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History of the Deal Castle

Deal Castle is one of the earliest and most elaborate of the Device Forts, also known as Henrician Castles, built by King Henry VIII to counter the threat of invasion brought about by the alliance of France and Spain, formed after he embraced Protestantism and was excommunicated from the Catholic Church, after he divorced his first wife, Catherine of Aragon.

The Castle started to be built in 1539 and impressively, was completed after only one year. The immediate threat of invasion seems to have pressed construction deadlines, as the Fort was needed for protection as soon as possible. Although much of the Southeast coast was protected by cliffs, a short distance North of Dover the cliffs ended, and there were stretches of beaches ideal for invasion leading towards the mouth of the Thames. This is why in the 1530s, three forts where constructed here, of which Deal is the biggest and most well-preserved today. The three forts were previously linked by bulwarks, earthen entrenchments and strengthened by small defensive walls. No trace of these remains, as maintenance was stopped when the invasion scares of the 1530s/1540s passed.

Deal Castle was never used for its original purpose – that is to defend the coastline against foreign invaders. During the so-called British Civil War (1642 – 1651), the Navy, which dominated the area, supported Parliament and thus Deal Castle was held under its control. In 1648 however, the Navy changed sides, and the castle was taken by the Royalists. Although the rebellion was crushed at the Battle of Maidstone, the castle refused to surrender. It was besieged in June 1648, however following Oliver Cromwell’s defeat, all hopes of relief ended, and Deal Castle surrendered on the 23rd of August. Although its strategic position ensured the continuation of its maintenance as a valued fortification during the Napoleonic Wars (1803 – 1815), it was never engaged in any further military action.

Deal Castle was the official residence of the Captain of the Cinque Ports, which means that he had immense naval power and could command manoeuvres within the five most important medieval ports on the south coast of England. Until the early 1700s, the Captain commanded the garrison, however later on the title became purely honorary.

Accounts suggest that Deal Castle was used as a resting place by the German Anne of Cleves, who was to be King Henry VIII’s fourth wife, on her journey to London to meet her would-be-husband for the first time.

During the 18th and 19th centuries, a number of substantial structural changes took place within the castle. These reflected its decreasing military importance, not to mention the change in its function from a fortress to a building more residential in nature, since the Captain of the Cinque Ports resided there. The alterations included in fact, the construction of the Captain’s lodging house, and the conversion of many gun embrasures into casement windows Although in 1802, the lodging house was demolished and rebuilt, it was once again destroyed in 1941 by German bombs during the Second World War. From May 1940 till September 1944, the Castle was used as the Battery Observation Post and accommodation for the nearby Deal Emergency Coastal Battery of 6-inch naval guns.

In 1951, Deal Castle was taken over by the Ministry of Public Building and Works. Today it continues to be part of the Crown Estate, and is now run by the English Heritage.