Arundel Castle was built in the immediate aftermath of the Norman Conquest to control a strategic portion of the Sussex coast. In the sixteenth century the castle became home to the powerful Howard family whose ancestors included the Queens Anne Boleyn and Catherine Howard. Destroyed during the Civil War, it was later rebuilt in a Gothic revival style.
The first castle at Arundel was built in early 1067 by Roger de Montgomery (later Earl of Shrewsbury), the cousin of William the Conqueror. Although he had not taken part in the invasion, Roger had played a key role securing Normandy whilst William was campaigning in England. The King rewarded him with substantial estates including the rape of Arundel, an area which accounted for around one third of Sussex. For the Normans this was also a strategically important territory that ensured access to the continent and their supply lines back to Normandy.
Arundel Castle was built upon a naturally defensible site overlooking the River Arun which, at this time, was navigable to the sea. The castle took the form of an earth and timber motte-and-bailey fortification. Its layout consisted of two baileys, providing ample refuge space for a large army, and the motte. Such was the importance of the fortification that within a few years of construction, portions of the castle were being rebuilt in stone.
Roger died in 1094 and his English estates, as well as his title of Earl of Shrewsbury, passed to his son, Hugh. However, he died in 1098 and was followed by his elder brother, Robert of Bellême, who had previously inherited his father’s Normandy estates. Accordingly, when William II of England was killed in 1100, he sought the re-unification of England and Normandy. Despite Henry I taking the English throne, Robert opposed him and instead supported the claim of Robert Curthose, Duke of Normandy. The latter invaded but ultimately his campaign failed enabling Henry to secure the throne and take revenge on those magnates who had supported his rival. Robert's estates - including Arundel, Tickhill and Shrewsbury - were besieged with numerous counter-castles built to contain their hinterlands (such as Place Wood Castle in Hampshire). Robert capitulated to Henry and was allowed to go into exile but he forfeited his estates and accordingly Arundel Castle passed into Crown ownership.
Arundel Castle remained a Royal property until 1138 when it was granted by King Stephen to Queen Adeliza of Louvain, widow of Henry I, as part of her dowry in her marriage to William de Albini. He embarked upon significant upgrades to Arundel Castle in particular building the Shell Keep. It was during William’s tenure that the castle played a small part in the Anarchy, the civil war between Stephen and Matilda. Although William de Albini was loyal to Stephen, he welcomed Matilda at Arundel perhaps hoping to broker a truce between the two factions. Outraged Stephen marched on the castle planning to besiege it but found William humble and offering no resistance. Stephen could have captured Matilda but her imprisonment would have been politically difficult and she was allowed to depart to the West Country. Clearly forgiven by the King, William was made Earl of Arundel in 1143.
William de Albini died in 1176 and Arundel Castle once again reverted to the Crown. Henry II made numerous modifications to the site including adding a new residential range in the southern bailey. Eventually he returned the castle to William’s son and it remained with his heirs until it passed through marriage to the FitzAlan family in 1243. They built new lodgings in the south bailey to replace the domestic accommodation on the motte but also upgraded the defences including adding the Barbican and Beaumont Tower.
The male line of the FitzAlan family failed in 1580 and the castle passed through marriage to Philip Howard, Duke of Norfolk. This family dominated Tudor politics - the elderly second Duke had led northern English forces to victory against the Scots at the Battle of Flodden (1513), the third Duke promoted his nieces Anne Boleyn and Catherine Howard to the English throne whilst Lord Howard of Effingham sailed against the Spanish Armada in 1588. Nevertheless this powerful family had substantial estates elsewhere in the country, particularly around Norfolk and Surrey, and accordingly Arundel Castle became something of a backwater.
During the seventeenth century Civil War, the Howard family supported the Royalist cause and garrisoned Arundel Castle with approximately 800 men. The Parliamentary commander William Waller, fresh from his victory at Alton, attacked and seized Arundel town on the 20 December 1643. Lacking sufficient soldiers for an all out attack on the castle, Waller besieged the site and concurrently drained the adjacent lake cutting off the water supply. A relief expedition from Winchester led by Lord Hopton was repulsed and the Parliamentary siege continued. The arrival of heavy siege artillery made further resistance pointless and accordingly the Royalists surrendered Arundel Castle on 6 January 1644.
