of arms in the

bayle, and the rattle of the portcullis as it drops from the lofty archway, and fastens its iron teeth in the pavement.-- But we need not proceed with

a picture which so vividly presents itself to every imaginative pilgrim who halts on the bridge of Rochester, and surveys the vast and venerable pile which here crowns the adjoining bank, and takes undivided possession of the scene.

Rochester Castle is beyond doubt one of the most complete Norman strongholds that the slow waste of centuries and the ravages of war have left in our island ; and, in its noble style and elegant proportions, offers one of the best examples extant of that class of domestic fortresses by which the early barons rendered themselves so formidable to the crown. The castles or

stone-built fortresses of England, previously to the Conquest, were few and inconsiderable. Those of Roman foundation had fallen into ruin; and although the great Alfred had strengthened the frontier and more assailable points of the country with fifty or more of these towers of defence, they had not been kept up with the same vigilance by his successors; and to this deficiency of national bulwarks may be attributed the speedy reduction of England to the Norman yoke.

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]




At the period in question, the castles and places of strength in general* appear to have been constructed principally of wood: in proof of which, the only mechanical implement which the vassal was required to bring with him in aid of the work, was a hatchet. Aware of their great importance in securing the fruits of conquest, the Norman ruler immediately adopted the policy of the Roman, and began to measure the duration of his power by the number and strength of his castles. In process of time the great martial tenants of the crown followed his example, and, by erecting places of strength in the various provinces assigned to them as the spoils of conquest, secured to themselves and their families the newly-acquired domain. At the close of Stephen's reign, the number of these domestic strongholds appears to have amounted to eleven hundred; a fact which led to the most deplorable consequences. Contempt of allegiance, family feuds, mutual acts of violence and outrage-a state of society which admitted no superior, respected no law but that of force, and accepted no arbitrator but the sword—were daily opposed to the right administration of affairs.f Such, however, was the prelude to happier times, when the castles-after having been for a season the strongholds of lawless domination-were transformed at last into temples and sanctuaries for the regeneration of native freedom. It was in the recesses of those embattled walls that the rights of the people were at length asserted, that their wrongs were redressed, and that the sword of despotism was transformed into a sceptre of peace. It was by the masters of those castles that the bloodless victory of Runnymede was achieved, and freedom established on a permanent basis. · The continual struggle, however, in which these generous efforts involved the early barons, had for a time its full portion of evil as well as good. It distracted society, fostered suspicion and distrust in the people, awakened presonal animosities among the nobles, and occasioned disunion among those who had but one great object in view, that of securing and consolidating under one legitimate head the interests of all. But the unwearied vigilance, prudence, and personal intrepidity which were necessary to carry forward those labours tò a successful crisis, had the happy effect of bringing into full play the noblest qualities of the human mind, and were the certain forerunners of that political wisdom and military prowess which in every subsequent reign have distinctly marked all our great national events.

But to return to the subject before us—we may observe that at the period of the Conquest the security of the new dynasty depended as much upon the faithful attachment of its great vassals in time of peace, as the late victory

* M. de Caumont. # Jean de Culmien, in his “Détails sur l'Architecture des Forteresses," has left us a vivid picture of this

wretched state of society; for which see “ France Monumentale," vol. iii., following Note.

had depended on their exertions in the field. Making it therefore their interest to be faithful to him, William extended to his followers immediate rewards with the prospect of future aggrandizement. The number of those who had held rank in his army at the battle of Hastings * amounted to seven hundred. To these extensive domains were assigned (as already mentioned in the case of Roger Montgomery) in all parts of England where, with true Norman policy, they erected those majestic structures which overawed the conquered, and secured to their lords the quiet enjoyment of their newlyacquired power. But it is a fact not to be questioned, that these strongholds were too often subservient to the worst purposes.† Where the will, authority, or caprice of the chiefs was the only law; where his interest and family aggrandizement were the great ends to be kept in view, justice and humanity were not likely to hold the scales with an impartial hand. The virtues of that age were not of the stamp which at a later period characterized Fitzwalter and

inroads across the Welsh and Scottish frontier—to defend them by the like, means—to exact implicit obedience from their vassals and retainers, to marshal them under their own banners in time of war, and to lead a life of feudal splendour in the short intervals of peace, filled up the life and labours of the great military leaders of that day. It was like the cloud which intervened between the darker and brighter pages of our history; but through which were seen occasional glimpses of those events which the maturer age of chivalry, the growth of moral principle, and the progress of refinement, improved to the national glory.

