Thursday, 15 September 2011

Bodiam Castle in Sussex

At Bodiam the main attraction is Bodiam Castle, owned by the National Trust. This beautifully sited castle stands in the centre of a lake, which served as a moat when this castle was first built. The fortress was erected in 1385 by Sir Edward Dalyngrydge using money that he had plundered from the French during the Hundred Years War which was then raging. Bodiam was one of the last great castles to be built in England, for by this time cannon were beginning to be used by siege armies. These big guns were, as yet, unreliable and enormously expensive so only royal armies had them and a castle such as Bodiam could expect to hold out against any French raiding party that might have landed in England. Dalyngrydge laid out his castle with great care, paying as much attention to his domestic comfort as to his defences. The luxurious rooms and spacious halls became famous. There was an ingenious flue system within the walls that channelled hot air from the kitchen fires round the hall to heat it without the need for an open fire.

The castle saw action twice. In 1485, during the Wars of the Roses, it was grabbed by Lord Lewknor who declared for Henry Tudor, then invading England by way of Wales with an army of Lancastrian exiles and foreign mercenaries. The Yorkist King Richard III declared Lewknor to be a traitor and sent the Earl of Surrey to capture Bodiam while he himself marched off west to deal with Henry Tudor. The siege does not seem to have got very far when news arrived that Richard had been killed at the Battle of Bosworth and that Henry was now king.

The next siege came in 1643, during the English Civil War. Bodiam was garrisoned for the king, but by that date the tall walls were totally obsolete. No attempt was made to update castle's defences, and the structure was used more as a barracks and arsenal than as a fortress. When Sir William Waller and his Parliamentarian soldiers arrived the garrison surrendered at once. Waller slighted the defences to render them useless and the castle was never again inhabited. It is now a roofless ruin, but remains one of the most complete castles in England and is well worth a visit.

The River Rother lies a few yards from the castle and in medieval times there was a small port here for barges coming up the river from the coast. Nothing of this now remains, but there is a pleasant riverside walk to be had.

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