Friday, September 7, 2007

Bodiam Castle

An excerpt from Extraordinary Places…Close to London.

Castle Bodiam in East Sussex, England rises majestically out of the moat like the legendary sword Excalibur. It is a romantic, magical castle that inspires fairy tale images of knights, princesses and sorcerers. In 1086, the Domesday Book notes a Saxon hall on the site, but it was Sir Edward Dalyngrigge who built the present structure 500 years ago. Construction started in 1385 and was completed in 1390. King Richard II granted Dalyngrigge a license to improve his manor house to “strengthen and crenellate…and make thereof a castle in defense of the adjacent countryside and for resistance against our enemies.” Instead of fortifying his current manor house against a possible invasion by the French, Dalyngrigge decided to build a castle suitable for a man of his station in life.

Dalyngrigge was a military man who had fought in the Hundred Years’ War that began in the 1300s and continued until 1451. The French had suffered disastrous defeats at the Battle of Crècy in 1346 and then again in Pointiers in 1356 when Prince Edward, otherwise known as the Black Prince, captured Prince John of France and asked for a ransom of 3 million crowns. The ransom was paid and Prince John was returned unharmed to his people.

Dalyngrigge returned to England in approximately 1380 with his new wife, intent on providing a loving and safe environment for his family. There were constant threats from the French in retaliation for the defeats they had suffered, so Dalyngrigge decided to improve his manor house and fortify it in readiness for an attack. He was already a wealthy man from an influential family in Sussex, but now his coffers were overflowing from the fortune he had brought back from France. He reconsidered the plan to reinforce his present manor house and decided to build a castle instead.

The overall design of the castle is unusual in that it is set in a rectangular, lake-like moat that is fed by the river Rother. Previously, there had been a bridge that turned at right angles to the octagonal stone-case island. The purpose of the right angle turn was to expose the right, unshielded, flank of any besieging force to the castle’s defenders. It would have been a formidable castle to capture because when a castle was under siege, one of the most common means of entry was tunneling. An invading army would travel underground until they reached an outer wall and cause it to collapse. Sometimes they would set a fire at the end of the tunnel to cause even more damage.

The owners of Bodiam castle were only called upon to defend themselves twice in 600 years and then from their own countrymen. On both occasions it was surrendered relatively easily. In 1483, it was briefly captured by the errant Sir Thomas Lewknor and taken from him by the Earl of Surrey for his king, Richard III. The second occasion was during the English Civil war when Roundhead soldiers (parliamentary) under the guidance of Oliver Cromwell directed that all the kingdom’s castles should be “slighted”. The soldiers almost completely gutted the internal structure but the exterior was not as easy to destroy and they had to leave the walls virtually intact.

Although the French did attack the towns of Rye and Winchelsea along the south coast of England, they never made an assault on Bodiam Castle.