Device Forts

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
Deal Castle in Kent was built between 1539 and 1540.

The Device Forts, also known as Henrician Castles, are a series of artillery fortifications built to defend the southern coast of England by Henry VIII. After the King's divorce of Catherine of Aragon England was left politically isolated, and the resulting hostile relationship with France and Spain in 1538 aroused fears of invasion.[1] This threat stimulated the beginning of the first phase of the largest defence programme since Saxon times. This first phase was known as the 1539 device programme which was followed after renewed threats from the French by a second programme, the 1544 device programme. Henry’s coastal defences ranged from earthen bulwarks to small blockhouses and artillery towers to state-of-the-art Italianate-style fortifications. Henry took a personal interest in the military engineering techniques of the time, and approved and amended the designs himself. Although they were built to defend England during Henry’s reign, many of them were used in the English Civil War and were refortified at various times during the Napoleonic wars, First and Second World Wars.

1544 Device programme[edit]

Southsea Castle at Portsmouth with angled bastions instead of the earlier semi-circular designs

This was begun after renewed threat from the French in the 1540s and concentrated on the vulnerable area around the Solent estuary and the Southampton and Portsmouth ports.

This later programme of coastal defences reflect new developments in fortifications, especially in the introduction of Italianate designs of the use of angular features. The earlier curvilinear designs of castles were replaced by square keeps surrounded by angular or arrow-head shaped bastions. Good examples of these are Yarmouth Castle and Southsea Castle built around 1545. In 1547–8, an inventory was made of crown possessions and this details the cannon and hand-arms of each fort.[2]

List of Henrician castles[edit]

Pendennis Castle, Cornwall

Some of the key forts or castles are:

Name County Date
Brownsea Castle Poole Harbour 1545–1547
East Cowes Castle Isle of Wight 1539–42
Sandown Castle Isle of Wight 1545
Sharpenode Bulwark Isle of Wight 1545–1547
St Helens Bulwark Isle of Wight 1539–45
Cowes Castle Isle of Wight 1539–40
Worsleys castle Isle of Wight 1522–5
Yarmouth Castle Isle of Wight 1545
Calshot Castle Hampshire 1539–40
Hurst Castle Hampshire 1541–44
Netley Castle Hampshire 1542–45
St Andrew's Castle Hampshire 1543–44
Southsea Castle Hampshire 1538–44
Sandsfoot Castle Dorset 1541
Portland Castle Dorset 1539–40
Camber Castle Sussex 1513–43
Deal Castle Kent 1539
Sandgate Castle Kent 1539–40
Sandown Castle Kent 1539–40
Walmer Castle Kent 1539
Gravesend Blockhouse Kent 1539
Higham Blockhouse Kent 1539
Milton Blockhouse Kent 1539
East Tilbury Blockhouse Essex 1539–41
West Tilbury Blockhouse Essex 1539
Pendennis Castle Cornwall 1540–5
Little Dennis Blockhouse Cornwall 1537-40
St Mawes Castle Cornwall 1540–5
St Catherine's Castle Cornwall 1538–40
Devils Point Artillery Tower Devon 1537–39


Military historian D. J. Cathcart King contrasts Device Forts with medieval fortifications, noting that "by medieval standards their profile is squat; their battlements, unpierced by loops, have rounded merlons and widely-splayed embrasures with sloping sills, to reduce damage by gunfire; and they are robustly built."[3] The early artillery forts are generally in the form of a central round tower surrounded by a variety of concentric elements. Short and squat, with normally 3 tiers of long-distance offensive armament and a couple of tiers of defensive armament. The bays had wide splays for easy traverse of the guns, walls were thick and curved to deflect shot, and the medieval portcullises, murderholes and drawbridges were perpetuated.

The later forts reflected new developments in fortifications, especially in the introduction of Italianate designs of the use of angular features. They had square keeps surrounded by angular or arrow-head shaped bastions, such as at Yarmouth.


  1. ^ Elton (1991), p.154.
  2. ^ Starkey (1998)
  3. ^ King (1988), p. 174
  • Colvin, H.M. et al. (1982). The history of the King's Works, volume 4 : 1485–1660 (Part 2)
  • Elton, G.R. (1991). England Under the Tudors London: Routledge ISBN 978-0-415-06533-7.
  • King, David James Cathcart (1988), The Castle in England and Wales: an Interpretative History, London: Croom Helm, ISBN 0-918400-08-2 
  • Harrington, Peter (2007). The castles of Henry VIII. Oxford: Osprey.
  • Starkey, David, ed., The Inventory of Henry VIII, vol. 1, Society of Antiquaries, (1998), 105–144.

Further reading[edit]

  • Donnelly, J. A. (1982), "A study of the Coastal Forts built by Henry VIII", Fort, 10: 105–126 
  • Morley, B. M. (1976), Henry VIII and the development of coastal defence, London: H. M. Stationery Office, ISBN 978-0-11-670777-2 

External links[edit]