May 18, 2024

Tower of London & Trematon Castle

Tower of London

The Tower of London and Dover Castle were the strongest castles of medieval England. There are those who would put Dover first and London second, but this is a matter of preference. Both castle retain their majesty in spite of extensive later mutilation. It must be admitted that Dover makes the most of its glorious position; whereas the Tower derives no advantages from its site.

Squatting on the north bank of the Thames, and now overshadowed by the glass skyscrapers of the City, the grandeur of the complex is not immediately apparent. Nevertheless, its sheer size-eighteen acres-cannot fail to impress and the majestic keep and concentric curtains are visible from all directions. The prime role of the Tower was to overawe the defiant citizens of the capital. This may seem less strategic than Dover’s coastal defense, but English kings generally had more to fear from their own subjects than from external attack. One claim can never be denied. That is the fact that, in terms of historic intensity, the Tower has no equal.

The interior of the White Tower is somewhat obscured by the vast array of arms and armor on display. This magnificent collection recalls one of the chief functions of the Tower of London as its use as a palace declined – that of arsenal and armory for the realm. Until 1812, it housed the mint and the Crown Jewels are still entrusted to the Tower’s safe keeping.

Above all, the Tower is celebrated for the sinister events arising from its use as a prison for illustrious captives, many of who languished here en route to the block. Indeed, imprisonment within the Tower, and decapitation on Tower Hill, were jealously guarded privileges of the nobility. A list of victims reads like a roll call of tragic heroes and villains.

Trematon Castle

Trematon Castle stands on an eminence rising steeply above the River Lynher, two miles southwest of Saltash and the Tamar estuary. Robert, Count of Mortain and Earl of Cornwall probably founded the castle. It is referred to as his in the Domesday Book. At that time Trematon was a place of some importance whereas now it is scarcely a village. The castle saw action in the Civil War and, earlier, in the course of Kilter’s Insurrection which broke out in Cornwall in 1594. The rebels laid siege to the castle and managed to lure out and capture its defender, Sir Richard Grenville.

Trematon is a fine example of a motte and bailey castle. It is even more notable for the excellent preservation of its late Norman masonry, almost certainly the work of Henry de Dunstanville. An oval shell keep crowns the motte and a plain curtain surrounds the bailey. Both keep and curtain retain their crennelations, the latter having unusually narrow merlons. Until 1897 the curtain stood complete, but in that year a long portion was removed to supply materials for the house that stands in the bailey. Consequently, there is now a long gap between the gatehouse and the southwest corner of the bailey.

At the foot of the motte is an original postern. He main entrance is through a perfectly preserved gatehouse added by Reginald de Valletort around 1250. Its square plan is decidedly old-fashioned at a time when round-towered gatehouses predominated. Nevertheless, the gatehouse projects entirely outside the line of the curtain, so that it acts as a powerful flanking tower, and the gate passage was defended by two portcullises and a pair of gates between them. The ascent through the gate passage is an obstacle in itself. Note the first arrow slits of the castle, both the cross-slits on the keep parapet and the slits with roundels in the gatehouse.