Monday, September 23, 2013

From Rome to Napoleon: Portchester Castle and the Castles, Customs, and Kings Blog Hop

As many of you know, I occasionally pen historical essays over at the EFHA blog.

In an effort to provide an interesting not-so-little book of bits of English history, the powers that be from that blog (particularly Debra Brown and M.M. Bennetts) gathered up and edited a collection of the essays from the blog and did a bang up of organizing them by period. The result is a nice collection of English history from well, before there was an England all the way to modern times:


As part of celebration of the release of the book, there's a blog hop going on focused on castles (though, just to be clear, the book subject matters covers a lot of different aspects of English history, even beyond just the customs and kings of the title). There are many fine people discussing many fine bits (and giving things away as well), and you can find their blogs here:

For my part, I decided to discuss Portchester Castle, a castle that links the ancient past of England with the perhaps more familiar to many medieval and later period.

Our fine defensive fortification tale begins before there even was an England, in the 3rd century AD. At that time, the Romans, those ancient masters of defensive positions themselves, established a fort at the location of modern day Portchester, in Hampshire along the southern England coast. The area's access to the sea allowed the Romans to use the fort as a naval base, in particular in their attempts to deal with local pirates.

Once the Romans mostly withdrew from the area, the prime location of the fort still made it useful for later groups to use for similar reasons, such as the Saxons dealing with Viking pirates. The Saxons added some additional buildings and towers in the area, and the evidence suggests continual occupation from the 4th century on, even after the departure of the Romans.

Of course, 1066 and all that brought Norman domination of England. In the 11th and 12th century, Norman lords controlled and helped fortify the area even more by adding such features as additional defensive ditches, timber palisades, and additional towers.

The castle would move from mere nobles to royalty by the end of the 12th century. Three different England kings (John, Edward II, and Richard II) would occupy that castle at various points between the 12th and 15th century, and Henry V spent some time in the castle in 1415. Every new occupant brought new fortification, expansions (e.g., royal apartments), and remodeling of the area. Other important royal leaders from English history, including Queen Elizabeth I, would also grace its halls.

Ownership shifted back from royals to "mere" aristocracy in 1632, when one Sir William Uvedale (his descendants the Thistlethwaites still retain ownership of the castle) purchased the castle from Charles I. The shift from royalty also resulted in a shift from focus, as the castle was often used as a prison for prisoners of war in the 17th, 18th, and early 19th centuries. During this time, although the defensive fortifications of the castle were not strongly upgraded compared to earlier periods, many additional wooden houses were built to house prisoners.

Coalition victories in the Napoleonic Wars would lead to less necessity for military prison in the early 19th century, with the last prisoners of the war gone from the location by 1814. The military itself would leave in 1819.

Though I am not personally one who is inclined to believe in ghosts, the long history of the castle, combined with things like the deaths of prisoners there, may have contributed to Portchester Castle's reputation as one of England's more haunted castles.

Thanks for stopping by. I encourage you to stop by and visit the various other blog hop participants listed above.

In addition, as part of the celebration,  I'm giving away an eBook copy (available in Kindle/Mobi, ePub, and PDF) of my Regency paranormal romance, A Woman of Proper Accomplishments, which doesn't feature any castles, but does reference the Napoleonic War. If you're interested, just leave a comment with a contact e-mail, and I'll pick someone next week at random.