The Castle of Rochester, though stripped of nearly all its outworks, and mutilated in its internal features, is as perfect an example as we possess of a Baronial castle. It exhibits in detail nearly all the characteristic features of the eleventh and twelfth centuries; and where the hand of violence has not been applied, it displays all the beauty of outline, richness of work

• See the Roll, in France Monumentale, vol. iii. ante profondeur. Sur le bord intérieur du fossé, ils

| C'est l'usage de nos jours, dit Culmien, pour les plantent une palissade, de pièces de bois équarries et hommes les plus riches et les plus nobles, ou pour fortement liées entres elles, qui équivant à un mur. ceux qui, par conséquent, consacrent le plus exclu- S'il leur est possible, ils soutiennent cette palissade sivement leur temps à satisfaire leurs haines privées par des tours élevées de place en place. Au milieu par le meurtre, de se procurer avant tout une retraite de ce monticule, ils bâtissent une maison, ou plutôt où ils puissent se mettre à l'abri de l'attaque de leurs une citadelle, d'où la vue se porte de tous côtés égaleennemis, combattre leurs égaux avec avantage, et ment. On ne peut arriver à la porte de celle-ci que retenir dans les fers ceux qui se sont trouvés les plus par un pont qui, jeté sur la fossé, et porté sur des faibles,

piliers accouplés, part du point le plus bas au-delà du The following is a correct description of a baronial fossé, et s'élève graduellement jusqu'à ce qu'il atfortress :-Ils élèvent aussi haut qu'il leur est possible teigne le sommet du monticule et la porte de la maison, un monticule de terre transportée; ils l'entourent d'où le maître le domine tout entier.- France Hisd'un fossé d'une largeur considérable et d'une effray- torique, p. 416.




manship, and solidity of structure, which mark the great buildings of its class and period. The situation is exactly such as the Norman barons usually selected for their strongholds. These were in many instances built on the remains of Roman forts, or on those which had been constructed or repaired in the time of Alfred, evidence of which may be generally obtained by a careful examination of the substructure. The space it occupies is believed to have been the site of a Roman fortress; for the point was too eligible, and the district itself was too accessible, to have been left without a military defence during their possession of the country. Besides, it was a station on the great military road between Dover and London ; and being in a central point between the capital and the coast, and having the double advantage of road and river communication, was peculiarly suited to all the purposes of a provincial fortress.

But in order that we may have a correct notion of the castellated struetures of those days, we shall here, in as few words as possible, give a general idea of a Norman Castle or fortress.* It consisted, with very few exceptions, of an enclosure of from five to ten acres of land; and, as in the present instance, was encircled by a river, or artificial canal called a moat, on the scarp or edge of which was a strong wall, succeeded by another; and between these was the first ballium, or outer court of the castle. Within the second wall, or that which immediately surrounded the keep, or great tower, were storehouses for the garrison, and other offices suitable to the extent and distinction of the fortress. In the centre of this interior space or enclosure, was the citadel, or master-tower, as it is more properly called, in which resided the suzerain, or feudal chief; but occasionally it was occupied by the deputy or castellan, who for the time being was the representative of the baron, and had the full exercise of his delegated authority. This master tower was generally built upon an artificial mound, as already described in our notice of Arundel. It contained the state apartments, which were in proportion to the style and retinue of the four. Jer, with all the other domestic offices belonging to the strongholds of that period. In the centre of the tower, and descending to the lowest part of the foundation, were the dungeons, in which were confined the prisoners of war, the felons or malefactors of his jurisdiction. In several instances, access to the various compartments of the castle was provided by secret inlets through the centre of the walls, and by subterraneous passages made under the fosse, as mentioned in the notice of Eltham.

In advance of the ditch or moat, was the barbican, or outer defence, with

• Our antiquarian friends will readily excuse us if, in our anxiety to make the subject intelligible to every

class of readers, we avoid as much as possible all technical phraseology.


a watch-tower that communicated with the interior by means of a drawbridge across the moat, which opened inwards, so as to be under the control

of the sentinel or guard. The entrance to the ballium, or outer court, was secured by gates, with a ponderous grating or portcullis, which was raised or lowered by means of those iron chains and pulleys which are still used in some of our military fortresses, and are always met with in the fortified cities of the Netherlands. The walls were further protected by towers and battlements, from which, as well as through the numerous loopholes by which they were perforated, arrows and other

missiles could be discharged with deadly effect; while through the apertures of the machicolation above,

"Sudden on the assailants' head,

Blocks of stone and molten lead,
O'er the foe descending-gushing,
Scorching as they fell, or crushing
Helmëd warriors in their fall,

Guarded each embattled wall.” The outer walls were generally from six to ten feet thick ; those of Rochester Castle are seven ;* while the walls of the keep, to which all looked for retreat under desperate circumstances, were often fifteen feet in thickness, and contained in their centre many secret closets, passages, and recesses, to which none but the castellan and his family had access. In the castle of Glamist there is a secret chamber, the key of which is transmitted from father to son, and never known to more than the “seigneur actuel," and some trustworthy official. Before the invention of artillery, one of these strongholds, such as we have described, might have been considered impregnable; and when taken, the surrender was generally in consequence of famine, revolt or cowardice on the part of the garrison, or of stratagem on that of the besiegers.

Nearly all the fortresses of this class were erected during the period that elapsed between the reign of the Conqueror and that of Edward the Third. The Castle of Rochester appears to have been erected soon after the decisive battle of Hastings; and in tracing its history and that of its founder, we shall adhere to the general opinion, so far as that may be found to harmonize with historical documents. Castles built on the Norman model varied according to the natural shape of the ground selected for their erection. The military


* See this exemplified in one of the subsequent illustrations, page 153. 4 To this we have alluded in Scotland Illustrated. See also New Statistical Account of Glamis, or

Glammiss ; Art. Forfarshire, part xii. p. 344.

« AnteriorContinua »