Portchester Castle stands on the edge of the water of Portsmouth Harbour across from Portsmouth. For those of you not from these parts and worried by that conglomeration of consonants in the middle, the first ‘t’ is silent, as it is in ‘castle’.
The castle is rather wonderful. It was originally the site of a huge Roman fort, built to keep the Saxons out. Later it was used by the Saxons, so you can see how successful that plan was. When the Normans arrived in the eleventh century they built a keep and the Plantagenets used it as their base for invasions of France in the eleventh to fifteenth centuries.
I’ll come to the history of the castle in a future post, but today I want to concentrate on something a bit more domestic. Richard II agreed a peace treaty with France at the end of the fourteenth century and the castle no longer had a military purpose. In 1396 he had a palace built in the inner bailey. It’s true that he was restrained by the available space, but the palace is small.
Take the great hall, for instance. It’s not very great. The hall at Stokesay Castle is of a similar size and that was built by a merchant.
Richard II’s hall was on the first floor. For the king, his guests and household it was reached via stairs in the porch. The servants also had to climb stairs, but theirs were from the kitchen. I’ve marked up the photograph below to show their entrances and exits.
Guests would climb up the stairs from the porch to a screened area. They couldn’t go directly into the hall.
The windows of the Great Hall were glazed and decorated with coats-of-arms and heraldic designs. There were windows only on the side of the hall facing the inner bailey.
The porch was lit with lanterns. The pillars on either side of the entrance each have a niche into which a lantern could be placed.
These might look like fireplaces, but they’re blocked windows. They’re designed to let in the maximum amount of light whilst offering a very small target to enemy arrows, since they’re on the side of the palace facing the outer bailey.
It’s believed that the upper of these two windows belonged to Richard II’s bedchamber. I don’t know about you, but I have always imagined that kings of any age would have huge and luxurious bedchambers. Not only was Richard II’s bedchamber only twice the size of mine, but his windows weren’t as large.
Richard II didn’t spend much time here, any more than he did in any of his other palaces. Like all medieval kings, he moved from place to place with his household, often staying only a few days.
Just for fun, here’s a short video I made showing the outside of the palace.