Guest Chamber of King Henry II, Great Tower Royal Palace, Dover Castle, Kent, UK

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John Latter on February 27, 2011

A view of Henry II's Guest Chamber on the first floor of the Keep, or Great Tower, of Dover Castle after "a major transformation by English Heritage to re-create the splendour of a royal court in the late 12th century" (1). The Guest Hall (or Lower Hall) is out-of-shot to the right.

On the second floor are:

The King`s Chamber (directly above the Guest Chamber)

The King`s Hall (or Great Hall; directly above the Guest Hall)

Embroidered textiles throughout the four-room complex are by the Royal School of Needlework (RSN).

Entry to this representation of a medieval palace is via the Forebuilding.

Above the chest at bottom-left is a bed on top of which lie a patchwork blanket, bolster, and two pillows. Next is the main bed which can be completely enclosed by drawing the hanging curtains along their rail. There are two other beds set against the far wall.

The beds are quite small by modern standards which I immediately put down to the average height being shorter in the 12th Century. A 2007 newspaper report, however, suggests otherwise (2):

Judged by the height of the doorframes he built, medieval man was assumed to be vertically challenged.

But after examining the bones of those who lived in the Middle Ages, scientists have discovered a much bigger truth.

Evidence gathered from 3,000 skeletons reveals that human height has varied little over the past 1,000 years.

From the 10th century through to the 19th, the average height of adult men was 5ft 7in or 170cm - just 2in below today's average.

Women were an average of 5ft 2in or 158cm - just over an inch shorter than today.

All the bones in the study came from the medieval St Peter`s Church in Barton upon Humber, North East Lincolnshire.

...Researchers from Bristol Royal Infirmary studied every skeleton in an attempt to identify its sex, age and size and analysed bones for evidence of disease, injury, and diet.

The real reason for the size of the beds, however, was explained by speaker Steven Lang (Head Custodian of Dover Castle) at the 2010 General Meeting of The Dover Society:

The beds seem unusual and are small by today's standards. In Henry's reign people would not lie down to sleep. They were afraid that if they fell asleep and their mouths opened the devil would enter their bodies. With a shorter bed they could sleep in more of a sitting position and this would not happen.

An additional reason given by a Dover Castle English Heritage guide (Keith Ashley-Thomas) is that sleeping sitting up reduced wood smoke inhalation - for those who could afford such a luxury at night, that is!

On the right-hand side of the photo, the sooty residue above the hearth shows that the fire is still in use.

The last time I tried to take a photo of this room, an English Heritage guide said, "I know - I'll light the fire and you'll get a much better picture!" The fire was lit, the room filled with smoke, and that is why I've had to come back on another day.

Two of the objects on the green-topped table in front of the fireplace are a harp and a backgammon board:

As part of the re-presentation of the Norman Keep, Alexandra Buckle, a junior research fellow in the Music Faculty at Oxford University, was employed by English Heritage as a music consultant for the project (3):

"Henry II (Curtmantle) was married to Eleanore of Aquitaine, a lifelong patron of the troubadours (composers and performers of Occitan lyric poetry during the High Middle Ages, 1100-1350) and someone who is credited with spreading the influence of the troubadours to England. Therefore we hear troubadour music in the Guest Hall, reflecting this." (The female equivalent of a troubadour is a trobairitz)

There is a harp displayed in the Guest Chamber, which is sturdier than the other instrument on display and is not fixed to the table. Children are allowed to pick it up so they can engage with the era.

Eleanor has been described as "a remarkable child" (4):

In her time, girls were rarely educated. They learned to embroider and play checkers and backgammon. Eleanor was educated in diplomacy, art, history, and languages.

The Gloucester Tabulae Set was discovered by Ian Stewart in 1983 and is "the earliest surviving Backgammon set found in the world" (5):

The owner of this game was probably a Royal Constable of England called Walter of Gloucester (Walter de Gloucester) who was a close friend of Henry II (1100 - 1135)

(Tabula was a board game in the tables family, and is generally thought to be the direct ancestor of modern backgammon)

King John, one of Henry II's sons, "enjoyed gambling, in particular on backgammon, and was an enthusiastic hunter"

Two other commentaries on the first floor of the Keep:

The first floor was probably intended as the Constable of Dover Castle`s residence (but presumably only up until the Constable Gateway became available). (6)

A 1787 book, employing the "long s" (f instead of s, formerly used where s occurred in the middle or at the beginning of a word), has the following entry, but uses "ground", "second", and "third" to describe what are currently termed ground, first, and second floors:

The prefent entrance (ie the Forebuilding) is on the fourth fide of the Keep; and by a grand ftight of Stone Steps you ascend round the eastern fide to the third ftory; on which, in Gundulph's Caftles, were the royal, or governor's apartments. The rooms are large, and lofty; but they have very little at this time, except ftrength, and fecurity, which can recommend them to our refined taftes.

