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Norman Dover

1066 - The Norman Conquest

At the Battle of Hastings on 14th October 1066, King Harold was defeated by William Duke of Normandy. Harold was killed in combat and the Norman victory marked a resounding victory for the horsed Norman knights over the English foot soldiers. Hastings marked the end of the Saxon era and the beginning of William the Conqueror's reign.

The Burning of Dover

Following his victory at Hastings in October 1066, William the Conqueror and his forces marched to Dover. Dover was and remains a vital strategic point: the town guarded the shortest crossing to France.

William of Poitiers described the event :

'Then he marched to Dover, which had been reported impregnable and held by a large force. The English, stricken with fear at his approach had confidence neither in their ramparts nor in the numbers of their troops ... While the inhabitants were preparing to surrender unconditionally, our men, greedy for booty, set fire to the castle and the great part of it was soon enveloped in flames'.

The chronicle goes on to say that William paid for the repair and 'having taken possession of the castle, the Duke spent eight days adding new fortifications to it.'

It is possible that a castle existed at Dover before the conquest, but archaeological evidence suggests that a new castle was constructed near the Saxon church of St. Mary in Castro.

Having secured Dover, William took Canterbury and struck into Surrey and Berkshire before entering London. He was crowned on Christmas Day 1066 in Westminster Abbey.

The Domesday Book, compiled in 1086 to establish the taxable value of the kingdom, goes on to say that before the conquest Dover's value had been £18 but was now £40. Historians have used this evidence to calculate that in the twenty years between the Norman Conquest and the Domesday Book, Dover had been rebuilt and revitalised.

Norman Churches

  • St. Mary the Virgin : St. Mary's Church is of early Norman origin built on the foundations of a Roman structure.
  • St. Martin-le-Grand : the Church of St. Martin-le-Grand was founded in the 7th century and is believed to have been destroyed by the fire of 1066. It was rebuilt and became known as St. Martin-le-Grand. The church dominated Market Square. It was over 150 feet long and housed the altars of several parish churches, including those of St. Nicholas and St. John the Baptist. Subordinate to St. Martins were the churches of St. Peter and St. James. The church was finally dismantled around 1540, although remains survived into the 19th century.
  • St. James the Apostle : The parish church of St. James the Apostle is believed to be on the site of a Saxon church partly destroyed in 1066. It is believed that in the 12th century the church comprised an aisleless nave with a short tower. The ruins of St. James are still visible today.




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