Bodiam Castle

Bodiam Castle, East Sussex
Photo © Oust House Archive, 27 july 2008

Bodiam Castle, East Sussex
Photo © Peter Scimshaw, 18 May 2009

Bodiam Castle, East Sussex
Photo © Chris Allen, 14 July 2009

Bodiam Castle is a quadrangular castle located near Robertsbridge in East Sussex, England. It was built in 1385 by Sir Edward Dalyngrigge, a former knight of Edward III, with the permission of Richard II in order to defend the surrounding area from French invasion.

Construction commenced four years after the English Peasants' Revolt of 1381 which Sir Edward had helped repress and two years before he was elected to the Merciless Parliament which launched armed rebellion against the king. Sir Edward switched sides in July 1389 and was retained as a king's knight, making him a leading figure in the royal administration within weeks. In 1392 the king appointed Sir Edward warden of the city of London following the mayor's arrest during a year of political upheaval. Sir Edward died a year later.

While the castle served little military purpose owing to the thinness of its walls, it evidently housed a garrison sufficient to protect Sir Edward and his family from political enemies, civil unrest and plague which revisited England in 1391.

Bodiam castle's design owes its inspiration to castles in France where the owner campaigned successfully as a soldier for the Earl of Arundel in 1359 near Paris, for the Duke of Lancaster in 1373 at Bordeaux and for Lord Despenser in 1374 at naval engagements. With the collapse of Italian banks earlier in the century, military campaigns had become self-financing through kidnap and ransom of such figures as the Duke of Burgundy, John the Good. French castle design was well suited for the incarceration of wealthy dignitaries.

By 1434 Sir Edward Dalyngrigge's nephew Richard was living in the castle.[1] Research suggests that the castle was built more for show than as an effective defence: the walls of Bodiam Castle are only a couple of feet thick; the moat is relatively shallow and can be easily drained; and the towers contain too many windows to be considered militarily effective.


Bodiam Castle, East Sussex
Photo © Chris Gunns, 5 April 2007

The castle is completely surrounded by a moat with approaches from the north and south. The castle itself is rectangular in shape, being longer in the north-south, and has large round towers at all of the four corners, and a square tower defending the centre of each side. The castle well is located in one of the corner towers, the chapel in another.

The main gatehouse is on the centre of the North wall of the quadrangle for protection, while the southern square tower has a postern gate too. Both gateways had long bridges leading over the moat, of which the northern one turns at right angles on an octagonal bastion before reaching the shore. This provided further defence to the main gate by exposing any attackers approaching along the bridge to arrow fire (and, by this time, gunfire) from the defenders in the north-west tower. There were also machicolations in the gatehouse and in the postern to drop scalding water and tar on invaders.

Within the bailey is a ruined range of domestic buildings which were probably once very grand. To the right of the postern tower is the castle's great hall. Most of the castle interior was destroyed by parliamentary forces during the English Civil War, following their policy of slighting potentially threatening fortifications.

The castle is typical of later-medieval castles in that much attention was placed on comfortable living quarters, and as such its value as a military fortification has been doubted. Though the moat is a good barrier, the walls of the castle are not very thick, and there is only one line of defence (unlike a concentric castle). When it was built, early cannons were already in use, but castles were still valuable as bases for troops even if they were becoming more vulnerable to direct attack.

At the time of building, England and France were fighting the Hundred Years' War, which had started in 1337. The south coast of England, where Bodiam was to be built, was in constant threat of French invasion. The castle ostensibly defends the upper reaches of a river that was navigable to Bodiam in medieval times. But no invasion from France ever came and Bodiam was never involved in an official siege.

The castle was conveniently well positioned for the shipment of untaxed wool directly to northern Italy where contemporaries of Sir Edward like John Hawkwood had become successful mercenaries. With the collapse of the Florence-based Peruzzi Bank (bankers to Edward III), traditional finance for the export of wool was limited. And as Canterbury had lost the wool staple to the northern Kent port of Queenborough in 1368, opportunities for exporters of wool from East Sussex had been enhanced given an already hefty export tax of fifty shillings a sack.

Sir Edward died in July or August 1393 and the castle passed to his son, John, before eventually being inherited by Sir Thomas Lewknor and family in the late fifteenth century. During the centuries since its building, the castle was owned by a succession of powerful Sussex families, including the Bosvilles and the Tuftons, who purchased the castle in June 1623 from the Levett family[2], for whom the lane in front of the castle today is named.[3] After slighting in 1664 it fell into decay until the 20th Century, at one point its stones even looted by local builders.

The castle was acquired and restored by Lord Curzon and bequeathed by him to the National Trust in September 1926.


The reed beds and moat of Bodiam Castle are home to moorhens, chaffinches, mallards, and a singular Muscovy duck.

Popular culture

The picturesque castle has been seen in several films and videos. These include Monty Python and the Holy Grail , in an establishing shot identifying it as "Swamp Castle" in the "Tale of Sir Lancelot" sequence, the music video for Saxon's 1983 single "Power and the Glory", and the music video for Enya's song "The Celts". It also appeared in the Doctor Who episode "The King's Demons". Bodiam Castle was also used for the exteriors of Huntington Castle in the third season of Robin of Sherwood in the two-part episode "Herne's Son", and as an unnamed rural castle in Joe's Palace. The castle was also featured in several episodes of the cult ITV series Knightmare, being used as both a background setting and a VR background in which the dungeoneers walked in. The castle was also featured in an aerial shot in Mannheim Steamroller's "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen" video, often being shown on huge screens when on tour.


  1. ^ Sussex Archaeological Collections, Vol. XXXIX, Sussex Archaeological Society, Farncombe & Co., Lewes, 1894
  2. ^ Deed of Conveyance by Edward Glemham to John Levett of Bodiam Castle, Descriptive Catalogue of the Original Charters, Royal Grants, and Donations, Monastic Chartulary, Muniments of Battle Abbey Founded by King William the Conqueror, Thomas Thorpe, London, 1835
  3. ^ Bodiam and Its Lords, Mark Antony Lower, printed by John Russell Smith, London,1871


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