The site at Rochester Castle has been occupied since Roman times. But the structure you see today is of Norman origin.
The first Norman Castle here was of the Motte and Bailey design, constructed in wood, and erected shortly after the Conquest, in 1068.
Between 1087 and 1089 William II negotiated the building of a new castle in stone. This was undertaken by Gundulf, Bishop of Rochester, who had built the Tower of London for William the Conqueror.
Gundulf built the walls of the castle but it was not until 1127 when Henry I granted the castle to the Archbishops of Canterbury in perpetuity that the then Archbishop, William de Corbeil, built the spectacular keep we see today.
In its first two hundred years the castle was besieged three times. The first in 1088, when the castle was in the hands of Bishop Odo, half brother of William the Conqueror. On the death of William in 1087 a conflict arose between his two sons Robert and William. Robert, the eldest, had been given Normandy and the second son, William Rufus, had been given England. Robert disputed this and Bishop Odo sided with him, leading to the besieging of Rochester by William. Rochester eventually fell and Odo was banished and died shortly after whilst journeying on a crusade to the Holy Land.
The second, and most famous siege, occurred in 1215 when King John besieged the castle which had been taken control of by the rebel barons.
This was in October 1215 a few months after the sealing of the Magna Carta by King John in June. King John quickly had Magna Carta annulled by the Pope, so the barons decided to take further action, one of which was to seize Rochester Castle.
The strong 12ft walls of the keep resisted the day and night battering of five siege engines. Eventually by digging a mine under the south east tower of the keep and using the fat of forty pigs to fire it the tower collapsed. This was not the end of the siege, however, as the barons fought on for a further seven days until starvation drove them to surrender.
The final siege was in 1264 and was again between the barons and the kink, Henry III, the son of King John, who like his father had started to renege on Magna Carta. This time it was the barons besieging the castle, and although considerable damage was done to the walls, the keep withstood the attacks and the siege was called off after a week.
The damage to the walls was not repaired until one hundred years later in the 1380’s, and apart from a small incursion in 1381 during the Peasants’ Revolt happier and peaceful times descended on the castle.
In 1426 Sisigmund, Emperor of Germany, visited the castle with 1000 knights. And in 1522 a jousting feast was held by Henry VIII on the visit of Charles V, Emperor of Germany.
After that the castle went into decline, passed into private hands and was eventually purchased by Rochester Council. The grounds were turned into gardens and they and the keep were opened to the public. A situation that remains to this day.
During the Conference week, 15th to 19th June 2015, guided tours of Rochester Castle are being organised as part of the Magna Carta 800 Years Anniversary Programme.