The castle was slighted in 1653 to prevent future military use and this partial demolition included destruction of the residential portions. Accordingly the site was not used until 1708 when Thomas Howard, Duke of Norfolk restored the South Range for use as an occasional residence. However, towards the end of the eighteenth century Charles Howard, eleventh Duke of Norfolk commenced rebuilding and remodelling the site in a Gothic theme. His efforts were not appreciated however, with Queen Victoria describing it as “bad architecture”, and accordingly Arundel Castle was substantially restyled again between 1875 and 1900. This work was undertaken by Henry Fitzalan-Howard, Duke of Norfolk who recruited architect Charles Buckler to rebuild the castle in a gothic revival style creating the structure visible today. The site was occupied by British and Allied troops during the Second World War.
Allen, R (1976). English Castles. Batsford, London.
Armitage, E.S (1904). Early Norman Castles of the British Isles. English Historical Review Vol 14 (Reprinted by Amazon).
Carpenter, D (2004). The Struggle for Mastery. Penguin Books Ltd, London.
Creighton, O.H (2002). Castles and Landscapes: Power, Community and Fortification in Medieval England. Equinox, Bristol.
Emery, A (1996). Greater Medieval Houses of England and Wales. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.
Huscroft, R (2009). The Norman Conquest: A New Introduction. Pearson Education Limited, Harlow.
Johnson, P (2006). Castles from the Air: An Aerial Portrait of Britain’s Finest Castles. Bloomsbury, London.
King, C.D.J (1983). Castellarium anglicanum: an index and bibliography of the castles in England, Wales and the Islands. Kraus International Publications.
Liddiard, R (2005). Castles in Context: Power, Symbolism and Landscape 1066-1500. Macclesfield.
Morris, M (2003). Castle: A History of the Buildings that Shaped Medieval Britain. Windmill Books, London.
Royle, T (2004). Civil War: The Wars of Three Kingdoms 1638-1660. Abacus, London.
Woolrych, A (2002). Britain in Revolution. Oxford University Press, Oxford.
Arundel Castle has been modified over the centuries with much of what is visible today dating from the nineteenth century. Nevertheless portions of the medieval castle survive including the stone Keep, motte and gatehouse. The site is a major tourist attraction.
Shell Keep. William de Albini (also called William d’Aubigny) built the Shell Keep after acquiring Arundel Castle through his marriage with Henry I’s widow, Queen Adeliza of Louvain. The Keep was built from ashlar imported from Caen in Normandy. William was a great castle builder and also upgraded many of his other estates including starting the huge, square stone Keep at Castle Rising.
Gatehouse. The strategic location of Arundel Castle meant parts of the original timber fortification were soon rebuilt in stone. The oldest portion is the Gatehouse, rebuilt in 1070. The builder - Roger de Montgomery, Earl of Shrewsbury - was one of the most powerful Norman magnates in England and who also captured extensive lands in Wales including Pembroke and Montgomery. The priority he showed to the rebuilding of Arundel Castle was a clear pointer to the castle’s importance.
Division of Sussex. Sussex was critical to the Normans as it secured access to the continent and accordingly was divided into five administrative areas known as rapes (derived from the Saxon term rap which implied demarcation). Each was granted to a Norman Lord who established a castle to serve as the administrative centre. At the time of the Domesday Book (1086) these were Arundel (Roger de Montgomery), Bramber (William de Braose), Lewes (William de Warenne), Pevensey (Robert, Count of Mortain) and Hastings (Robert, Count of Eu). In the twelfth century a sixth rape, Chichester, was created by dividing the rape of Arundel. In each rape minor castles were established in the hinterland to ensure control of the area.
River Arun. The castle overlooks the River Arun, once a major trading artery into Sussex.