Lewes Castle, Sussex
High Street, Lewes
Lewes Castle is rare in England in having two mottes, the other main one being at Lincoln, and others probably at Pontefract and Oxford. The mottes are linked by a broad oval bailey, surrounded by a bank and dry moat. The first castle is said to have been built on the northeast motte known as Brack Mount and constructed of wood. Whilst this motte was ideal as a vantage point over the river, the increased threat was from the southwest seaward side overlooking the town. For this reason a new keep built of stone was built on the southwest motte.
Hidden behind the barbican is part of the original Norman gatehouse dating back to 1100. Roughly square in design this would later be dwarfed by the construction of a barbican in-front of it during the 1300's. Similar in style to the barbican at Carisbrooke Castle, it protected the more vulnerable toward entrance with portcullis and pit drawbridge.
Access to the castle is off the high street where parking is restricted, so recommend that that you find one of the car parks dotted around the outside of the town, and enjoy the stroll into this historic town. You'll also manage to get a few glimpses of the castle as you walk down the narow passages between the houses towards the high street, that otherwise you would not get to see, as the town is built up around the castle. Although this is a small castle, it is one that is rich in history.
~ History ~
1067 - A year after Duke William of Normandy takes possession of the Kingdom of England he holds his Christmas court at Gloucester. Here he divides lands amongst his most trusted supporters. One of his most active companions, William de Warenne, is granted the Rape of Lewes, amongst other lands spread over twelve counties of England.
1070's - William serves as Chief Justiciar to the King and builds himself a new Castle in Lewes to control the important river crossing as well as the broad valley of the Ouse south to the Channel.
1087 - In recognition to William's loyalty to King William II, during rebellious times following the Conquer's death, he is created Earl of Surrey.
1088 - William dies from his wounds serving for the royal army in a siege of nearby Pevensey.
1100's - William's son, the second Earl of Surrey inherits his fathers estates and builds himself a stone keep at Lewes.
1147 - During the civil war the third Earl fights for both the opposing sides of King Stephen and Queen Matilda. He is killed by the Turks whilst on crusade. His daughter marries King's Stephen's younger son William of Blois.
1240 - John succeeds as the seventh Earl of Surrey at the age of four. He later builds the polygonal towers to the shell keep at Lewes.
1263 - During the baron's rebellion under Simon de Montfort against King Henry III, John fights on both sides in turn as each look most likely to become the eventual victor.
1264 - Simon de Montfort's army including many of the most powerful Baron's in the land, including the influential Gilbert de Clare, arrive to do battle with King Henry's forces at Lewes. From Lewes Castle Prince Edward, the future King Edward I, rides with John de Warenne to join battle as the King's forces arrive from the south. Between sunrise and noon 27,000 men are killed and Simon de Montfort's forces are victorious. The castle is attacked but manages to hold out until Simon de Montfort threatens to put to death important prisoners including the King's brother. King Henry surrenders and the next day a settlement is signed for the first English Parliament in 1265. John flees to France.
1265 - John returns from France and joins others loyal to the royal cause. Simon de Montfort is defeated and killed at the Battle of Evesham.
1274 - King Edward I grants John the additional title of Earl of Sussex in recognition of his loyalty to him and his father.
1290 - John plays a leading role in the English campaigns against the Scots.
1347 - John's son adds the barbican to the Castle of Lewes and is granted a further Earldom in Scotland for his support of Edward Balliol during his short-lived rule as King of Scotland. He is excommunicated for deserting his wife and child for his mistress. The castle passes to Richard Fitzalan, 13th Earl of Arundel.
1381 - During the Peasants revolt, led by the local rector, the castle is broken into and much is destroyed.
1620's - Following several owners of the castle it is partially dismantled.
1733 - Thomas Friend, a wool merchant, purchases the barbican and seventeen years later the Keep.