Calshot Castle 

I’ve been fascinated by castles since I was a kid, but I’ve always been more familiar with the classic Norman ‘motte and bailey’ design. It wasn’t until my venture around the UK that I discovered the fundamentally different design of Henry VIII’s castles.

As we all know, Henry VIII wanted a divorce from Catherine of Aragon and the pope refused it. Being the humble and level-headed man that Henry was, he responded by tearing England away from the Catholic Church and creating a seismic schism that irrevocably changed England forever. One of the many far-reaching consequences of this act was the division created between England and the great Catholic powers of Europe: France and Spain. The pope, being a keen advocate of Jesus’ teachings about love and forgiveness, demanded that France and Spain wage war against England and return it to the Catholic fold.

In response Henry began a massive castle-building campaign to create a chain of defences along the south coast. These became known as the Henrician castles or Device Forts. The first one I encountered was Deal Castle. Developments in technology meant that the traditional square walls were vulnerable to the latest powerful cannons so the castles were built squat, making them harder to hit, and employed thick, rounded walls to deflect any strikes that did occur. My fondness for these unusual castles, combined with my general nerdiness, inspired me to half-heartedly attempt to visit all those that remain. So, I ventured out towards Southampton to bag Calshot Castle.

Calshot Castle was constructed during 1539 in order to protect the Portsmouth Dockyard and prosperous town of Southampton. The castle still closely resembles how it would have looked upon completion. A few alterations were made in the late 18th century to reduce the outer wall height and modify the gatehouse. The roof was also reinforced in 1907 to support concrete mounts for two 12 pounder guns. It’s incredible to consider that, despite no direct role in conflict, Calshot Castle was used for defensive purposes well into 20th century, an astonishing length of service. During WWI it helped keep a watchful eye out for U-boats before being taken over by the Royal Air Force in 1918. In WWII it became a repair base for coastal Command flying boats as well as having anti-aircraft and searchlights installed. After helping protect the vulnerable bit of coast for over 400 years, it was eventually closed in the 1950s.

It was an interesting trip and I enjoyed exploring the medieval site. I was very surprised by how close it is to the water’s edge. I’m sure it must be at risk of flooding during storms. There was no audio tour but there were plenty of interesting facts about the Tudor period on notice boards. For example, I learnt that:

  • Tudors loved sugar. They put it on everything, including meat (although, unsurprisingly, it rotted their teeth).
  • Tudors sometimes made bread out of acorns (I found a recipe here for any experimental types).
  • Due to the water supply being polluted by the towns and villages upstream people drank beer as it was safer. The average person drank eight pints of (weak) beer a day, including the children.
  • Tudors had many crackpot cures for various ailments. I was amused by one suggested cure for headaches: press a hangman’s rope to your head (I’ve yet to check whether this is still offered on the NHS). The cure for rheumatism was – yep, you guessed it – wear the skin of a donkey. What else would it be, eh? With such cures it’s amazing that only one in ten people reached the age of forty. Between 1/3 and 1/6 died before reaching sixteen.
  • Toothpaste was sometimes made using cooked mice heads (for that meaty freshness).
  • Tudors considered washing to be unhealthy. Although Queen Elizabeth bucked the trend. A surprised ambassador once remarked, “Elizabeth has a bath four times a year, whether she needed it or not!” Classy lady.
  • School was attended by pupils between 40 and 44 hours a week, more than double today’s timetable.
  • Travelling alone was very dangerous. Sometimes the servants at inns would be in cahoots with the robbers. They’d look at the traveller’s luggage and if the person seemed wealthy they’d find out when the traveller was leaving and inform the robbers, who’d lie in wait to steal their money and valuables.
  • Another problem with travelling was knowing how far to go. The unit of a mile had yet to be properly defined and different regions measured it in different ways. In England a mile was over three times the distance of a Scottish mile. But a London mile was less than 4/5 of an English mile.

Another aspect of the medicine information that made me laugh was when it dismissively said “[Tudors] even believed that the stars and planets in the sky influenced what disease you had and how it could, or could not be treated!” I couldn’t help but note that, surprisingly, there are still people today who believe their lives are governed by movements of the planets. It never ceases to amaze me.

The last subject that piqued my interest was Tudor crimes. There were 70,000 people who suffered capital punishment during Henry VIII’s reign. The methods included beheading, hanging, burning, being pressed (crushed) or even being boiled alive. But not every crime resulted in death. Here are a few less serious Tudor crimes. See if you can guess what they are (answers after the photos):

What is an Autern Mort?

What is a Prigger of Prancers?

What is a Palliard?

And what is an Abram Man?

Answers to quiz:

An Autern Mort – a woman who steals clothes off washing lines.

A Prigger of Prancers – a horse thief.

A Palliard – a beggar with awful (often self-inflicted sores).

An Abram Man – a beggar who pretends to be mad, wears ragged clothes, dances around and talks nonsense (apart from the begging aspect, I know a lot of people who fit that description).


About lanceleuven

3 responses to “Calshot Castle 

  • suzykewct

    Great stuff, Lance, though I think I’d rather not have learned about the mice heads (I sort of like mice). Did QE1 keep her face dry on bath days? I remember learning that she never took off her (lead-laced) face makeup. As for servants and theft, these days that career thrives at some airports and the servants at lodgings liberate luggage luxuries for themselves, no?

    Merry Xmas!


    • lanceleuven

      Oops, apologies for the mice head fact then. I’ll try and bear that in future! 🙂

      Not sure about QE1, but you mentioning her lead face reminds me of a story I heard the other day. Apparently, the guy who played the Tin Man in The Wizard of Oz wasn’t the first to play the role. The first guy had to be hospitalised after they used aluminium based face paint. The poor guy spent the rest of his life using a respirator. They didn’t even tell the guy who played him in the film. They just used a different make up. Crazy!

      I think you’re probably right about the servants and thieves. You always have to be careful!

      (Somewhat belated now) Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to you too!


  • suzykewct

    Scary. Not sure if I’d heard about the Tin Man, but I may have. Happy holidays of all sorts back to you!


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