The ancient Saxon name for Lewes was Hlaew. During the Middle Ages the nearby River Ouse was navigable right up to the town. In fact several islands could be seen on the port side, on a ship’s approach to Lewes, as reported by an early trader. Thus it was once an important and well established trading port.
By 1069 William de Warenne had built a motte and bailey castle here but with a difference, it had a second motte within the bailey known as Brack Mount. Each motte was topped with a timbered tower. As far as we know, there are only three other castles with two mottes, Lincoln, York and possibly The Tower of London.
Sometime during the 12th century both towers were rebuilt in stone as shell keeps, also at this time the crenelated curtain walls and fortified gatehouse were constructed in stone. Sadly there isn’t any information available on the builders who worked here.
1264 the castle played an important role in the Second Barons’ War, in the Battle of Lewes when Simon de Montfort, 6th Earl of Leicester became the un-crowned King of England, capturing King Henry III and his son Prince Edward, later to become Edward I. One of the conditions of the King’s release, was to sign the Mise or Settlement of Lewes. This was to set up a council of knights, often viewed as the first House of Commons (this document is now lost). During this period considerable work was carried out; the building of two semi-octagonal towers to the shell keep as well as the construction of a gate tower.
A century later saw the building of the barbican with its tall gatehouse and narrow arched entrance. After the death of John de Warenne, 8th Earl of Surrey in 1347 the property went to the Earls of Arundel who’s neglect left the castle to decay.
Later in about 1387 the citizens of the town rioted and plundered the castle for building materials.
During the Civil War Parliamentary troops demolished much of the castle but
the keep we see today was spared.
It is now the property of Sussex County Historical Society and is open to the public.
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