Pevensey Castle

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Pevensey Castle
Pevensey, East Sussex
Pevensey castle-09.jpg
Main gate of Pevensey Castle
Pevensey Castle is located in East Sussex
Pevensey Castle
Pevensey Castle
Coordinates grid reference TQ644048
Type Castle
Site information
Controlled by English Heritage
Condition Ruin

Pevensey Castle is a medieval castle and former Roman fort at Pevensey in the English county of East Sussex. The site is a Scheduled Monument in the care of English Heritage and is open to visitors.

Roman fort[edit]

View from the inner bailey showing the outer Roman curtain wall which was a layer of defence for the people that lived inside

The fort of Anderitum was built in around A.D. 290 though the reasons for its construction are unclear. It is first documented in the Notitia Dignitatum which noted it was one of the Saxon shore forts which defended the coast of southern England from Saxon pirates. Though the Roman army officially retreated from Britain in the 5th century, the fort continued in use as the home of a small community. According to the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, the fort was besieged by Saxons in 491 and the inhabitants killed. It is uncertain whether habitation of the fort continued after this.[1]

Saxon fort and Norman camp[edit]

Evidence for some form of permanent occupancy next appears in 1042, when the Anglo-Saxon Earl of Wessex, Harold Godwinson (later King Harold II) established a strong point there, improving fortifications by digging ditches within the walls of the Roman fort. The English army remained at the fort during the summer of 1066 before abandoning it to move further south. When the Duke William the Conqueror of Normandy invaded Sussex, landing at Pevensey Bay in September 1066, there were no defences at Pevensey or anywhere else on the south coast. Upon landing, the invading Normans created a dry ditch around the west gate. This is because they did not have time before the battle to modernise the castle. The ditch would make it harder to get into the castle if William was attacked whilst inside. In 1066 at the ensuing Battle of Hastings on Senlac Hill, Duke William defeated the combined English armies led by King Harold II.

Medieval castle[edit]

Aerial view of castle

Robert, Count of Mortain (half-brother to William the Conqueror) was granted Pevensey shortly after the Norman Conquest. Mortain used the existing fort as the basis for building a castle around 1100, carrying out only minor repairs to the walls to form an outer bailey, and building a new wooden palisaded irregular rectangular-shaped inner bailey against the Roman wall. Shortly afterwards, a rectangular stone keep was erected, incorporating part of the east curtain wall and a Roman bastion. The original main entrance to the south-west and the east gateway were both repaired.

The castle was besieged by William Rufus in the Rebellion of 1088 and during a period of civil war by the forces loyal to King Stephen (1135–1141). Around 1190-1220 the present twin-towered gatehouse was constructed, making it one of the earliest known examples of this type.[2] A stone circuit wall was erected around the inner bailey by Peter of Savoy around 1250, with three D-shaped towers. A third siege occurred in 1264, when Henry III's supporters took refuge at the castle following the Battle of Lewes and were besieged by Simon de Montfort.

The castle remained in use throughout the Late Middle Ages. In 1415, king Henry V sent his hostage king James I of Scotland to the castle.[3]

Post medieval times[edit]

The Elizabethan cannon mounted on a replica carriage

During later times the ancient castle nearly did not survive. Queen Elizabeth I ordered the castle to be demolished but this was ignored. In fact the castle boasts Elizabethan 'gun emplacements', earthworks and an Elizabethan cannon mounted on a replica carriage. During the period of interregnum under Oliver Cromwell efforts were again made to destroy it but luckily only a few stones were removed.

Second World War[edit]

Second World War modifications to Pevensey Castle

During the World War II the castle was used by the home guard and as a military camp for anti-aircraft troops. It also housed American and Canadian troops who were officially responsible for this section of coast in case of an invasion. As late as 1942 small additions were made to fortify the castle in case of German invasion across the Channel. This was far from fanciful as post-war exposure of German plans in Operation Sea Lion showed that this would have been the route of the invasion from the beaches to seize London.

A number of pillbox defences were built into the fabric of the castle. As shown in the picture on the left these were cunningly disguised by using local stone on the front and even today are hard to distinguish without the benefit of a guidebook. Unlike the picture, many are built low into the walls so have no distinguishing feature except the gun slits. A conscious decision was made to leave these pillboxes in place after the war as they portray the unique direct role Pevensey has played in the defence of Britain from Roman times to the 20th century.

See also[edit]


  • Peers, Charles (1985). Pevensey Castle. London: English Heritage. 
  1. ^ Goodall, John (1999), Pevensey Castle, East Sussex, English Heritage, pp. 18–19, ISBN 1-85074-722-9 
  2. ^ Castle Studies Group (2005). "Conferences - Castles of Sussex - Pevensey". The Castle Studies Group Journal 19: 49–55. 
  3. ^ Mortimer, Ian. 1415 Henry's Year of Glory. Vintage, 2010, p. 99.

External links[edit]