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It was Julius Caesar who did it, so why blame the Wars of the Roses….?

During the Wars of the Roses, was there ever a deliberate policy of depopulation? By that, I cannot think of an example. Destruction, yes. Killing off the other side’s armed forces, yes. But the annihilation of towns and villages? Or of castles and strongholds, which were surely regarded as great prizes. So how could there be a complete scorching of the earth?

I raise this question because of something I have just read in John Dunkin’s The History and Antiquities of Dartford. The introduction to this work describes Caesar’s first arrival in and advance through the county of Kent. He landed on 26th August, 55 BC, perhaps at Pegwell Bay on the Isle of Thanet, see this article, and left again thirty or so days later.


By James William Edmund Doyle

According to Dunkin, the Romans encountered armed resistance when they reached Detling, where they camped for the night in preparation to cross the Medway at Aylesford. There was a rather nasty battle with the Cenimagni, the local Britons, involving stakes rammed into the riverbed to pierce the oncoming Romans. However, Caesar was triumphant and the Cenimagni leader, Caswallon, was forced to submit.

Caesar continued north, the Dartford area being his next port of call. Close to Hextable, he came upon a large circular mound, called ‘Ruehill Wood’, where the Cenimagni had their stronghold. It was a wonderful vantage point, and more substantial than the Romans expected, with sturdy stone buildings, and he set about destroying it. Completely.

Julius Caesar

From this map website

Then he was wrong-footed, because, rather sneakily, Caswallon began to attack the Roman camp on the coast, obliging Caesar to turn around and hurry back. He certainly hurried, that’s for sure, and boarded his ships to sail away. He would return, of course, but this was the rather ragged end of his first invasion.

Why have I described these events? Because, again according to Dunkin, Hasted in his History of Kent hints that the site of the Ruehill Wood fortress could ‘perhaps [be] the remains of depopulation occasioned by the Wars between the houses of York and Lancaster’. Why the Wars of the Roses? Why not the Civil War? And why should the site have been anything other than ancient? Hasted also states that the manor of Ruehill or, now, Rowhill, ‘was, in the reign of King Edward [not explained which Edward] in the possession of the family of Gyse’, and proceeds to give the manor’s descent through several lords to as late as 1778. So Ruehill/Rowhill certainly wasn’t annihilated into extinction during the Wars of the Roses. Besides, if it had been, we’d surely know of it, even if just as a legend.

This manor house is now the Rowhill Grange luxury hotel and spa, and still commands a great vantage point. However, I cannot think it retains much of the original manor.

Rowhill Grange hotel, 2007
The vantage point of Rowhill Wood from Google Street – the hotel is amid the trees

So why would this site have ever been thought of as anything other than Caswallon’s levelled fortress? And why would Hasted light upon the remains being the work of devastating depredations during the Wars of the Roses?

How did the Black Prince’s funeral procession cross the River Darent….?

Dartford - medieval map

Does anyone out there know the answer to a puzzle that has cropped up in my research? Watling Street, the Roman road, was the main route between London and Canterbury, Dover, etc. This made it very important. Watling Street passed through Dartford, crossing over the tidal River Darent. But wait, there wasn’t a bridge there until the reign of Henry VI. There was a ferry. Does this mean that before then, every traveller on the road, royalty and all, had to use the ferry? The river was tidal, so did they have to wait for suitable water for the ferry to cross? I can’t see that wading across at low water would be advisable in all that mud…and certainly not for the royal hearse drawn by twelve horses that passed through Dartford in 1376! It all seems very unsatisfactory for one of the main roads in the land. And very undignified for the great Edward of Woodstock, known to us as the Black Prince, who was being mourned throughout the realm.

Yes, I know there were  other rivers to cross elsewhere in England, and other ferries instead of bridges, but I am concerned with this road, river and ferry.

In September 1376, the prince’s great funeral procession went through Dartford on its way to Canterbury. Depending on the size of the ferry, such a vast cavalcade would have taken ages to cross. Granted, Dartford was probably the first overnight halt out of London for this ponderous cavalcade, but even so, the bridgeless Darent must have caused a bottleneck second to none.

Researching (meaning my way of researching, which is pretty amateur) Edward of Woodstock’s funeral has produced only what he instructed in his will. Plus I know how long it took, i.e. arriving in Canterbury on the fourth day after setting out. But then, full stop. Oh, there is more available about the actual arrival at journey’s end, but that is not the part of the proceedings with which I am concerned. The actual mechanics of the first three days of the journey, if covered by anyone, have eluded me.

And when the funeral cortege halted, would the prince’s coffin be placed overnight in Holy Trinity church, which is right next to the Darent crossing? Or would it stop on the northern outskirts of the town, where there was a royal palace/house, with appropriate land/space for all the people and horses? Or was it a mix of both – the prince in the church, everyone and everything else in the royal house? To say nothing of filling up the rest of the town as well. Dartford must have bulged at the seams. All the royal family, all the higher nobility, lots of lower nobility, the denizens of Parliament, priests, and all sorts of other Toms, Dicks and Harrys.

Oh, questions, questions! I want to be accurate in a description of all this, and would love someone to “conjure” an earlier bridge into existence. A vain hope, I fear.

So, if anyone knows anything at all, please let me know.

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