The remains of a Norman castle on the banks of the River Adur, founded by William de Braose c. 1075. The earthworks are dominated by a towering wall of the keep-gatehouse.
The Domesday Survey mentions a castellum existing here, but no record shows when the stronghold was erected, and the nature of the earthworks formed would throw back the origin to a very early date. The Conqueror bestowed the manor, with forty other Sussex lordships, on one of the most important of his Norman barons, William de Braose (near Samur on the Loire), who likewise had Abergavenny and large possessions on the Welsh Marches. His immediate successor obtained leave to build a castle at Bramber, which was one of the six Norman fortresses that defended the six rapes into which Sussex was divided.
In 1208-9, at the time of the Papal interdict, King John, distrusting divers of his nobles, demanded hostages for their fidelity, and among the rest required from William de Braose, fourth baron of Bramber, that he should consign his children to the Royal tutelage. According to Matthew Paris, his wife, Maud, (‘ In T. Wright’s ” History of Ludlow,” it is said: ” Maud de St. Valeri (or de Haye), was one of the most remarkable women of her time, and no less active in the wars than her husband. At first she and her husband enjoyed the royal favour, and she on one occasion presented to the queen 300 cows and one bull, all of them white with red ears; and she boasted that she possessed 12,000 :milch cows.”) returned answer that she would never trust her children with a king who had basely murdered his own nephew, which saying being reported to John, he sent to Bramber to seize the whole family, who, getting notice of this, fled to Scotland, and, as some say, to Ireland. The more likely reason for John’s enmity was that Maud had undertaken to make payment of a large sum of money in liquidation of certain fines claimed against her husband, but had afterwards repudiated the debt. Then follows a horrible story which is variously told, but, as quoted from the account given by a contemporary writer, in strong Norman dialect, printed in France in 1844 (by the Societe de I’Histoire de France) runs thus : “Fleeing from John, they came to the Isle of Man, and then to Scotland, where they were taken and sent to the king. He ordered them to be inclosed in a room in Corfe Castle, with a sheaf of wheat and a piece of raw bacon for their only provisions. On the eleventh clay their prison was opened, and they were found both dead. The mother was sitting upright between her son’s legs, with her head leaning back on his breast, whilst he was also in a sitting position with his face turned towards the ground. Maud de Braose, in her last pangs of hunger, had gnawed the cheeks of her son, then probably dead, and after this effort she appeared to have fallen into the position in which she was found.” In this version only the mother and son are given, the common story being that all the family were shut up and starved, two sons alone escaping, as well as Braose himself, whom Stowe affirms to have been as notable for his ferocity as for his power, and who, fleeing to France, died there the next year (1212). They are usually said to have been immured in Windsor Castle, but it is less likely that the tyrant should have perpetrated the crime there than in a remote place like Corfe, which castle he had already chosen for another of his atrocities, in the murder of twenty-two French nobles and knights in 1203. (See CORFE, DORSET.)
Braose himself is accused of the commission of a terrible crime in Wales, but there is scanty evidence of the truth : he is said to have beguiled Sitfylt of Dimswald and several other powerful chiefs to a feast at his castle of Abergavenny, and to have there murdered them, after which he went to Sitfylt’s house and there slew his only surviving son, in the presence of the mother, and then set fire to the building.
Having got rid of the family, as he thought, King John laid hands on their estates, and gave Bramber to his second son Richard, Earl of Cornwall, but before his death he found it politic to restore a part of the lands to Reginald de Braose, one of the sons who, on the accession of Henry III., obtained complete restitution of the family estates.
In the reign of Edward II., William de Braose-the last of his line—dying in 1324, gave Bramber with his daughter Aliva in marriage to John, the son of Roger de Mowbray, of Norfolk, who, joining the party of Thomas, Earl of Lancaster, against the Spensers, was deprived of his lands and beheaded at York in 1322. Edward III., however, restored them, and they, with the castles of Bramber and Knepp, continued in this family till the death of John, Duke of Norfolk, at Bosworth Field, when, being escheated to the Crown, they were conferred on Thomas, Lord de la Warr. They are now again the property of the Duke of Norfolk.
The castle, a few miles N. of Worthing, stands on high ground on what was in early times a sort of promontory overlooking the estuary of the Adur, and vessels of considerable burden could come up thus far. The tide also must have come to Bramber, as. there were salt-pans for making this condiment beneath the castle walls. But what was then water is now meadow and marsh land, while the sea is visible in the far distance.
There is but little left of the Norman structure which, by the disposition of the fragments remaining of its outer wall on the W. side, seems to have been adapted to the circumvallation of an ancient earthwork, whose mound, or burh, remains on the castle platform. These walls, formed of large and small stones and pebbles from the sea-beach, laid in very thick masses of mortar, have been built round the edge of the embankment, or rather escarpment, outside which the ground falls in the large and very deep ditch surrounding this wall, now thickly wooded ; outside this ditch was another strong and high earthen rampart at a much lower level, from which the ground level is reached. There is no gatehouse, but the entrance is at the S. end of the work, which is an oval of about 560 feet by 280, and near it remains a large portion of a lofty tower, which has been the dwelling house and keep in one ; it is 40 feet square and about 70 feet high, was once filled by three timber floors, and from it some notion can be formed of this fortress of Braose. It was probably never inhabited by an owner after the death of the last William de Braose, though enough remained of it in the seventeenth century to allow of a Royalist garrison holding the place, which, in consequence, was demolished after the Civil War. The masonry has been very fine, dating about 1095, and in the upper storey is an exceedingly noble window. (Castles Of England, Sir James D. Mackenzie, 1896)