Sir Bernard de Gomme

Bernard de Gomme (1620-1685) is the most important figure in 17th century English military engineering, but little is known of his early life. He was born in Terneuzan (near Antwerp) in the Netherlands in 1620 and may have attended the engineers' school at Leiden University. In his early years served as an apprentice in the armies of Prince Frederik Hendrik. He served in the Gennep campaign of 1641, and probably also in the Breda campaign of 1637. During these campaigns de Gomme came into contact with various English captains, and learned to speak and write English.

At the beginning of the English Civil War, Prince Rupert recruited professional soldiers and engineers in the Netherlands for the Royalist cause. As a 22 year-old Dutch engineer of some experience, who could speak and write English, de Gomme was a prime target for recruitment and came to England to serve King Charles I in August 1642.

De Gomme was present at several of the major engagements of the civil war as a staff officer of Prince Rupert, and produced some battle maps of them. De Gomme was present at the first siege of Bristol in 1643, and was subsequently involved in strengthening that town after its fall to the Royalists. He was knighted in 1645 and became Engineer-in-Chief of the royalist army. During the civil war he designed fortifications for Oxford (considered the strongest fortified place of the civil war), Liverpool and Newark, though his designs for Liverpool were not fully carried out. Sir Bernard de Gomme left England with Prince Rupert after the fall of Oxford, 1646.

After 1646, de Gomme returned to the Netherlands and little is known of his activities during this period. It seems that he was involved in some civil engineering (construction of polders in Flanders) and some military engineering (some maps of fortifications were drawn by him at this time, and he was present at the Battle of the Dunes, Dunkerque 1658).

As was the case with many loyal Royalists, de Gomme was favoured after the restoration. Returning to England in 1660 as Surveyor-General of Fortifications, he was rapidly promoted to Engineer-in-Chief to the Crown in 1661 and 21 years later in 1682 he was appointed Surveyor-General of Ordinance.

Shortly after the restoration, de Gomme fortified Dunkerque and Tangier (both temporary possessions of the English crown, which were soon relinquished). In 1665, he began work on fortifying Plymouth, which had been a parliamentarian stronghold throughout the civil war. He designed a large, roughly pentagonal citadel'(which still stands) to guard the harbour. De Gomme also fortified Portsmouth, a long-term project lasting from 1665 almost until his death in 1685. This project consisted of strengthening the existing bastioned trace around Portsmouth, as well as the construction of a brand new trace around Gosport and the strengthening of numerous smaller fortifications such as Southsea Castle.

In 1667, the Dutch fleet entered the mouth of the Thames and sailed up the Medway, taking and burning the unfinished fort at Sheerness. The only fortifications on the Medway (Upnor Castle, together with a chain across the river at Gillingham) proved useless and part of the English fleet, moored below Chatham was destroyed or captured, including the flagship, the Royal Charles. Needless to say, this disaster proked a complete rethink of the fortifications of the Thames and Medway. Following the Dutch raid, de Gomme fortified Sheerness and constructed two large batteries on opposite banks of the river Medway at Gillingham and Cockham Wood.

What was perhaps de Gomme's most impressive acheivement was Tilbury Fort, on the left bank of the Thames opposite Gravesend. His involvement began with his return to England up until his death in 1685. The fort is pentagonal, with four bastions'and a tower on the bank of the Thames. Today it is often sited as the best example of a bastioned fort in England.

Aside from his major projects, he was also involved with Hull citadel, the Tower of London and Harwich fortifications. Sir Bernard de Gomme died in 1685 and was buried in the chapel of the Tower of London.

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