Bodiam Castle

East Sussex


'Anyone who has ever built sandcastles will feel an immediate affinity with Bodiam, it looks like the work of a giant bucket and spade.'

Gervase Jackson-Stops.


The impressive towers and broad moat of Bodiam Castle are like a scene from a fantasy as you gaze at them for the very first time. At a quick glance it appears to be the very epitome of a medieval castle, until closer inspection is given. One soon discovers that it was built at an evolutionary stage when the nobility were looking for more comfortable, agreeable places to live that offered them security, but also represented an outward show of their wealth and rank. Comparatively few of its type were built and it should be more accurately described as a Courtyard Castle. The castles built in this period were the last true castles to be built in England, they provided security and also separate suites of rooms for the Lord, his domestic staff, guests and garrison.

When Edward III signed the treaty of Bretigny in 1360 he renounced his claim to the Crown of France whilst retaining Aquitaine, Calais and other important provinces. He was unable, and perhaps not too bothered, about evacuating his forces from the remainder of France and these men soon banded together. This was the time of the 'Free Companies' or 'Routiers', private mercenary armies who would normally be under the control of the king but who now sold their services to the highest bidder. They were basically medieval mercenaries, who indulged in looting and destruction on an appalling scale, with many of the men involved gaining great wealth and notoriety from such expeditions.

Sir Robert Knolles sets sail for France

At this time in the history of the Hundred Years War, there was a rise in the more professional soldier. The leadership in the field was being handed down to the lesser nobility and many took this opportunity to gain influence and great wealth. Men such as Bertrand du Guesclin, Sir Thomas Dagworth, Sir Robert Knolles and Sir Hugh Calveley all became commanders of the so called 'Free Companies', acting sometimes with the blessing of their King and sometimes without, but all the time causing havoc and destruction wherever they operated in France.

It was under the command of Robert Knolles that the builder of Bodiam Castle built his reputation and wealth. Sir Edward Dalyngrigge was something of a character in his day, he belonged to an old established Sussex family who came from present day Dalling Ridge, near East Grinstead, but returned from France in 1377 much more wealthier and powerful. It was after he married Elizabeth Wardeux he came into possession of the manor of Bodiam in 1378.

This manor house was not where the present Castle stands, but to the North of Bodiam Church in the adjacent valley of the Kent ditch. The site was excavated in the 60's and 70's and pottery finds indicated it was in use from the late 13th century until the building of the Castle at the end of the fourteenth century. The Wardeux family had acquired the manor by marriage to the de Bodeham family, who had held it since the conquest when it was given to Hugh, Count of Eu, a kinsman of the Conqueror. He gave it to his son who took the name de Bodeham from the name of the Saxon settlement on the site.

Inside the Castle from the South East

Sir Edward Dalyngrigge was a Knight for the Shire of Sussex for 10 Parliments between 1379 and 1388 and was without doubt one of the most powerful men in Sussex at this time along with his Patron the Earl of Arundel. In 1384, Richard II's Uncle, the powerful John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster, took out a lawsuit against Dalyngrigge to try to stop him interfering with his newly acquired estates in Sussex.

Gaunt was not a popular figure in Sussex and was resented by many of the counties gentry. They joined together with Dalyngrigge, who represented them, and he was not to let them down. In his appearance at the trial, Dalyngrigge appeared in full coat armour and conducted his own defence, which at times became violent and unruly. It gives us a good idea as to his personality and twice during the hearing he threw his gauntlet down and challenged Gaunt, which seems a little over the top for charges of trespass and illegial hunting. Dalyngrigge saw the case as more a matter for the court of chivalry with his honour being at stake than a legal one. However, Gaunt eventually won the hearing, but it appears Dalyngrigge didn't suffer at all as a result.

