Pevensey Castle in the village of Pevensey in East Sussex began life as a Roman shore fort. The shore fort was constructed in the late 3rd Century to help protect Roman Britain from Anglo-Saxon raids. The fort formed part of a series of forts the Romans built in Britain around this time. The roman name for the fort was Anderitum.
The fort was abandoned in about 410 when the Romans left Britain. From then on until the Norman invasion of Britain in 1066, the fort seems to have fallen into decline, with it being used by the local populas as a settlement. The walls of the Roman fort would go on to be used as the walls of the outer bailey of the later castle and can still be seen at the castle to this day.
In September 1066, it was at Pevensey that William, Duke of Normandy, later William I, King of England, landed with his forces to conquer England. It was also at Pevensey that William constructed his first castle in England. The first castle was constructed out of wood, and was built within the much earlier walls of the Roman shore fort. It was from Pevensey that William left to confront King Harold II, who reigned January to October 1066, at the Battle of Hastings.
After William’s victory at the Battle of Hastings, he granted Pevensey to his half-brother Robert, Count of Mortain. Robert had fought with William at the Battle of Hastings and was granted many manors in England due to his loyal service. It is thought that it was Robert who started the refortitification of Pevensey. Robert built several other castles in England including Berkhamsted in Hertfordshire and Tremanton in Cornwall.
At this time, the Roman walls that would form the walls of the outer castle bailey were repaired. The earlier fortification that William had constructed was made permanent, with it becoming the inner bailey of the new castle.
In 1087, William I died leaving the throne to his son William II (also known as William Rufus – 1087-1100). During the rebellion of 1088, Pevensey Castle was attacked by William’s forces as it was held by Robert of Mortain who supported William’s brother’s, Robert Curthose who had been left the duchy of Normandy by his father, claim to the English throne.
After a six week seige, the castle garrison surrendered as they were running short of provisions. Robert, Count of Mortain was allowed to keep the castle by the king, though he had to pledge an oath to William.
After Robert’s death in 1090, the castle passed to his son William, who became Count of Mortain and took possession of Pevensey. In 1104, the castle was taken back by the crown, with as well as other lands William owned in England. Henry I (1100-1135) was now the king, and granted Pevensey Castle to the de L’Aigle family who held the castle until the Anarchy.
In the 1140s Pevensey Castle was granted by King Stephen to Gilbert de Clare, Earl of Pembroke. In 1147, King Stephen besieged the castle after Gilbert had declared his support for the Empress Matilda. King Stephen’s forces weren’t able to take the castle by force. Instead, it took the garrison running out of supplies to bring the castle to submission.
After the seige, the ownership of the castle was taken on by the crown. It was held by King Stephen’s son, Eustace, until his death in 1153. After King Stephen’s death in 1154, Henry II (1154-1189), returned control of the castle to the de L’Aigle family.
During this period of ownership, substantial rebuilding of the castle in stone was undertaken. It is thought that the keep may date from this time, though no exact date for the construction of it is known. The keep may in fact date from an earlier period.
In the first half of of the 13th Century, the ownership of the castle would pass between the crown and several different families.
During the First Barons War (1215-1217), King John (1199-1216), had the castle slighted in order to ensure that the castle didn’t fall into the hands of the forces of Prince Louis of France who had invaded on the invitation of the said barons to claim the English throne.
In 1246, the Henry III (1216-1272), granted Pevensey to Peter of Savoy, the queen’s uncle. It is most likely that during Peter’s tenure at the castle that much of the inner bailey that can be seen today at the site was constructed. This inner bailey takes the form of an enclosure castle.
Duing the Second Barons War (1264-1267), the castle provided shelter to the forces of the king in who had been defeated at the Battle of Lewes in May 1264. Simon de Montfort’s (the Earl of Leicester) forces besieged the the castle but were not able to take it.
After the seige, the castle would remain in the hands of the crown for most of the following century. In 1372, the castle was granted to John of Gaunt, the son of Edward III of England (1327-1377).
In 1399, the constable of the castle was Sir John Pelham. He was a supporter of Henry Bolingbroke (John of Gaunts son), later to become Henry IV (1399-1413). Due to his support for Henry, Richard II’s (1377-1399) forces besieged the castle.
Sir John had gone to fight with Henry and had left the castle under the control of his wife, Joan. Ultimately, the seige was unsuccessful and Henry Bolingbroke seized the English throne. For his loyal service to Henry, Sir John was granted estates in Sussex as well as Pevensey Castle.
In 1415, King James I of Scotland (1406-1437) was held at the castle on the orders of Henry V (1413-1422). James had been captured by pirates while travelling to France in 1406. Out of his 18 years of captivity, he was held at Pevensey for one year.
Over the next century, the castle declined so that by about 1500 it had become ruinous and it was abandoned.
During the Tudor periodin a gun emplacement was built at the castle, though no major structural changes were made to it.
Over the next centuries the castle passed between the ownership of various different families. In 1925, the Duke of Devonshire gifted the castle to the state. The ruins were consolidated at this time.
During the Second World War (1939-1945), the castle was used as a command and control centre and a radio direction centre. It was used by the British, Canadians and the Americans. There were modifications made at this time, including the addition of pillboxes, machine gun emplacents and others types fortification.
At the end of the war, the castle was returned to use as a tourist attraction and today is managed by English Heritage and is open to the public.