At the time of the Norman Conquest, three manors - Chart Sutton, East Sutton and Town Sutton - existed in proximity to the site that would later be occupied by the castle. All were owned by Leofwin, brother to King Harold and were confiscated by William I after the Battle of Hastings (1066). He gave them to his half-brother - Odo, Bishop of Bayeux - who granted it to one of his retainers, Adam FitzHubert. The site was of strategic importance as it was located on the (former) Roman road to Lympne and also on a later medieval road to the important ports of Hastings, Rye and Old Winchelsea. However, there is no evidence to suggest a castle was erected at this time for no mention is made in the Domesday survey of 1086 nor is there any reference to its seizure when Odo forfeited his lands following his unsuccessful rebellion against William II in 1088. By the late-twelfth century it had passed to Baldwin de Béthune, Count of Aumale and it was probably he who built the castle.
Sutton Valence Castle consisted of a square Keep and at least one bailey. The fortification was positioned on the southernmost spur of the Chart Hills giving it commanding views of the surrounding Kent and East Sussex landscapes as well as allowing control of the road to the important South coast ports. The bulk of the visible remains are from the Keep which was constructed with ragstone walls supported by corner buttresses. It was at least two storeys tall with an internal spiral staircase providing access to both levels. A square forebuilding was originally connected to the northern face. To the north of the Keep was a bailey which was enclosed by a stone wall incorporating at least one round tower. There may well have been an Outer Bailey to the north and to the east of that another enclosure which has been interpreted by some authors as the site of a barbican.
Baldwin died in 1212 and the castle passed through his daughter Alice to William Marshal, Earl of Pembroke. A loyal supporter of King John, even after the revocation of Magna Carta and the subsequent First Barons' War, he was appointed Regent during the minority of Henry III. It later passed to his son, another William, who married the Queen's sister, Eleanor. When William died, the widowed Eleanor married Simon de Montfort, Earl of Leicester who was the leader of the rebel faction during the Second Barons’ War. His victory of the Battle of Lewes (1264) briefly placed him in control of the King and country but it was fleeting as the following year Prince Edward (later Edward I) led his forces to victory against the powerful Earl at the Battle of Evesham (1265). Montfort was killed and his estates confiscated by the Crown. The castle was then granted to William de Valence, Earl of Pembroke at which point it became known as Sutton Valence.
By the start of the fourteenth century the aristocracy was starting to concentrate their resources in maintaining fewer properties. Sutton Valence Castle was sufficiently important to be one of just four fortifications maintained by Aymer de Valence, Earl of Pembroke (the others were Goodrich, Haverfordwest and Pembroke). He stayed at the castle in June 1315 and the household accounts relating to his visit are the last detailed records relating to the castle as a functional residence. After this little is known about the castle although it would seem likely it was abandoned at some point during the fourteenth century. The site later passed through numerous owners including the Clifford, Harper and Hale families.
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Historic England (1985). Ruins of Sutton Castle, List entry number 1186956. Historic England, London.
King, C.D.J (1983). Castellarium anglicanum: an index and bibliography of the castles in England, Wales and the Islands. Kraus International Publications.
Salter, M (2016). The Castles of Kent, Surrey and Sussex. Folly Publications.
Sands, H (1902). Sutton Valence Castle. Archaeologia Catiana Vol. 25.
Thompson, M.W (1987). The Decline of the Castle. London.
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Sutton Valence consists of the ruinous remains of a twelfth century Keep. Unfortunately the medieval panoramic view of the surrounding countryside is now largely obscured by trees whilst the Inner and Outer Baileys are buried under modern developments.
Sutton Valence Castle Layout. The castle consisted of a square Keep and bailey with at least one round tower. The layout and configuration of an Outer Bailey that existed to the north is uncertain.
Sutton Valence Castle. The only significant portion of the castle that survives is the Keep. It is in ruinous condition and no longer stands to its original height.
Sutton Valence Castle Keep.
SUTTON VALENCE CASTLE
Sutton Valence Castle was built by Baldwin de Béthun in the late twelfth century to dominate the road between Maidstone and the Cinque ports at Winchelsea and Rye. It later passed into the hands of the Earls of Pembroke and was briefly owned by Simon de Montfort, leader of the rebel faction during the Second Barons' War. It was abandoned as a residence in the late fourteenth century.
Sutton Valence Castle is found in the south-east of the town. It is sign-posted but it stills comes as a surprise to find it located on a residential road slotted in between modern houses. On-road parking is available in the immediate vicinity.
Sutton Valence Castle
Rectory Lane, ME17 3BS