In 1533, Henry broke with Pope Paul III in order to annul the long-standing marriage to his wife, Catherine of Aragon and remarry. Catherine was the aunt of Charles V, the Holy Roman Emperor, and he took the annulment as a personal insult. This resulted in France and the Empire declaring an alliance against Henry in 1538, and the Pope encouraging the two countries to attack England. An invasion of England appeared certain. In response, Henry issued an order, called a "device", in 1539, giving instructions for the "defence of the realm in time of invasion" and the construction of forts along the English coastline. As a consequence, Lord Russell inspected the coast along an anchorage known as Portland Roads, and concluded that two castles, Portland and Sandsfoot, should be constructed to protect it from naval attack. Work began that summer and was completed by 1541,. Thomas Mervin was appointed as captain, with a garrison of four gunners and two other men.. In 1545, Mervin was replaced by John Leweston, who also took on responsibilities as the Lieutenant of Portland, along with a larger garrison of 13 men, paid for out of the proceeds of the recent Dissolution of the Monasteries. A survey between 1547 and 1548 reported that the castle was equipped with one brass demi-cannon, two brass demi-culverins, four breech-loading portpieces and four slings; it also held eight hagbushes–a type of early arquebus–along with twenty-three bows, twenty-nine bills and twelve pikes. The threat of a French invasion passed, and peace was declared in 1558.
When the English Civil War broke out in 1642, Portland was initially controlled by Parliamentary forces. The castle was captured in 1643 by a group of Royalists who gained access by pretending to be Parliamentary soldiers. As the war turned against the King in the south-west, Parliamentary forces besieged the castle for four months in 1644, and once again the following year. The castle finally surrendered to Vice-Admiral William Batten in April 1646. During the Interregnum, Portland Castle continued to be garrisoned and used as a prison, with a unit of 103 men attached to it in 1651. It was used to defend the Portland Roads during the First Anglo-Dutch War of 1653, seeing action in a three-day long naval battle between English and Dutch forces. When Charles II returned to the throne in 1660, he reduced the garrison to its pre-war levels but repaired the fortifications in the light of the continuing Dutch threat; in 1676 the castle was equipped with 16 guns.
Following the final defeat of Napoleon, the castle was disarmed and leased to John Manning, a Portland churchman, who converted it from a fortress into a private house. John's son, Charles Manning, took over the house in 1834 and continued to develop it. Among the Mannings' work was the conversion of an older house alongside the main castle, which had once housed the master gunner, into a grander property, known today as the Captain's House. In the late 1840s, the Portland Roads were converted into an artificial harbour through the construction of a breakwater, and new forts were built on the Verne heights and the sea front to protect it, although the structure of the old castle itself was left untouched by the growing complex of forts. Charles died in 1869 and, amid ongoing invasion fears, the War Office took over the castle again. There is disabled access to the Captain's House, ground floor of the castle, gift shop and the Governor's Garden. There is a staircase leading to the upper level of the castle and from two separate rooms, and between 3 and 5 steps from the ground floor of the castle to lower gun deck. Disabled visitors can park 5 meters from the site entrance, in one of the allocated disabled bays. Assistance Dogs Welcome. There is a herb garden with lots of plants to smell, and during the late spring the roses are in bloom. The castle grounds are also home to lots of species of birds. There are many items to touch and hold in the Tudor kitchen. Hand held braille plaques are available for visitors on request. There is a tactile model of the whole castle in the main hall.
Location : Liberty Road, West Kennet Avenue, Portland DT5 1AZ
Transport: Weymouth (National Rail) then bus. Bus Routes : First 1, 501 and South West 206 stop nearby.
Opening Times :Daily 10:00 - 18:00.
Tickets : Adults £5.90; Children £3.50; Concessions £5.30
Tel: 01297 489481