Norman Sussex

A Normandy influence was already obvious

at Hastings, Rye, Winchelsea and Steyning since they were ports for traders from Northern France

Yet in the High Middle Ages

Sussex suddenly became better known after Harold Godwinson, and his English army fought against William, Duke of Normandy at Senlac Hill just outside Hastings. It was January 1066 when the King of England, Edward the Confessor, died and Harold was named his successor. William was furious as he believed the crown had been promised to him, both by the late Edward and on oath from Harold. William invaded England with his army to claim the crown, whilst Harold had to march his army 300 kilometres to meet him.

William I (1066-1087)

William of Normandy landed at Pevensey Bay on 28 September 1066. He erected a wooden castle in Hastings from which his troops raided the surrounding area for supplies. Using the surviving Roman roads meant William’s troops could move quickly into position as the English army marched south. The Battle of Hastings on 14 October 1066 saw Harold killed and the English defeated, including all the fighting men of Sussex, whose lands were confiscated.

Sussex was vital to the Normans as Hastings and Pevensey were on the most direct route for Normandy. This led to increased population and colonisation of the Weald. By 1070, the county was divided into five new baronies, called rapes, with each having at least one town and a castle to make controlling wealth and revenues easier. In 1070, Pope Alexander II ordered the Normans do penance for the Battle of Hastings. So, William built Battle Abbey on the site of fighting, using the alleged place where Harold fell as the site for the high altar.

William II (1087-1100)

William the Conqueror died in 1087 and was succeeded by William Rufus, the third son of William the Conqueror. However, Robert, another son of the late King drew together support to depose the new King, with the aim of uniting England and Normandy under his own name. William won the support of the English using bribes and promises of better governance once the battle was won. The Rebellion of 1088 was defeated, so William’s authority was secured.

Henry I (1100-1135)

On William’s death in 1087, Henry’s elder brothers Robert Curthose and William Rufus inherited Normandy and England, respectively, leaving Henry landless. Henry was present when William Rufus died in a hunting accident in 1100, and he seized the English throne. Henry, I spent the summer in Pevensey waiting for his brother Robert to invade, which he attempted and failed, in 1101. Robert de Bellême of Arundel Castle was said to have supported the failed invasion, which led to Henry I to besiege Arundel Castle in 1102 for 3 months and confiscate it for himself.

Stephen (1135-1154)

The civil war between England and Normandy from 1135 to 1153, was known as the Anarchy. In 1147 following a rebellion by Gilbert de Clare, 1st Earl of Pembroke, King Stephen blockaded Pevensey Castle until its inhabitants were starved into submission. D’Aubigny helped arrange the truce between Stephen and Henry Plantagenet, the latter becoming Henry II, who gave the Earl of Sussex direct possession of Arundel Castle.

Henry II (1154-1189)

In 1187 a fire destroyed Chichester Cathedral and much of the city of Chichester.

Richard I (1189-1199)

Richard, I may have embarked on the Third Crusade from Chichester in 1190. In 1194 while Richard the Lionheart was being held captive in France, King John’s forces lay siege to Chichester Castle.

Reign of King John (1199-1216)

On 20 June 1199, King John sailed from New Shoreham to Dieppe to prepare for war against King Philip II of France. By 1204 John had surrendered Normandy to the French king. In 1208, suspecting the family of teachers, King John confiscated Bramber Castle from the de Braose family. In June 1216 John signed the Magna Carta, but on refusing its terms, the Sussex ports of Rye and Winchelsea opened their gates to King Philip’s son, Prince Louis of France, in an attempt to remove King John from the throne. Later in 1216, Prince Louis captured Chichester Castle before heading to London where he was crowned King.