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Bodiam Castle.

Bodiam castle in Sussex was the creation of one combative egotist, and it owes its preservation to another. The builder of Bodiam was an ambitious retired war veteran and future councillor of Richard II, Sir Edward Dallingridge. Its saviour five-and-a-half centuries later was that 'most superior person', the Marquess Curzon of Kedleston, Foreign Secretary and one-time viceroy of India.

Sir Edward Dallingridge's castle -- graceful, noble and proud -- appears the very epitome of the medieval stronghold. Essentially it consists of a single oblong-shaped courtyard rising from a broad moat. All the domestic and garrison accommodation is disposed around the four walls of the interior. In the west range are the servants' hall and kitchen, in the south the main hall and service rooms, and in the east the chapel and the private chambers of the lord and lady. Defensive panoply is concentrated in the four cylindrical corner towers and, above all, on the great gateway on the north side.

The elegance and symmetry of the design cast an immediate spell over Lord Curzon, who made something of a speciality of buying up and preserving ruined late-medieval castles. In addition to Bodiam, he acquired Ralph, Lord Cromwell's great fifteenth-century tower-keep at Tattershall, Lincolnshire, which he also left to the National Trust. Tattershall and Bodiam between them have attracted a great deal of scholarly attention over the years. The two structures come from the tail-end of the history of castle-building in England -- Tattershall, indeed, almost represents its final flourish. Together they raise similar questions about the role and function of the late-medieval castles. Were these places conceived principally, as their appearance suggests, as defensive structures: as fortresses? Or were they regarded as primarily residential? Were the battlements and machicolations there merely for show?

The answer to these questions in the case of Tattershall is a simple one: the military dressing was obviously for show, for the castle is built of brick. The battlemented parapets and projecting turrets look convincing enough from a distance; and there is even a machicolation gallery corbelled out to create the overhang necessary for missile holes. But the place could never have withstood a siege; nor was it ever intended to. Lord Cromwell's aim here was not to provide himself with the means of defence; it was rather to impress. Tattershall was a status symbol: a visible ensign of his lordship and a mark of his power as Henry VI's Lord Treasurer.

The case of Bodiam, however, is more difficult. Not only is Bodiam, unlike Tattershall, built of stone; externally, it is much more forbidding. The emphasis appears to be primarily on defence. The windows are mostly small; and provision was made in the design for the use of ordnance. It seems evident that the architect had more than a nodding acquaintance with the latest military planning. The single-courtyard plan that he adopted was one of the most fashionable of the time. It was adopted in a number of other mid- to late-four-teenth-century castles, notably those of Shirburn, Oxfordshire and Maxstoke, Warwickshire. Very likely a model was provided by the magnificent castle of Villandraut in Gascony, built in the early 1300s for Pope Clement V, which Dallingridge may have seen in the course of his career in arms.

A glance at the defences of Bodiam seems to support the idea that military considerations were uppermost in its design. The castle is ringed by a broad moat, which on its northern side was nearly 200 feet across. This would have provided a partial, if not a totally, effective counter to the destructive power of the siegeengines. On the northern, entrance, side, a series of elaborate approaches is concentrated on the gatehouse. In front of the gate is a barbican, isolated on an island in the moat, and connected to the castle by a removeable bridge and causeway. Flanking the gate itself is a pair of massive rectilinear towers joined by a deep arch crowned by a parapet. Below the parapet is a set of machicolations through which missiles could be dropped on besiegers. In the groundand first-floor chambers keyhole gunports were pierced. It is interesting to note that the gunports were angled to the north-west. When the castle was built, access to the gate was via a causeway which led from the northwestern shore to a platform in the middle of the water and then due south to the barbican. Any force attempting to break in would thus have been exposed to lethal fire from the defenders through the gunports.

