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Chichester's Motte and Bailey Castle

by Pat Saunders & Amy Roberts

By Pat Saunders, Volunteer and Amy Roberts, Collections Officer at The Novium Museum

Shortly after the Norman Conquest of England by Duke William II of Normandy (later known as William the Conqueror) in the 11th century, Roger de Montgomerie, the 1st Earl of Shrewsbury, ordered the construction of a castle at Chichester. Roger de Montgomerie came from an area of France between Caen and Rouen. He was a favourite and distant relation of William the Conqueror, and although did not fight himself in the initial invasion of England, Roger was entrusted with governing Normandy whilst William was away.

In 1067 William the Conqueror had confiscated the estates and treasures of King Harold and his two brothers, which amounted to much of Sussex. Roger was bestowed the rapes and towns of Chichester and Arundel by William and was given the titles of Earl of Shrewsbury and Earl of Arundel. In all Roger received 157 manors or lordships from William the Conqueror originating from the counties of Wiltshire, Surrey, Hampshire, Middlesex, Cambridgeshire, Herefordshire, Gloucester, Worcestershire, Warwickshire and Staffordshire.

Roger was considered no more savage than any of his fellow Normans. He was praised by monks as a person of great piety and benevolence. He gave the south western quarter of Chichester to Stigand (first bishop of Chichester) when the King ordered all Cathedral Churches to be removed from villages to cities or burghs.

The Castle at Chichester was one of 11 fortified sites to be established in Sussex before 1100. The Rape of Chichester, a subdivision of Sussex, was administered centrally from the castle, which had been placed in the north east corner of the city and was protected by the City Walls. The castle was of timber construction, and a motte and bailey design. Motte and bailey castles were fortifications introduced into Britain by the Normans. They comprised a large conical mound of earth or rubble, the motte, surmounted by a palisade and a stone or timber tower. In a majority of examples an embanked enclosure containing additional buildings, the bailey, adjoined the motte.

Roger did occasionally reside in Chichester although his home castle became that at Arundel. The Normans built castles in positions that deliberately slighted a part of a Saxon town as an exercise in power and not necessarily for defensive reasons.

Roger died in 1090 - three days before his death he'd taken holy orders at Shrewsbury Abbey and "was honourably buried in the church of that monastery".

 By 1142 Chichester castle had its own chapel. It was garrisoned by up to twenty troops who usually had enough non-perishable food (such as cured bacon) to withstand a siege.  Ownership of the castle transferred to the Earls of Sussex in the period 1154-1176, after which it passed into possession of the Crown. Early in the 13th century, Chichester Castle was utilised as a court and prison. In 1216, the castle, along with many others in southern England, was captured by the French. This was part of the First Barons' War against King John of England. In the spring of the following year the castle was recaptured by the English. As a result of its vulnerability that same year, Henry III ordered the castle's destruction. Between 1222 and 1269, Richard, 1st Earl of Cornwall, gave the site to the order of Greyfriars and a friary was built for their use, the remains of which are known as the Guildhall. The remains of the motte are still visible today in Priory Park today and the motte is protected as a Scheduled Monument. In 2011, due to health and safety concerns the Motte was surrounded by heras fencing and a schedule of works for improvement were undertaken in 2013 in consultation with the District Archaeologist and Historic England. Unmanageable and dangerous undergrowth and hard surfacing was removed and the mound was restored to something of its 'natural' appearance by the addition of soil, turf and wild flowers.