Hastings Castle is a keep and bailey castle ruin situated in the town of Hastings, East Sussex. It overlooks the English Channel, into which large parts of the castle have fallen over the years. Immediately after landing in England in 1066, William of Normandy ordered three fortifications to be built, Pevensey Castle in September 1066 (re-using the Roman Saxon Shore fort of Anderitum), Hastings (prior to the Battle of Hastings) and Dover. Hastings Castle was originally built as a motte-and-bailey castle near the sea. Later that year, the famous Battle of Hastings took place some miles to the north of Hastings Castle, in which William was victorious. In 1070, William issued orders for the castle to be rebuilt in stone, along with the St Mary’s Chapel.
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. In both 1339 and 1377, the town was attacked by the French leaving many burnt buildings which included homes. Throughout the next century erosion was unchecked and gradually more of the castle was lost to the sea. The mid 16th century saw the castle receive another blow as Henry VIII commissione
The site was purchased by Thomas Pelham on 23 June 1591. After the purchase, the site was purchased by the Pelham family and used for farming until the ruins had become so overgrown they were lost from memory. In 1824, the then owner the Earl of Chichester commissioned some archaeological investigations of the ruin. As a result of these, the chapel floor and parts of the chancel arch and walls were re-constructed out of blocks found lying on the ground.
Motte under construction Wikimedia Commons
Following the death of King Edward the Confessor in 1066, the English throne was claimed by William, Duke of Normandy. However, the English chose Harold Godwineson as Edward’s successor and accordingly William raised an invasion army. It eventually sailed from Saint-Valery-sur-Somme and landed near Pevensey on 28 September 1066. King Harold however was in the north, where just days earlier he had defeated another rival at the Battle of Stamford Bridge. This gave William time and he used it to build castles to protect his beachhead. Hastings was one of them (the others were Pevensey and Dover). All three were adjacent to important harbours and, in the case of Hastings, the site of a Saxon burh (fortified town).
Hastings Castle is one of the few Norman structures that can be dated with certainty. Not only is there is a picture on the Bayeux Tapestry, its narrative states William the Conqueror “commands that a castle be dug at Hestengaceastra”. The castle is also mentioned in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle and the Domesday Book (1086). Finally the Chronicle of Battle Abbey stated William I built a “wooden castle” at Hastings. Together these sources strongly suggest the castle was started before the Battle of Hastings (which wasn’t fought until 14 October 1066) using wooden prefabricated parts imported from Normandy. William was probably accommodated within its walls prior to the battle and in the immediate aftermath it would have been crucial as a secure logistical hub ensuring his sustainability in the south east.
The original castle consisted of a motte, which would have been topped by a timber palisade and tower, with a large broadly rectangular bailey to the west. An outer bailey, probably used for livestock, was located to the east. The castle was built on top of a cliff overlooking the Saxon settlement, markedly different from elsewhere which saw Norman castles stamped on top of former urban settlements (good examples can be seen at Exeter, Totnes and Wallingford).
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