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The Henrician "Device forts"

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Aster Thrax Eupator View Drop Down
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  Quote Aster Thrax Eupator Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Topic: The Henrician "Device forts"
    Posted: 29-Dec-2007 at 11:47

I've been looking into Early Modern history a lot more recently and in particular the dynastic squabbles between the "universalist" new monarchies of Europe. Accordingly, I've also been looking into the measures that each side took for defence, and have thus been looking into the "device forts" of Henry VIII's reign, built initially to dissuade a French attack in the era of the "battle of the spurs", where Maximilian I and the young Henry VIII routed "the flower of French knighthood". But then were later extended to further dissuade an invasion after the 1538 alliance between Valois France and Hapsburg Spain. My question is this - since most works of small and scattered fortification are usually for psycological and confidence reasons rather than absolute tactical defence, why did an intelligent man with a good administration like Henry VIII seemingly waste his money on these tiny fortresses that each had only about 30 men and a handful of cannon - not enough to provide adequate resistence to an invasion force. Moreover, Henry VIII had invaded Calais, and so there was every reason that an also martial and ambitious king such as Francis I would just repeat the French raids into the south of England like his predeccessors such as Philip VI and Charles V). Moreover, if the French had decided to come into England with the kind of armies that they managed to raise to send into Italy (such as the one they sent to the 1525 battle of Pavia which was vast) then England could only have defeated them by concentrated focuses of force and not by the kind of small defenses scattered over a large area that the "device forts" were. Henry VIII must have known of French military capibility, and surely can't have been relying on just the Italian situation and the Hapsburg-Valois rivalry to distract the larger French forces.

 
Regard the tiny size of this construction - a few cannon and a few men...that's...all
 
 
One of the larger fortresses that actually would have had a realistic chance against a concentrated invasion force. Apparently, though, these kind of forts were few and far between and the majority were just blockhouses scattered over the south of England
 
 
Aside from my above question, I suppose I'm just generally interested in these kind of fortifications from this period - did any other nations build forts to this pattern etc?
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  Quote drgonzaga Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 29-Dec-2007 at 12:11

Aster, such constructions are not meant to impede invasion but to raise the alarm of impending danger or guard against "raids" by isolated craft. They are more watchtowers than a  defensive barrier, effective against raiders but intended more as fixed sentinels. Similar structures are found along the southern coast of Spain and were built for much the same purpose. Further, one has to keep in mind that in the 15th century, the monarchs laying the foundations of royal authority did not look kindly upon large fortifications in the hands of powerful vassals. This was the age where the monarchs moved toward the standing army (with suitable mobile cannon) as the bulwark of authority and monarchical defense. The Spanish tercios and not the old feudal keeps were the model to emulate. It took the French some 100 years after 1500 before they organized a standing army under royal command and the English much longer [not until Cromwell really].

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  Quote Aster Thrax Eupator Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 29-Dec-2007 at 12:24

I suppose in this age of nearly absolute government and the rise of parliments over just aristocratic courts, a king, as you said, wouldn't want a pontential political opponent to have a castle at his disposal, especially since this was just after the wars of the roses and loyalties were still a little fickle.

Also, was there actually a defensive barrier in this area of a significant kind? All the castles in this area (save Dover and a few others) seem to have been built in either the Norman period or the 14th century, and don't seem to have had large garrisons in the Tudor period. Since this is the case, where did Henry VIII's so valued standing army actually take residence?
 
Hang on - the above diagrams indicate lots of gunports facing inland and were designed to actually fire quite long distances inland. Surely if these were intended to be constructed for just a raid then such additions wouldn't be needed as only a few hundered men (if that...) would be disembarking and raiding land, cattle, small towns/villages etc. If these forts were intended to just repel a small scouting force by as you said "an isolated craft" then why on earth would they be so heavily fortified?


Edited by Aster Thrax Eupator - 29-Dec-2007 at 12:29
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  Quote drgonzaga Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 29-Dec-2007 at 14:38
Henry VIII did not have what is today understood as a "standing" army, Aster, and throughout the 16th century military necessity remained a product of the old Assize of Arms enacted back in 1181! The Tudors remained tied to the old system under the Commisioner of Musters, although Mary Tudor have given the office a new standing under the title Lords-Lieutenant). It is not until 1573 that the Trained Bands of permanent soldiery (picked from the general muster) appear and are paid by either the city or the shire as an obligation to the monarch. Here is a good on-line summary:
 
