Heritage

Hastings Castle, Sussex

Immediately after landing on English soil, William the Conqueror ordered three castles to be built from which to lay siege to the land and defend his bid for the throne. One of them was Hastings Castle.

1066 is one of the most well-known dates in British and European history, echoed in classrooms through each passing generation. Amazingly, visitors can still go and see the physical remnants of this turbulent time in the form of Hastings Castle, a keep and bailey castle ruin perched on crumbling cliffs overlooking the Sussex coast.

In the years leading up to the battle of 1066, England was ruled by Edward the Confessor. A childless ruler with an apparently vexatious attitude towards diplomacy, Edward decided to settle the matter of his succession by promising the throne to at least three people: the French William of Normandy, the English Harold Godwinson, and the Norwegian Harald Hardrada. Needless to say, this didn’t go down well, and the fail-safe conflict resolution strategy of war was promptly employed after his death.

Landing in the south of England in September 1066, William of Normandy immediately ordered the construction of prefabricated wooden castles, Pevensey, Hastings and Dover. Originally a rudimentary wooden tower built on top of a man-made motte, Hastings Castle was surrounded by an outer bailey and enclosed by a protective wooden palisade. This Norman design was later to become a common feature of English landscapes in the years to come. 

Making William’s military task a little easier, Harold Godwinson and his battle-weary army had already dispatched the Norwegian Harald Hardrada and were returning south as the Normans settled in. With little chance of recovery or preparation, Harold’s depleted army were attacked by William upon their return and thrice bamboozled by pretend-flee-and-attack tactics. The first two times the English fell for the trick was embarrassing, but the third time proved positively fatal as Harold received a fatal arrow to the eye amongst the melee. 

Shortly after the Battle of Hastings, Harold’s army surrendered, and William of Normandy became ‘William the Conqueror’. One of William’s first objectives as King (as well as the almost total annihilation of the English aristocracy) was the reconstruction of Hastings Castle in stone. Eventually, the castle and the town of Hastings were gifted to Robert Count of Eu, who founded the Collegiate Church of St Mary in the Castle. Located with the castle walls, the remains of the church are among the best-preserved part of the ruins to this day.

Long after William had shuffled off his mortal coil, Hastings Castle was repeatedly dismantled and reconstructed over the centuries, subject to the fickle hands of authority and the passage of time. In the 13th Century, terrible storms devastated the town, the harbour and Hastings Castle, bringing to an end Hasting’s prominence as a military port. Left to the elements for 600 years, it wasn’t until the 1800s that Hastings Castle underwent a full excavation and was recognised as a popular tourist attraction. 

In 1966, a commemorative plaque was unveiled to remember the Battle of Hastings and on 14th October each year, a replica of William's flag, the Gonfalon, is flown from the castle. If you are interested in history or simply want to wander the ruins and enjoy the setting, the site is open throughout the summer, closing for a brief spell in winter. A particularly popular feature, the Hastings Castle ‘1066 Story' provides an exciting 20-minute audio-visual tour about the battle and the castle’s history. And, luckily, arrows aren’t a problem these days.

Feeling inspired? Take a peek at our luxury cottages in Sussex here.

Hastings Castle, Castle Hill Road, West Hill, Hastings TN34 3AR | 01424 422 964 | Website

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