Southsea Castle

Has been described as a Certain Artillery Fort

There are major building remains

NameSouthsea Castle
Alternative NamesPalschyd's bulwark
Historic CountryHampshire and the Isle of Wight
Modern AuthorityPortsmouth; City of
1974 AuthorityHampshire
Civil ParishPortsmouth

Southsea Castle was a Henrician artillery castle built between 1538 and 1544 as part of Henry VIII's network of coastal fortifications to protect England against the threat of French and Spanish invasion. It has been altered several times and has had various uses. During the English Civil War, the castle was taken by Parliamentary forces in 1642. The outer wall was reconstructed in 1670 and again around 1812. It was used as a military prison from 1814 until 1850 and in 1820 a lighthouse was built which is still in use today. The castle was refortified with the addition of coastal batteries in the 1860s and around 1902 (see associated records). In 1960 the castle was decommissioned and was acquired by Portsmouth City Council which has restored it to its 19th century appearance.

Southsea castle originally consisted of a small internal square keep within a cruciform-planned walled enclosure with north and south bastions. Although it still retains this basic shape, a number of alterations have taken place. The castle was surrounded by a dry moat. The outer wall was reconstructed by de Gomme in 1670 and then again in 1812. In this later work a counterscarp gallery was added around the moat, which had a passage running around it with loopholes to provide flanking fire for the moat. There was also a caponier or covered passage, which led from inside the castle to the counterscarp gallery.

It is said that Southsea castle was designed by Henry VIII himself, who introduced the latest in fortification design from the continent. Not long after the castle had been completed, the king was there in person on 18 July 1545, when a French Fleet approached Portsmouth and landed on the Isle of Wight. The next day he also witnessed from Southsea Castle the sinking of his flagship, the Mary Rose. (PastScape)

The design of the castle, and its remodelling in 1545 are important in that it was probably the first English fort to be fully flanked

The central square keep was surrounded by a curtain wall and moat effectively forming a large rectangle from North-West to South-East supporting gun platforms at both ends, and large bastions on the other sides, making the whole fort compact. Recent examinations at the re-entrant angle between the North-West bastion and South-East platform uncovered an inverted flanker to cover the South-West face of the North-West bastion. These were probably inverted shortly after completion and would be the earliest datable instances in English fortifications. At the same time 4 traverses of timber and planks were constructed from each corner of the keep to the curtain wall and 2 long traverses of timber complemented these 'to beat the entry to the platforms. The long traverses effectively turned each platform into a caponier, again the first instance of such a feature in England, and probably dates to 1545/6. (PastScape ref. HKW))

This site is a scheduled monument protected by law

Not Listed

Historic England (PastScape) Defra or Monument number(s)
County Historic Environment Record
OS Map Grid ReferenceSZ643980
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Photo by Philip Davis All Rights Reserved
Photo by Philip Davis All Rights Reserved
Photo by Philip Davis All Rights Reserved
Photo by Philip Davis All Rights Reserved
Photo by Philip Davis All Rights Reserved
Photo by Philip Davis All Rights Reserved
Photo by Philip Davis All Rights Reserved
Photo by Philip Davis All Rights Reserved

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  • Osborne, Mike, 2011, Defending Hampshire: The Military Landscape from Prehistory to the Present (Stroud: The History Press) p. 56-7, 245
  • Harrington, Peter, 2007, The Castles of Henry VIII (Oxford: Osprey)
  • Salter, Mike, 2002, The Castles of Wessex (Malvern: Folly Publications) p. 54
  • Saunders, Andrew, 1997, Channel Defences (London; Batsford/English Heritage) p. 47, 50, 57, 62, 119
  • Pettifer, A., 1995, English Castles, A guide by counties (Woodbridge: Boydell Press) p. 91
  • Barron, W.G., 1985, The Castles of Hampshire and Isle of Wight (Paul Cave) p. 47-9
  • King, D.J.C., 1983, Castellarium Anglicanum (London: Kraus) Vol. 1 p. 193
  • Colvin, H.M., Ransome, D.R. and Summerson, John, 1982, The history of the King's Works Vol. 4: 1485-1660 (part 2) p. 557-63
  • Fry, P.S., 1980, Castles of the British Isles (David and Charles) p. 300
  • Morley, B.M., 1976, Henry VIII and the Development of Coastal Defence (London) p. 21, 35
  • Pevsner, N., and Lloyd, D., 1967, Buildings of England: Hampshire and the Isle of Wight (London, Penguin) p. 426-8
  • Lilley, 1923, Early Portsmouth Defences (Portsmouth) p. 6, 9, 11-14, 38-9
  • Harvey, Alfred, 1911, Castles and Walled Towns of England (London: Methuen and Co)
  • Page, Wm (ed), 1908, VCH Hampshire and the Isle of Wight Vol. 3 p. 190 online transcription
  • Mackenzie, J.D., 1896, Castles of England; their story and structure (New York: Macmillan) Vol. 1 p. 213-14 online copy
  • Grose, Francis, 1787, Antiquities of England and Wales (London) Vol. 8 p. 78-80 online copy



  • Kenyon, J.R., 1981, 'The defences of Southsea Castle and Portsmouth in 1623' Proceedings of the Hampshire Field Club and Archaeological Society Vol. 37 p. 13-21
  • Kenyon, J.R., 1981 'Early Artillery Fortifications in England and Wales: a Preliminary Survey and Re-appraisal' The Archaeological Journal Vol. 138 p. 220
  • Saunders, A.D.,, 1967, 'Hampshire coastal defence since the introduction of artillery' The Archaeological Journal Vol. 123 p. 145-6, 148, 155, 196-8

Guide Books

  • Corney, A., 1967, Southsea Castle (Portsmouth City Council)

Primary Sources

  • c. 1548, The Encampment of the English forces near Portsmouth, Together with a view of the English and French fleets at commencement of the action between them on the XIXth¬† July MDXLV (Cowdray picture) For a discussion of this picture see Dominic Fontana, The Cowdray engravings and the loss of the Mary Rose


  • Dave Hopkins, 2004, Extensive Urban Survey - Hampshire and the Isle of Wight (English Heritage) Download copy