Pevensey is a small village (1991 pop. 2,725) on the south-east coast of the county of East Sussex in southern England. It lies one mile back from Pevensey Bay, which has a shingle beach. There is no formal sea-front. This small area of coastline repeatedly played a key role in the history of England.
The village's history is tied to its famous castle. The castle at Pevensey was built between 300 and 340 by the Romans during a time when Britain was still part of the Roman Empire. At this time the south and east of the province Britannia were under constant attack from marauding barbarian tribes, namely the Jutes and Saxons. The south and eastern seaboards of Britannia were collectively known as "the Saxon Shore" and several large forts were built to defend it.
The fort was named Anderida by the Romans and was built on what was then an uninhabited peninsula of land rising above the coastal marshes. The sea washed over what is now Pevensey Marshes surrounding Anderida on three sides, so giving a safe and sheltered landing point. This marshy inlet of the sea, extending inland as far as Hailsham, was studded with small areas of high land which remained as islands at high tide so giving the place-names of Rickney, Horse Eye, North Eye and Pevensey. All are derived from the Old English word 'eye' meaning island.
When the Roman legion left Britannia in 408, the Romanised native Britons attempted to defend their island from attack. They were relatively successful until in 449, their High King - a shrewd politician but inept general called Vortigern - paid these same enemies to help him as mercenaries and attack his enemies in the north - namely the Picts. The Jutes (led by Hengist) were successful and were granted the island of Thanet in Kent for their troubles. However this plan backfired and the Jutes soon revolted and within ten years had captured London and thrown Britain into disarray.
Following the Jutish example the Saxons began invading Britain in earnest. In 491, a Saxon army led by Aelle landed on the south coast west of Kent and besieged Anderida. After an heroic battle the British defences were overrun and the entire garrison as well as scores of British refugees seeking shelter were massacred. The remaining Britons on the south coast either fled north in to the forests or by boat over the channel to found what is now called Brittany in France. Aelle then declared that land to be the Kingdom of the South Saxons - later called Sussex - and the old Roman fort of Anderida was burned and left derelict for 600 years. For a while the ruined castle was known by the Saxons as Andredceaster and the Weald of southern England which stretched 120 miles from Anderida to Dorset was named Andredsweald or the Forest of Andred.
In time the Saxons, eager to forget Britain's Roman history, renamed the ruined island Pefele (which means the Island of Pefe) which over the years developed into the modern spelling of Pevensey. While England became unified, the fort of Anderida at Pevensey remained abandoned and derelict until 1042, when an Anglo-Saxon noble (Harold Godwinson, Earl of Wessex - later King Harold II of England) established a strong point here, improving fortifications by digging ditches within the walls of the Roman Fort. The English army remained at the fort during the summer of 1066 before abandoning it to meet the invading Norwegians further north. When the Duke William the Bastard of Normandy invaded Sussex in September 1066 there were no defences at Pevensey or anywhere else on the south coast.
In 1066 at the ensuing Battle of Hastings on Senlac Hill, Duke William defeated the combined English armies led by King Harold II. In late 1066 the castle at Pevensey was occupied by the Normans. Much of the Roman fort remaining on the castle site is due largely to the work of Robert of Mortain (half brother to William the Conqueror), who was granted Pevensey Castle shortly after the Norman Conquest. De Mortain used the existing fort as the base for building his castle, carrying out only minor repairs to the walls forming the outer bailey, and building a new inner bailey at the eastern end.
A new gateway replaced the original main entrance to the southwest, and the east gateway was repaired. Other alterations made were mainly additions and improvements to existing structures within the original fort. An irregular, rectangular-shaped enclosure was created using part of the Roman wall and two bastions on the southeastern side. Shortly after the inner bailey was created, the rectangular stone keep was erected, incorporating part of the east curtain wall and a Roman bastion. Some time later, three more bastions facing the inner bailey were added to the keep.
The castle was besieged by William Rufus in the Rebellion of 1088 and during a period of civil war by the forces loyal to King Stephen (1135-1141). Simon de Montfort, on his way back from taking Lewes, besieged the castle in 1264.
During later times the ancient castle nearly did not survive. Queen Elizabeth I ordered the castle to be demolished but this was ignored and during the period of interegnum under Oliver Cromwell efforts were again made to destroy it but luckily only a few stones were removed. As late as 1942 small additions were made to the castle for the defence of Britain when it became a look-out over the channel for invading German warplanes during World War II.
Pevensey is famous for its beach based sailing club which attracts mariners from as far away as Markwick Terrace Hastings.
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