The Ruins of Pevensey Castle at Sundown
At the end of the third century the Roman province of Britain was suffering attacks from Saxon raiders. To counter this threat the Romans built a series of stone forts along the east and south coasts of England including at Pevensey in East Sussex. There were nine in all and were known as the ‘Saxon Shore Forts‘.
The Roman Fort
Built around AD 293 the fort at Pevensey was constructed on a peninsula that jutted out into coastal marshes. Unlike the normal ‘playing card’ shape of Roman forts, Pevensey was built in an oval shape to fit the contours of the peninsular.
The Romans named the fort Anderida and their records state that it was garrisoned by auxiliary units of the Roman Army. When the Romans left Britain in the early fifth century the fort was abandoned and not much seems to have happened until 491 when according to the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, invading Saxons massacred a number of Britons at the site.
The Norman Invasion
In September 1066 William, Duke of Normandy, landed at Pevensey and occupied the fort before moving on to defeat Harold at the Battle of Hastings. After the conquest William granted Pevensey to his half-brother Robert, Count of Mortain. He made a number of repairs to the largely intact Roman walls and built a small castle in the south-east corner constructed first of a palisaded bank and ditch and later in stone.
In 1088 the Count of Mortain and his brother, Odo, Bishop of Bayeux, rebelled against the new King, William II. William laid siege to the castle and after six weeks the rebel garrison surrendered when food supplies ran out.
The castle endured a second siege in 1147 during the civil war between Stephen and Matilda. Once again it was the King – Stephen – who did the besieging and once again the castle fell because of lack of food.
The Medieval Castle
During the first half of the 13th Century most of the towers and the walls that we see today were built and the castle would have been an impressive fortress. In 1264 Henry III was defeated by Simon De Montfort at the Battle of Lewes and a number of Henry’s supporters fled from the battlefield to Pevensey castle, pursued by Simon De Montfort’s son. The besiegers cut off the castle’s food supplies but this time the garrison was replenished by sea and the siege had to be abandoned.
The fourth and final siege occurred in 1399 in the reign of Richard II. The castle was held by Sir John Pelham a supporter of Henry, Duke of Lancaster, who had challenged Richard for the throne. While Sir John was away serving in the Duke’s army, Richard laid siege to Pevensey which was stoutly defended by Lady Joan Pelham, Sir John’s wife, until relieved.