The fecond ftoor was intended for the ufe of the garrison; and that on the ground, for ftores. (7)

The Keep is 83 feet (25.3m) high and just under 100 feet (30m) square, with walls up to 21 feet (6.5m) thick. It was designed by 'Maurice the Engineer' (ie Mason) and built during the 1180s:

New research by Professor John Gillingham has shown that the spectre of Thomas Becket, Archbishop of Canterbury, murdered in 1170 by four of the King`s knights, was the main reason for Henry II to build something impressive at Dover.

The need to erect a symbol of royal power visible from afar to exploit and counter the growing cult around the saint was top on his mind, so was the need to have a suitably grand place to entertain dignitaries who were passing through Dover to visit Becket's shrine in Canterbury. (1)

Click to see all photos of Dover Castle.

Dover Castle is a Grade I Listed Building (8).

The following is "© Crown Copyright". Reproduced under the terms of the Click-Use Licence (PSI licence number C2010002016):

Building Details:

Building Name: DOVER CASTLE

Parish: DOVER

District: DOVER

County: KENT



LBS Number: 177823

Grade: I

Date Listed: 07/03/1974

Date Delisted:

NGR: TR3249141696

Listing Text:


TR 3241 1/47

TR 34 SW 7/47



Norman keep C.1155 of rag-stone ashlar blooks picked out flints with Caen stone dressings. Around the keep are ranges of C18 (=18th Century) houses of 2 to 3 storeys ashlar with a flint galleting. Round headed windows. Surrounding these ranges are 2 concentric rings of walls and towers dating from Mediaeval times. Beneath the castle are a whole series of subterranean passages dating from the C13 and improved for defence during the Napoleonic period. Ancient Monument. (Abridged).

Listing NGR: TR3249141696

Source: English Heritage. Click to see photos of Listed Buildings and English Heritage locations in the town of Dover, England.

(1) The project, which costs £2.45 million, took over two years of research by English Heritage, "with a team of historians working closely with some 140 artists and craftspeople". The Great Tower re-opened on August 1st, 2009: Medieval Royal Palace at Dover Castle to re-open to the Public

(2) Our medieval ancestors were just as tall as us

(3) Abridged from: Oxford academic brings music to Dover Castle

(4) Women of Royalty: Eleanor of Aquitaine

(5) Gloucester Tabulae Set

(6) Abridged from English Castles: A Guide by Counties by Adrian Pettifer

(7) A brief history Dover Castle; or description of Roman, Saxon Norman, fortifications. Unknown author but: "Printed for the author, and sold by G. Ledger, Dover, sold also by Simmons and Kirkby, T. Smith, and Flackton and Marrable, Canterbury; W. Gillman, Rochester; J. Hall, Margate; P. Burgess, Ramsgate; and T. Evans, London, 1787".

(8) Grade I: buildings "of exceptional interest, sometimes considered to be internationally important".

John Latter / Jorolat

Dover Blog: The Psychology of a Small Town

This is the Images of Dover website: click on any red or blue "John Latter" link to access the Entry Page.

DuLac on April 9, 2011

Bravo,mister,tohle je opravdu historie Anglie,Vase fotografie zaznamenavaji dejiny.

John Latter on April 9, 2011

DuLac, on , said:

Bravo, mister, tohle je opravdu historie Anglie, Vase fotografie zaznamenavaji dejiny.

Děkuji, Dulac - Pozdravy z Dover, Anglie!

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Photo taken in Dover Castle, Castle Hill, Dover, Kent CT16 1HU, UK

Photo details

  • Uploaded on February 26, 2011
  • © All Rights Reserved
    by John Latter
    • Camera: PENTAX Corporation PENTAX K100D
    • Taken on 2011/02/24 10:42:17
    • Exposure: 13.000s
    • Focal Length: 24.00mm
    • F/Stop: f/29.000
    • ISO Speed: ISO200
    • Exposure Bias: -1.70 EV
    • No flash