England at the end of the 14th century was seriously under threat of invasion from the French; the victories of Crecy and Poitiers were a distant memory as the French slowly clawed back her possessions. Piracy was rife in the channel and in 1377 Rye and Winchelsea were both sacked and burned. In 1380 Dalyngrigge was part of a Kings commission to consider the state of the country, its possessions and expenses of the Royal Household. In the same year he was also appointed to survey the town of Winchelsea and consider how it may be fortified against the French. This was of great importance to Dalyngrigge as his manor was about 14 miles upstream from Winchelsea on the River Rother and could easily be reached by more raiding parties. Althouigh he was probably more guilty of piracy and pillage in the past than the French raiders he was commanded to keep out !

Hastings was also attacked soon after and on 21 October 1385, Dalyngrigge was given licence to ;

"Crenellate his house to protect the inland reaches of the Rother and halt the French advances"

At this time many castles and manor houses were either rebuilt of fortified such as Cooling Castle and Scotney Castle to counter any invasion. Dalyngrigge combined the best features of these together with those he had first hand experience of in France to build Bodiam. He was unlikely to have been at Bodiam during the initial stages of building, as he was appointed Captain of the French port of Brest between 1386-87.

Bodiam from the NE in Winter.

By 1390 the threat of invasion had receded and Sir Edward was appointed to several commissions, one to conclude a truce with the King of France and another to survey the Castles and fortresses of Calais and Picardy. In the same year he was one of nine Knights who put their Seal to a letter to the Pope deploring the excesses of the Church. In 1395 he was to further improve his status when appointed by the King as Keeper of the Tower of London and Governor of the City. Dalyngrigge was no doubt living in his newly built Castle by this time, but wasn't to enjoy it for long. He died in 1395 and was succeeded by his son, Sir John Dalyngrigge.

The information we have on the early life of Bodiam is rather obscure and what information we do have is largely thanks to Lord Curzon . He brought together all the information for the first time in his book " Bodiam Castle" published in 1926, and it is thanks to his excellent research that we know what we do of the castle today.

The castle was to remain in the Dalyngrigge family until 1483 when it came to another famous Sussex family, the Lewknors, by marriage. Sir Thomas Lewknor was a Lancastrian and was attainted by Richard III. The King issued a commission in 1483 to the Earl of Surrey and other loyal Nobles, authorizing them ;

' To levy the men in the Counties of Kent and Sussex to besiege the Castle of Bodyham which the rebels have seized.'

The castle was given up without a struggle and no damage was done to its walls. After Bosworth, the castle was again back in the hands of the Lewknors and passed to several minor heirs of the family.

At the time of the civil war it was in the hands of John Hufton, 2nd Earl of Thanet. He was a staunch Royalist but in 1644 he sold it to Sir Nathaniel Powel, a Parliamentarian. It does not appear to have been actively involved in the war or dismantled by General Waller in 1643 as has been suggested. There is no damage to any of the exterior walls and shows no sign of bombardment, the only damage visible is in the interior.


The chapel window - SE corner of the castle

The Castle was only inhabited again during a brief period in the 18th Century when a small cottage was erected inside, by the Postern Tower. The Castle suffered from the usual pilfering of stone and slowly turned into the ivy clad ruin the mid 18th century drawings and paintings show.

A local Squire from Brightling, John 'Mad Jack' Fuller, was to rescue the Castle in 1828. Sir Godfrey Webster had been trying to sell the Castle and adjoining lands since 1815, and was it going to be dismantled when Fuller paid £3000 to save it from destruction. Fuller was a huge, fat man who was an MP for many years in Sussex. He was thrown out of Parliament on several occasions for his unruly behavior, and many of his follies litter the landscape around Brightling.

A very popular man locally, he did a lot for the poor, several books have been written on his exploits. His grave, or rather, Pyramid is 25ft tall and stands in the lovely Churchyard at Brightling. It is said that he is buried in the centre, sitting in his favorite chair, wearing top hat and tails with a bottle of his best Claret and a cooked chicken - Dalyngrigge would, I'm certain have approved. The Castle was sold again in 1864 by Fuller's grandson for £5000 to Lord Ashcombe, who undertook many vital repairs over the next 40 years.

