Portchester Castle is without a doubt the jewel in Hampshire's crown (as far as Castles go anyhow). It has the best preserved Roman Fort in Britain, a Saxon Church, and a superb Norman Castle!
The Roman Fort is the furthest west of the "Forts of the Saxon Shore" which stretched around to Brancaster in Norfolk. This Fort was Portus Adurni. They were constructed ostensibly to protect Roman Britain from invasion by the Germanic hordes; but as their builder Carausius had recently rebelled against Roman rule and declared himself "Emperor of Britain" it is just as likely they were built to keep his fellow Romans away too.
The Fort survives so well because the site was occupied by the Saxons, who built a tiny little church in one corner, and then with the arrival of the Normans a Castle was built in the opposite corner. The keep follows a fairly standard early (Henry I) plan (like Rochester, Hedingham and many more). It is square and has a wall through the centre.
For almost all of its life Portchester was a Royal Castle, and surprisingly little action occurred here, the port of Portsmouth always being considered too dangerous to attack. It was captured by Prince Louis in 1216 and faced destruction until the Hundred Years War broke out when it's postition near Portsmouth made it ideal for both Edward III and Henry V to use it as a jumping off point for France. Richard II even started building a palace here, but was ousted before its completion.
Thereafter the Castle was generally used as a prison for French prisoners of war and the Civil War passed it by completely.
The Castle is owned by English Heritage and is open daily.
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