Southsea Castle


Southsea Castle, Hampshire
Photo © Cybermon, 20 July 2003

Southsea Castle is one of Henry VIII's Device Forts, also known as Henrician Castles, built in 1544 on the waterfront at the southern end of Portsea Island (an area that later became named Southsea after the castle). The castle was built to guard the eastern entrance to the Solent and entrance to Portsmouth Harbour. Henry VIII watched the Mary Rose sink from near this location.

History

Southsea Castle was one in a series of forts constructed in what was the most ambitious scheme of coastal defence since Roman times. The castle was built in great haste, prompted by the King's fears of a French attack on Portsmouth. Said to have been planned by the King himself, the castle's design incorporated the latest plans for artillery forts.

On 18 July 1545 the King's fears were realised. The French fleet approached Portsmouth and landed near the Isle of Wight. Although the English were greatly outnumbered, King Henry's proud warship Mary Rose defended. On the first day of the Battle of the Solent, neither side took much damage. But the next day in a sad twist of fate Mary Rose capsized and sank as she advanced on the French. This was as she had a new commander, Sir George Carew, who had only been given the role the night before and he wanted to impress Henry VIII who had previously beheaded his brother. After firing shots at the French he gave orders to sail towards Southsea Castle, intending to sail past and impress the king, while turning sharply to the right to avoid a sandbank the ship capsized. It is also said that the untrained crew forgot to close the gun ports after the ship had fired, and they filled with water. As Henry VIII looked on from Southsea Castle, all but a few dozen of Mary Rose crew perished.

The castle itself has been no stranger to tragedy - in 1627 it was gutted by fire and in 1759 an accidental explosion blew up a large part of the castle. In the early 1800s, Southsea Castle underwent a large renovation to accommodate more guns and include a full garrison during wartime. Then in 1860 its gunpower was augmented substantially when new gun batteries were constructed at either side of the castle, as a result of the Royal Commission on the Defence of the United Kingdom.

One hundred years later, the castle was withdrawn from active service and its long and fretful history has given way to countless reports of paranormal phenomena.

Modern Times

Currently the castle is operated as a tourist attraction by Portsmouth City Council. Visitors can explore the castle and ramparts for an entrance fee. The castle can also be hired as a venue for weddings and parties. The area next to the castle, known as Castle Field forms a natural amphitheater and is used for various public events including fairs, music concerts and festivals.

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