Lord Curzon first saw Bodiam in 1905 while Warden of the Cinque Ports and immediately fell in love with it. It wasn't until 1916 that he was able to negotiate its sale. His wife tells that after his first visit he returned and proposed to her in the beautiful setting of Winchelsea Church. Curzon embarked on a grand programme of research and restoration with his Architect William Weir and it is thanks to him that we can all enjoy this beautiful castle today. He left it in his will to The National Trust who have continued his work.

Bodiam Great Hall

Bodiam Additional Information

Bodiam is owned and managed by The National Trust.

Open all year round.

Hours - Feb-Nov 10 until 6 or dusk if earlier. Nov- Feb 10 until 4. Closed on Monday.

Entry - Adults - Children - Family Ticket - Call 01580 - 830436 for latest prices.

Or the visit the National Trust web page on Bodiam :

Telephone - 01892 - 891001. Bodiam site office.

Os Map 199: ref TQ 782256.

Bodiam Castle

The Castle has excellent car parking facilities and can be also reached by a No 349 Bus from Hastings Station. Nearest Railway station is Robertsbridge ( 5miles ).

The Castle entrance is 1/4 mile walk from the Car park but special arrangements for people with disabilities can take them to the entrance. There is wheelchair access to the Castle but not the Towers. Dogs are permitted on the site but not allowed in the Castle. Picnics are welcome to be taken in the grounds but not in the castle.

Bodiam Castle is one of the most famous and evocative in Britain and is probably the most ideal for a visit with children. An excellent Guidebook is available on the castle and its history along with many gifts and books for children in a well-stocked shop. There is also has a very reasonable restaurant alongside although these are only open from February until the end of October.

Special mention should be given to the entrance front to the castle. The must present to the visitor one of the finest facades of battlements and towers of any surviving castle today

The castle and grounds can get very busy during the school holidays and summer months, but a visit with entry just before 5 O'clock on a summers evening, as they lock the gates, is well worth it. It ensures you are locked in with a closing time to be out at 6. (A castle to yourself for an hour). Winter is not so busy and a visit on a fine, crisp winters day can be a very rewarding.

Although the exterior is in excellent condition some folk may find the interior a little disappointing, for these people, I leave you with the words of Lord Curzon:

"At Bodiam, not only does the watery cincture remain, but no trace of the modern world appears to invade the ancient and solitary beauty of the scene. It could hardly surprise anyone were a train of richly clad Knights, falcons on their wrists, and their ladies mounted on gaily caparisoned palfreys, suddenly emerge from the Barbican Gate for the enjoyment of the chase. Or even the flash of spearheads and the clatter of iron-shod hooves to indicate the exit of a party with more serious intent."

Information was obtained from -

Bodiam Castle - Lord Curzon of Kedleston.

Bodiam Castle - David Thackray.

Chronicles of Jean Froissart - Edited by Geoffrey Brereton.

The Crecy War - Lt-Col Alfred H. Burne.

The Agincourt War - Lt-Col Alfred H. Burne.

The Hundred Years War - Anne Croft.

The Hundred Years War - Christopher Allmand

The Hundred Years War - The English in France - Desmond Seward.

Castles in Sussex - John Guy.

English Castles - R A Brown.

The Castle in Medieval England & Wales - Colin Platt.

Edward III - Michael Packe.

Fuller, The Life and Times of John Fuller of Brightling - Geoff Hutchinson

Plantagenet Encyclopeadia - Elizabeth Hallem.

Sussex, The King's England - Arthur Mee.

Sussex - Desmond Seward

Sussex Place Names - Judith Glover

The National Trust Handbook - 1998.

Special thanks to George Bailey, Custodian of Bodiam Castle.


This Months site is dedicated to my Father

William Edward Cook


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