Bodiam Castle is arguably the finest example of medieval moated military architecture in Britain. It was built between 1385 and 1388 by Sir Edward Dalyngrigge, a veteran of the 100 Years War.
Dalyngrigge acquired the estate and manor of Bodiam through his marriage to the heiress Elizabeth Wardeux. 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 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. Hugh gave the manor to his son who took the name "de Bodeham' from the name of the Saxon settlement on the site.
Sir Edward Dalyngrigge was a highly successful soldier and when he returned from the wars in France, laden with plunder, he found the need to advertise his local status with a castle.
To give Sir Edward his due, this castle wasn't merely an affectation as the nearby River Rother was a navigable estuary and there was a risk (albeit small) of a French invasion.
Richard II recognized the threat (and probably Sir Edward's desire for personal aggrandisement) and granted Dalyngrigge a license to crenellate the walls and make Bodiam look like a "proper' castle even though, in real terms, it was little more than a fortified manor house.
Bodiam Castle was built inside four years and, externally, would have looked much the same in 1388 as it does today.
Bodiam's high walls and wide moat were a great deterrent to attackers
The castle interior
Bodiam is a very "modern' castle. The inside differs from older castles because there is no keep or inner defensive buildings. All the rooms were built into the walls, leaving an open central courtyard. The castle plan is really simple. A square with turret towers at each corner and a square tower in the middle of each wall.
Bodiam Castle's moat is very wide and because it is supplied by springs, forms an almost impregnable defensive barrier. The castle was built without extensive external earthworks as the moat was wide enough to make siege machinery virtually useless. The moat's width also meant that attackers couldn't undermine the castle walls.
Over the front and postern doors are carved shields displaying the Dalyngrigge coat of arms. These would have been brightly painted, in medieval fashion, to proclaim the ownership of the castle and impress visitors.
From the west side of the moat, a wooden bridge (defended by a drawbridge) spanned the moat to a central octagonal shaped stone island. This bridge then turned ninety degrees to the north face of the castle, through a defended Barbican, (sadly little of this remains) then up to the front door and its own defended Gatehouse. Attackers then faced machicolations, three pairs of heavy doors, three portcullises and further 'murder holes' in the vaulted passageway.
Not surprisingly, the castle was never attacked, although it did surrender to Yorkist troops during the Wars of the Roses, when the owner was the Lancastrian Sir Thomas Lewknor.
The elegant interior of Bodiam Castle is fascinating. Although in ruins, with a little imagination it allows a visitor to see how the castle would have looked when it was first built.
Bodiam Castle – East Sussex
The Civil War
During the Civil War, the castle interior was 'slighted' or made uninhabitable by Parliamentary soldiers to prevent the castle being used by Royalists.
The castle stood virtually undisturbed for many years until the mid-17th Century when Sir Thomas Webster purchased the ruin on 23 July 1723. (Webster also bought Battle Abbey and Robertsbridge Priory about the same time)
The third Sir Godfrey Webster attempted to sell the property in 1815 and finally achieved the sale of the castle and 24 acres of adjoining land in 1829 to John (Mad Jack) Fuller of Rosehill in the parish of Brightling, Sussex, for Â£3,000.
Fuller is thought to have bought the castle to save it from being dismantled. He is recorded as having provided new folding oak gates in the front doorway of the Gatehouse, and also as having restored the Postern Tower.
Further preservation works were continued with enthusiasm by George Cubitt, (The first Lord Ashcombe) who purchased the castle and 24 acres from John Fuller's grandson for 'something over Â£5,000' in 1864."
Lord George Nathaniel Curzon purchased the Castle from Ashcombe's son Henry Cubitt, the second Lord Ascombe, in 1916 and undertook the research and restoration of Bodiam Castle that visitors enjoy today. The Castle was bequeathed to the National Trust by Lord Curzon who died in 1925.
Living in Bodiam Castle
The Great Hall, where public entertainments and feasts were held, would have been bright and airy by medieval standards. It had much larger windows that the rest of the castle and these can still be seen in the east wall. For defensive reasons most of the external windows are small.
Leading off from the Great Hall would have been the lord's private chamber and sleeping quarters. The Chapel would have been in the same area, as well as his lady's suite of rooms. The castle walls were effectively a three storey building that surrounded the central courtyard providing Dalyngrigge and his entourage with unprecedented space and comfort.
Brightly painted plaster would have covered many internal walls, while other, higher status rooms would have been hung with rich cloth or cleverly worked tapestries. The floors of the common areas would have been strewn with rushes from the nearby river although some more important rooms would have had coarse rush matting on the floor.
As many as one hundred people would have lived and worked inside Bodiam. There are the remains of twenty eight fireplaces in the walls and thirty three garderobes (medieval toilets) drained unpleasantly into the moat.
The castle kitchens were adjoining the Great Hall and two massive fireplaces, complete with brick ovens, spits, griddles and a horde of servants would have supplied the mountains of food required by the castle's inhabitants. A spring-fed well in the base of an adjoining tower provided cool, clean, fresh water and the castle dovecote would have provided an excellent source of cheap fresh meat.