George Gush does an admirable job on maintaining the site. Are you familiar with the book, The Castles of Henry VIII, by Peter Harrington? As you observed, these facilities (while small in your sight) were designed with artillery in mind--a necessity so as to make the fortress less-vulnerable than traditional castle design--and displayed armament inland as well. You find that curious, but you are forgetting one of the great bugbears of Henry, and later of Elizabeth, a Catholic uprising! Regardless of what later historians have made of Henry VIII, he was far from sympathetic to most of his subjects. Besides, I doubt that Henry's engineers were as foolish as those responsible for the fortification of Singapore centuries later!Censored
 
Personality wise, Henry was not a lovable figure to his contemporaries.
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  Quote HaloChanter Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 29-Dec-2007 at 16:58
I pass a henrician fort on the train to work every day - fantastic Italian engineering, blunt and technical compared to the crumbling castles of my own town. It stands on the Camber sands in Kent.
 
Similarly, I live down the road from some fantastic Napoleonic Martello Towers, most of which are converted in to homes. Lovely way to preserve such great architecture.
 
(I always love the ironic fact that Henry VII simply bypassed all English fortifications in his way on his journey to Bosworth Field.)
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  Quote pikeshot1600 Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 30-Dec-2007 at 22:36
HaloChanter,
 
What Kent fortification is that?  The trace Italienne of note in Britain is Berwick on Tweed, isn't it?  I didn't know of another one.
 
 
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  Quote Zagros Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 31-Dec-2007 at 00:31
These fortifications are more than mere watch towers.  They are formidable coastal defenses.  Look at the shape of the structures, they were designed to withstand naval artillery and in turn could inflict significant losses on an enemy fleet.  And in any invasion scenario they would not be stand alone defenses, especially since any impending invasion would hardly be a surprise attack.  I believe many of these old fortifications were augmented during the Napoleonic era with some innovative and extensive renovations.
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  Quote Aster Thrax Eupator Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 31-Dec-2007 at 00:38
Yes - but the whole purpose of them seems a little bit contradictory:
 
A - a watchtower need be that large
B - these fortresses don't have enough firepower to destroy a ship of the kind that would be examining the shores for invasion (...and would probably be pretty heavily armoured as well...)
C - these fortresses, as you have said, couldn't have withstanded a ground attack
 
So they seem to be a "half-way house" in this respect really...
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  Quote pikeshot1600 Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 31-Dec-2007 at 01:12
The Henrician artillery towers seem to me to be "feel good' defenses.  The theory of defense in depth shows itself in the Netherlands and in north western France.  The credibility of these defensive systems is in their capacity to force the attacker to address one fortification after another, making him exhaust resources and use up the campaigning season in siege operations...very costly and uncertain of result.
 
The artillery towers of the first half of the 16th century in England were situated on the coastal areas, and were not supported by additional fortifications inland.  That is like a stacked defense in US football...once you get around or break through a defense, there is nothing to stop you...no defense in depth.
 
I don't pretend to know what was on the minds of the Henrician court and government, but the defense of England in the 16th century, as it was in the 20th, was the Channel.  Henry's campaigns against Calais and Boulogne were really as defensive in strategic concept as any thin line of fortifications could be.  Aside from the economic benefits of holding Calais, it would force an attacker to fight England in France.  Depending on where an enemy might land, the Henrician forts could just be bypassed.
 
 


Edited by pikeshot1600 - 31-Dec-2007 at 14:36
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Zagros View Drop Down
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  Quote Zagros Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 31-Dec-2007 at 01:54
My internet is screwed at the moment, if someone could do some cursory research on the geographic topology of the fortification network then the purpose and utility of these towers I believe may not seem so superficial.   Their value as a network of defenses was surely recognised in the early 19th century.
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  Quote gcle2003 Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 01-Jan-2008 at 12:24
The only one of these forts I know much about is Hurst Castle, since I grew up in those parts, and its close to some beaches we used to use. The arrow on this satellite image shows its location at the western end of the Solent.
 
 
 
As you can see, the fort commands the narrowest point of the channel between the mainland and the Isle of Wight, less than a thousand yards at this point. If I remember correctly the natural currents also bring ships in towards Hurst Spit, making the range even easier.
 
It's purpose is obvious.
 
In fact the fort was still manned and fortified in ww2 as part of coastal defences.
 
It's probably worth taking a closer look at each individual fort to see what each was supposed to do, rather than look for a single explanation.
 
(Which means I agree with Zagros, though I'm adding the 20th century to his 19th Smile)


Edited by gcle2003 - 01-Jan-2008 at 12:26
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  Quote Aster Thrax Eupator Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 14-Jan-2008 at 13:16
Were these forts turned into martello towers in Napleon's threat of invasion?
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