The view of Bodiam as a convincing fortress is supported, in addition, by the traditional view of the circumstances of its construction. Bodiam was built in the mid- to late-1380s. In October 1385, Edward Dallingridge had secured a licence to crenellate from the king entitling him to 'strengthen with a wall of stone ... and construct and make into a castle his manor house at Bodiam, near the sea in the county of Sussex, for the defence of the adjacent county and resistance to our enemies'. The wording of the licence suggests that the castle was conceived as part of a general plan for national defence. Since 1369 the English had been engaged in a particularly bitter and closely fought stage of the long-running war with the French; and the French had gained the upper hand. As a result of the exchequer's shortage of money, the navy was run down and the Channel ill patrolled. The French and their Castilian allies, who had galleys, were harrying the coast with impunity. In June 1377, Rye and Folkestone were burned and a landing was made at Rottingdean. A month later there was a major descent on the Isle of Wight. In 1380 Winchelsea was sacked and there were attacks on other towns along the coast. Not surprisingly in the light of these disasters there were calls for the government to take action.

In the late-1370s and early-1380s a series of defensive initiatives was taken. At Portchester Castle a tower known as Ashton's tower was built and provision made in it for gunfire, and at Southampton a great cylindrical tower keep was built. At Canterbury, Archbishop Sudbury was instrumental in having a new western gate into the city built. Initiatives were also taken by members of the local gentry and nobility. John, Lord Cobham obtained a licence to crenellate his manor-houses of Cooling on the north coast of Kent in 1381 and Hever, inland, in 1383. Sir Roger Ashburnham, a neighbour of Dallingridge's, rebuilt and fortified Scotney (NT) in the early 1380s. And Archbishop Courtenay erected a mighty gatehouse in the curtain wall at Saltwood around the same time. The rebuilding of Bodiam can thus be fitted into the wider pattern of the remilitarising of society in the southeast in the later fourteenth century.

The case for seeing Bodiam as a real or genuine castle is thus, on the surface, a powerful one; and it has been supported by many distinguished authorities on medieval military architecture. However, it has not gone unchallenged. Recently there has been a growing tendency among scholars to stress the symbolic and deliberately archaising elements in castle building. Battlemented exteriors are seen not so much as providing a means of defence, as conveying messages about power and authority; posterns and gatehouses, it is suggested, were built largely, if not entirely, for show. In the light of these new lines of thought, how are the defences of Bodiam to be interpreted? Can they, in reality, be considered genuinely effective?

Closer examination of the structure of Bodiam reveals a number of weaknesses that are not immediately apparent. On the eastern and southern sides of the castle are four large mullioned windows, one illuminating the chapel and three the hall, which could easily have been shattered by cannon. At intervals around the perimeter there are smaller bevelled lights close enough to moat level to be within easy reach of a boat. In the postern gate on the south side the entrance passage and archway are singularly ill defended: there is no evidence of chain-holes, pivots or a pit, and the portcullis and wooden door (both now lost) were evidently thin.

Higher up, the battlemented parapets of the walls are effectively only screens. Exactly a foot thick, they are made up of large single blocks stood on edge; and furthermore, no archery-loops are found in the merlons. Scarcely more effective were the 'watch-turrets' on the towers, which in reality are only heads to the stairwells. In the main gateway, which was superficially the strongest point on the perimeter, the pair of upper keyhole gunloops, so carefully angled to the north-west were largely ineffective: their sills being horizontal, the near approaches are entirely out of sight.

Most revealing of all, however, is the inadequacy of the water defences. The great moat, though as big as a lake and seemingly so impressive, was contained only by a weak earthen embankment. It has been calculated that a channel could have been cut through the embankment in less than a day by half-a-dozen labourers using picks, shovels and spades. Very likely the ease with which it could be broken was intentional. Since there was no through-flow of water, frequent cleaning would have been needed to scour out the sewage which would have collected. Certainly there is little reason to suppose that the moat posed a serious challenge to an attacker.

The inadequacy of the defences raises serious doubts about the view of Bodiam as a convincing fortress. A host of defensive-looking features was included; but their only function could have been to serve as display. From the earliest times there had been an element of display in the building of castles, but at Bodiam this seems to have become a consideration that over-rode all others. Christopher Hohler has characterised Bodiam as 'an old soldier's dream house'. Certainly Bodiam was a 'dream house' in the sense that it was grandly conceived and showily appointed. But there was nothing in the least 'dreamy' or wistful about its conception. Dallingridge built the place with a clear purpose in mind: to draw attention to his importance in society. He was a man deeply preoccupied with matters of rank and of position in the local pecking-order. An examination of his career shows us why.

