We all love the beach, the crash of the waves, the smell of that fresh salty air and the cooling breeze that seems to blow away the stress and strain of our daily lives but as you lay on your beach towel relaxing on the powder soft sand, remember, this is not just a beach holiday, over the centuries this area had been the invader’s gateway to Britain.
When you visit 1066 Country, you step back in time to the days of knights and battles, when castles were all that stood between victory and defeat. These monuments of the counties rich historic past, offer an intriguing day out where you will learn of the dramatic events that unfolded many years before and shaped our history.
So grab you armour and sword and follow me on a little journey where you will see the castles that protected our shores for over a thousand years.
The last successful invasion of Britain was in 1066 and Pevensey was the landing place of William the Conqueror’s army. Pevensey was constructed by the Romans who called the fort Anderitum during the 3rd century to protect the southern coastline from Saxon raiders. King Harold had withdrawn his army from the castle to repel a viking invasion in the north, leaving the front door open for the Norman invasion. Over the centuries the castle had many modifications and during the time of the Spanish Armada a gun emplacement was built. As late as 1942 small additions were made to the castle in case of German invasion across the Channel. This was far from fanciful as post war exposure of German plans in Operation Sealion showed that this would have been the route of the invasion from the beaches to seize London.
For more details on Pevensey Castle click here
The remains of the first castle to be built in England after William’s invasion, Hastings Castle, can be seen on the town’s West Hill. Its famous ‘whispering dungeon’ is still intact and there’s a special audio-visual display ‘the 1066 Story’ which captures the bloody thrills of the invasion that led to the creation of the castle. The ruins that you see now are not due to enemy action but mother nature. In 1287 violent storms battered the south coast for many months and the soft sandstone cliffs eventually succumbed to the elements. Large sections of the face fell into the sea along with parts of the castle.
The 13th century was known as the ‘Violent Century’ the loss of Normandy in 1204 started a tit for tat battle across the channel, because the former allies were now enemies! The friendly ‘lake’ with the same monarch all round its shores now had opponents on each side. The Channel became a moat of defence, which the Cinque Ports defended. Many privileges were given to the Cinque Ports towns, including Rye, at this time, in return for their support. Many mutual raids involving burning and pillaging took place; the danger of invasion was ever present and the Ports bore brunt of attack. The Portsmen could be relied upon to fight to the death and to massacre the crews of the French ‘quicker than it takes to eat a biscuit’. In 1249, the King, Henry III, as part of the defence against these raids, gave permission for the building of a castle in Rye, now home to Rye museum.
For more details on Rye Castle click here
In 1533 King Henry VIII divorced his wife Catherine of Aragon and set in motion the events that led to the English Reformation. However, it also resulted in hostility with Catholic nations.
The threat of invasion grew more pronounced in 1538 when France and Spain, the two most powerful Catholic nations in Europe, signed the truce of Nice. With the prospect of France and Spain allied against him, Henry VIII began to fear for the safety of his realm.
A vast coastal defence program was undertaken to protect vulnerable or important places on the south coast. The resulting fortifications were known as the device forts and included transforming Guldeford’s tower into a fully fledged coastal fort – Camber Castle to defend Rye and Winchelsea.
As with Hastings, it wasn’t enemy action that spelt the end of the castle. By the end of the 16th century the silting of the Camber made the castle largely obsolete and in 1637 it was disbanded less than a century after it was built.
Now siting quietly in the marshland surrounded by the Rye Harbour Nature
Reserve the castle is now defended by Romney sheep!
For more details on Camber castle click here
An Englishman’s home is his castle and Sir Roger Fiennes took this statement quite literally. In 1441 the veteran of the wars with France had this magnificent castle built, surrounded by a moat so wide that it looks as though it has been built on an island in the middle of a lake.
Fiennes had Herstmonceux Castle built not so much as a stronghold but more along the lines of a grand baronial mansion, the walls being constructed of the newly-fashionable brick rather than stone, and decorated with green sandstone.
brick-built Tudor castle s one of the oldest significant brick buildings still standing in England; brick was a relatively unusual material for the time in Britain. The builders of Herstmonceux Castle concentrated more on grandeur and comfort than on defence to produce a truly magnificent estate.
For more details on Herstmonceux Castle click here
Bodiam is one of Britain’s most romantic and immediately recognised castles. Images of the brooding walls, rising majestically from the moat, appear all over the world to show off this fine example of medieval architecture.
Built by Sir Edward Dallingridge, local landowner and successful soldier of fortune in the 100 Years War against France, to both impress his friends and frighten his enemies.
The external walls are virtually complete. However, the family backed the king in the English Civil War and, in 1645, much of the interior was destroyed on the orders of Oliver Cromwell. The castle has remained uninhabited ever since.
Facing demolition in the 19th century, Bodiam was saved in 1828 by ‘Mad’ Jack Fuller, eccentric local squire, who added the castle to his collection of follies. It became a romantic ruin, visited by poets and painters
For more details on Bodiam Castle click here
To read of dramatic and often disturbing events that took place on the very floor where you stand is very moving – and if you have children, they’ll be getting a history lesson as well as an exciting day out.