Bodiam Castle was built in the late fourteenth century by Sir Edward Dalyngrigge, a soldier who had made his fortune during the Hundred Years War. In appearance it is the perfect example of a medieval castle but looks are deceiving. With numerous defensive shortfalls, Bodiam Castle was first and foremost a stylish house for a low born landowner seeking to improve his status.
Sir Edward Dalyngrigge was a minor landowner who through inheritance, marriage and military adventure abroad amassed considerable wealth. In particular his activities during the Hundred Years War, where he served under the Earls of Arundel and operated on quasi-mercenary expeditions with Sir Robert Knollys, gave him prestige and influence at court. This led to appointments in his native Sussex where he was made a Commissioner of Array in 1377 and a few years later appointed as a Justice of the Peace. He made a good marriage to Elizabeth Wardeux in 1377 and this union brought him the manor of Bodiam. He lobbied the King for permission to fortify his new acquisition, citing the requirement for enhanced defences in Sussex, and Richard II duly granted him a licence to crenellate on 20 October 1385.
Work started on Bodiam Castle almost immediately and continued at a steady pace for the next three years. It was built upon a slight rise just to the north of the River Rother and surrounded by a fresh water moat fed by natural streams. The castle was broadly square in plan with a central courtyard surrounded by ranges on all sides and enclosed by a two-storey curtain wall. Round towers, each three storeys tall, occupied the corners whilst two rectangular towers were centrally placed on the east and west walls. The main entrance was on the north side through a three storey gatehouse fronted by a bridge and barbican. A postern gatehouse, also reached via bridge, was located centrally on the south side. Within the castle the four ranges incorporated the Great Hall, accommodation, kitchen, brewhouse, stables, storerooms and other ancillary functions. Beyond the immediate castle, the surrounding grounds were extensively landscaped to provide both a picturesque environment and also one capable of supporting the economic requirements of the site. In particular large ponds were created to the south of the castle which would have been used for rearing fish and eels.
The reason for the construction of Bodiam Castle is hotly debated. The 1380s were a low point for English fortunes during the Hundred Years War with most continental possessions lost and England itself vulnerable to invasion. The Sussex coast, due to its proximity to France, was at particular risk and major raids had already been seen at Rye and Folkestone in 1377 and Winchelsea in 1380. Bodiam Castle was a very visible symbol of a defensive measure against this threat and the King clearly had security in mind as the terms of the licence stated Dalyngrigge could “strengthen with a wall of stone and lime, crenellate and make into a castle his manor house at Bodiam, next to sea, for the defence of the adjacent country and resistance to the King’s enemies”. However, notwithstanding its impressive appearance, the castle had many defensive shortcomings. The shallow and easily drainable moat, the limited field of fire of the artillery positions, the large windows and thin walls all suggest defence - at least against an organised military force - was clearly a low priority. On balance it seems likely Bodiam was primarily constructed to consolidate his hard won status and win credibility amongst the nobility. It should be noted though that the castle’s superficial appearance has convinced many scholars of its strength and this probably applied to contemporary viewers as well. Ergo whatever the defensive failings, a deterrence effect should not be ruled out.
The Dalyngrigge male line died out in 1470 and it passed by marriage to the Lewknor family. In 1483 the then owner, Sir Thomas Lewknor, incurred the wrath of Richard III leading to Bodiam being besieged by Royal forces the following year. The defences proved inadequate and the castle was quickly surrendered after which it was confiscated by the Crown until restored to Lewknor by Henry VII after his victory at the Battle of Bosworth Field (1485). By the end of the fifteenth century the Lewknors had ceased to use the castle as a residence but it remained under their ownership until sold to Nicholas Tufton (later Earl of Thanet) in 1623.
The final military action at the castle took place in 1643. The castle's then owner - John Tufton - was a prominent Royalist but the south-east was under Parliament’s control and John was duly forced to capitulate. The internal buildings of the castle may have been slighted at this time although the castle itself had not been inhabited since the fifteenth century and they may have been ruinous long before. The castle remained an abandoned ruin until it was restored in the nineteenth century by John Fuller. It was gifted to the National Trust in 1925 by the last private owner, Lord George Curzon.
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Bodiam Castle is in the care of the National Trust. It is an interesting example of a late medieval castle and, although the interior is in ruins, the exterior is surprisingly intact.
Bodiam Castle Layout. The castle was an enclosure castle built around a courtyard which was surrounded by ranges. There were gatehouses in the centre of the north and south walls plus rectangular towers on the east and west. Round towers occupied each corner. The main entrance was via an L-shaped bridge that passed through a barbican. A second bridge provided access to the postern gate. The castle was constructed from sandstone ashlar quarried from nearby Wadhurst.
Moat. The castle occupied an artificial island that was completely surrounded by a water filled moat fed from natural streams. The moat was only two metres deep and could have been easily drained by an attacking force leading many to question the effectiveness of the site's defences. This may be correct but the visual impact of the site on both contemporaries and more recent visitors should not be under-estimated.
Gatehouse. The three storey gatehouse had a central entrance passageway flanked by two rectangular towers. Note the two gunports which are seemingly well placed to cover the approach but actually only had a very limited field of fire due to the thickness of the walls. The Dalyngrigge Coat of Arms is centrally located above the entrance and flanked to the left by those of Elizabeth Wardeux and right by those of the Radynden family, previous owners of Bodiam. The remains of the barbican can be seen in front of the gatehouse (right).
Round Towers. Each of the corners was dominated by a three storey round tower that provided additional accommodation and storage space.
Internal Ranges. Unlike the exterior curtain walls, the internal ranges are in a ruinous condition. The buildings ceased to be used as a high status residence in the late fifteenth century and they probably ceased to be maintained at this time. Some demolition may have occurred during the Civil War.