Edward Dallingridge was a scion of a lesser gentry family of the Sussex weald. The family's holdings were small, consisting chiefly of a few parcels of land at Dalling Ridge, near East Grinstead. The rise of the family in the fourteenth century owed much to a series of lucrative marriages, contracted over a couple of generations. The first of these was the marriage of John Dallingridge, Edward's father, to Joan, daughter and co-heiress of Sir Walter de la Lynde, which brought into his possession the manor of Bolebrook in Sussex and a moiety of that of Laceby, Lincolnshire.

In the next generation, Roger, probably John's eldest son, substantially added to the family lands by marrying Alice Radingden, another co-heiress; by this match he acquired the manor of Sheffield in Fletching -- now better known as Sheffield Park (NT) -- and four other manors. On Roger's death without issue in 1380 these estates passed to his brother, Edward. Edward, in the meantime, had already added to the family's possessions by marriage. In 1364 his father had contracted an alliance between him and Elizabeth, daughter and heiress of Sir John Wardieu of Bodiam. Wardieu died in 1377, and Edward then entered into his wife's inheritance. This was an ample one, consisting of the manors of Bodiam and Hollington in Sussex, a number of properties in Kent, and the manors of Sywell, Hannington and Arthing-worth in Northamptonshire.

Dallingridge quickly sold off the outlying midland manors and made his principla residence at Bodiam. In later years he bought up a number of other properties in Sussex, and by the time of his death in 1393 he was one of the richest landowners in the county. It is hard to say what income he enjoyed from land, but it could hardly have been short of [pound]200-[pound]300 per annum -- five or six times the threshold for knighthood.

While feathering his nest at home, Edward Dallingridge was simultaneously seeking fame and fortune abroad. The middle and later years of the fourteenth century were a period of almost uninterrupted warfare in Europe, and Edward, in common with many of his rank, played an active role in it. He was a member of the Earl of Arundel's retinue in Edward III's great expedition to Paris in the winter of 1359-60. He probably participated in Sir Robert Knolles' expedition of 1369-70. He served under Sir Edward Despenser on a number of expeditions in the 1370s, notably in 1373 in the 'great chevauchee' that John of Gaunt led from Calais to Bordeaux. Finally, in 1387 he served under Arundel's son, the 2nd Earl Richard, when the latter attacked and destroyed the Flemish fleet at Cadzand. In the intervals between these expeditions, he also saw service in Italy. In 1367 he went to Milan in the retinue of Lionel, Duke of Clarence, and it seems probable that he went to Italy again in 1370, when he obtained privileges from Pope Urban V.

In the course of his career in arms he forged a number of valuable connections with members of the higher nobility. The most durable of these was the connection with the house of Arundel. He regularly served under the two earls, father and son, and the younger earl delivered him from prison when he fell foul of John of Gaunt. He also became a trusty dependent of Sir Edward Despenser of Tewkesbury, whom he served in the office of executor. And, in addition, he was handsomely fee'd by John, Duke of Brittany, who held lands in east Sussex and visited the county when in exile. Partly as a result of these many connections he was able to rise rapidly up the hierarchy of local office-holding. From 1377 he was regularly appointed a commissioner of array in Sussex, with responsibility for local defence. In 1379 he was named a collector of taxes, and in the following year he became a JP. Throughout the 1380s he was regularly returned as a member of parliament for Sussex.

At the height of his career Dallingridge was therefore a major figure in east Sussex society. In a sense he found himself filling the role normally occupied by a magnate. Until the middle of the fourteenth century there had been two magnate families resident in Sussex -- the Fitzalan earls of Arundel at Arundel in the west, and the earls of Warenne and Surrey at Lewes in the east. In 1347, however, the last of the Warennes had died without issue, and his estates had passed to his nephew, Richard, Earl of Arundel. Thereafter, there was no resident magnate in the eastern half of the county; in political terms, there was a vacuum. This was a source of considerable inconvenience to the local gentry, who lacked a patron to sponsor them and to broker the flow of royal patronage and favour. Dallingridge, after retiring from the wars and settling down, seems in effect to have taken on the role of broker himself. He had every qualification to do so: he was wealthy and well connected; and he had easy access to the government and court. He seems to have entered into his new role with relish. He formed a small, magnate-style, affinity centring on Sir Thomas Sackville, his son-inlaw, and Sir Philip Medsted; and he vigorously exercised his rights of lordship. When John of Gaunt, who had recently been awarded lands in the county, decided to challenge his ascendancy, he reacted with fury. He disrupted the duke's Hundredal Court at Hungry Hatch and began a campaign of intimidation against his officials. In 1384 he was prosecuted by Gaunt for his offences and found guilty, but a little later he was released on Arundel's initiative and his influence in the county was undiminished.

