When William the Conqueror invaded England in 1066, he brought with him prefabricated portions of simple motte-and-bailey castles. He is known to have constructed two of these castles before his first battle: one at Pevensey, and the other at Hastings. These basic fortresses would have been simple wooden walls surrounding an earthen mound or hill. It is believed that the fortress at Hastings is where William and his men spent the night before the Battle of Hastings.
By 1070, William had given orders to reconstruct Hastings Castle in stone and to build the Church of St. Mary there. He gave the castle and the rest of the district of Hastings to Robert, Count of Eu, whose family held it until the reign of King Stephen of Blois. In 1148, Stephen confirmed the transference of several churches and parcels of land in Hastings to the Bishops of Chichester, and this appears to have included the castle, as well.
At the end of the reign of King John, when the rebellious barons invited the French king's son Louis the Lion to take the throne, John ordered the destruction of Hastings Castle, lest it fall into Louis' hands. The damage done appears to have been limited; wooden floors and other woodwork were burned and some of the eastern wall was undermined. John's son Henry III ordered the castle repaired in 1220.
In 1287 a great storm caused serious damage to Hastings, and the castle was no exception. The soft sandstone cliffs could not stand up to the erosion and the weight of the building, and eventually, parts of both the cliff face and the fortress fell into the sea. In the years that followed more erosion took place; the rest of the structure began to deteriorate, as well, and in time the castle was abandoned and forgotten.
Remnants of the castle were rediscovered in 1824, and portions were rebuilt. Though it suffered further damage in World War II, the remains of the castle still stand on the hill, offering a breathtaking view of Hastings and the English Channel beyond.
Hastings Castle Facts
- Located at Hastings, East Sussex, England
- Initially constructed in 1066 and later rebuilt in the 1070s by order of William the Conqueror
- Owned by the family of Eu and later controlled by the Bishops of Chichester
- Currently a thriving tourist attraction
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Hastings Castle Resources
Hastings Castle, East Sussex
Brief history at The Heritage Trail.
History of Hastings castle
Online book by Charles Dawson subtitled "the castlery, rape and battle of Hastings, to which is added a history of the collegiate church within the castle, and its prebends." Published in 1909.
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