By Stephen Cooper
The outer walls of Portchester Castle date from the late 3rd century, when the Roman province of Britannia came under attack from Saxon raiders.
The Romans responded by building several large forts along ‘the Saxon Shore’. A much smaller castle was built within the Roman walls in medieval times. The keep probably dates from the late 12th century, while the palace in the inner bailey was built in the late 1390s for Richard II (1377-99).
In the summer of 1415, Henry V stayed at Portchester Castle (amongst other places) while he mustered a force of around 12,000 men, and it was from there that he embarked for France. The anonymous author of the Gesta Henrici Quinti, who was probably a royal chaplain, tells us that Henry first learned of the notorious ‘Southampton Plot’ against his life and regime while he was staying at Portchester. He asked the three conspirators, the Earl of Cambridge, Henry, Lord Scrope and Sir Thomas Grey to attend a meeting in the castle, then had them arrested and imprisoned in a tower next to the Godshousegate in Southampton. They were tried and executed within a matter of days. Not long afterwards, the anonymous chaplain tells us that [The King] went down by barge from his castle of Porchester [sic] to the sea, going aboard his ship called le Trinite between the port of Southampton and Portsmouth. And at once he had the yard of her sail hoisted half-way up the mast to indicate his immediate readiness to sail and at the same time to serve as a signal to the ships of the fleet, which were dispersed in various places along the coast, to make haste to join him as soon as they could.
This is largely based on the Gesta Henrici Quinti, ed., Taylor & Roskell (Oxford Medieval Texts, Oxford at the Clarendon Press, 1975), pp 19 & 21; J.H.Wylie & W.T.Waugh, The Reign of Henry the Fifth, vol 1, pp 530-1 (Cambridge University Press,1914); and T.B.Pugh, Henry V and The Southampton Plot (Alan Sutton, 1988), pp 61-2.
Stephen Cooper is the author of Agincourt, Myth & Reality, 1415-2015 (Pen & Sword 2015). www.pen-and-sword.co.uk)
Photographs of Portchester Castle were taken by Stephen Cooper