It is perfectly plausible to suppose that the building of Bodiam, which was begun around this time, was conceived as a response to Gaunt's challenge. Certainly the castle provides a commentary on Dallingridge's ambitions. The place is bold, self-confident and proud -- just as Dallingridge himself was. It can be seen as an affirmation in stone of the knight's power and pretensions. The battlemented facades and the clustered array of turrets and towers might, perhaps, give the impression to the unsuspecting that it was built to serve the needs of local defence, but it is clear that this could never have been the case. What Bodiam was about was politics -- and status. Building this coup de theatre was Dallingridge's way of saying that he had arrived.

A particular significance attaches to the fact that Dallingridge chose a new site for the castle. The low-lying platform close to the river was not where the lords of Bodiam had always lived: the manor-house of the Wardieus had been higher up, near the church. Dallingridge moved away from this site for a number of reasons. In the first place, he wanted to make his own distinctive mark on the locality: for new lordship called for a new setting. Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, he conceived of the castle as the centrepiece of a much larger set of projects. A likely clue to his intentions is given by a licence that he obtained from the king in February, 1386, entitling him to divert a watercourse from 'Dallingridge's bay' in Salehurst to power his water mill at Bodiam. The watercourse referred to was the River Rother, adjacent to which the new castle was sited. Dallingridge's intention was evidently to channel the stream by a higher route than the old to power a new mill just to the south-east of the castle platform. A 'bay', or dam, was built at Long Brook in Salehurst, and a channel quickly cut. By July 1386 Dallingridge was entering into agreements with neighbouring landowners to make provision for the channel's maintenance. And probably around this time, too, the mill pond itself was dug.

The undertaking of these works shows that in settling at Bodiam Dallingridge had in mind a far grander vision of lordship than has previously been acknowledged. A foretaste of his ambitions had been afforded a couple of years earlier by a licence which he had obtained from the king entitling him to hold a market and a fair at Bodiam. This initiative seen in combination with the others -- altering the river course and building the castle -- suggests an intention of making Bodiam a focalpoint for the surrounding area: in effect, a lordship-seat, surrounded by lakes, a model village and profitable mill ponds, which anticipated by over three centuries the landscape-management of a mansion-setting associated with Capability Brown.

Bodiam is thus a castle which affords an unusual number of insights into the ambitions and plans of its builder. It need not be supposed that Dallingridge was actually the architect of the place: a master mason (the name of Henry Yevele has been suggested in this connection) would have been called in to do that. But there can be little doubt that the ideas that he provided were the key influence on its conception. The bravura and the eclat, the pride and overweening self-confidence of the castle are all in some measure attributable to him.

In analysing Bodiam's structure and design it is possible to savour something of the man's character. Dallingridge, like many of his knightly peers, was a man who lived by the code of chivalry: the law of arms. When he was challenged by Gaunt, he is said to have thrown down his gauntlet and demanded trial by battle. Bodiam belongs to this world of gestures. It has been characterised as a 'castle of chivalry'. Chivalry was an ensemble of gestures and posturing; and Bodiam can be seen as a piece of posturing itself. Charles Coulson's characterisation of the castle can hardly be bettered: it is, as he so rightly says, a splendid piece of 'tongue-in-cheek bluff'.

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The most comprehensive history and description is Lord Curzon, Bodiam Castle, Sussex (London: Cape, 1926). For modern analysis see C. Coulson, 'Some Analysis of the Castle of Bodiam, East Sussex', in Medieval Knighthood, IV, edited by C. Harper-Bill and R. Harvey (Boydell, 1992). For the diversion of the river see C. Whittick, 'Dallingridge's Bay and Bodiam Castle Millpond' Sussex Arch. Collns., 131 (1993).
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Title Annotation:Sussex, England
Author:Saul, Nigel
Publication:History Today
Date:Jan 1, 1995
Previous Article:Avebury.
Next Article:The Guildhall, Lavenham.

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