After the Norman King, William I's (The Conqueror) victory against the Saxon King, Harold at Hastings in 1066, he gave Arundel, together with the rapes of Chichester, which consisted of some 60,000 acres of land, to one of his most trusted advisors, Roger de Montgomery. De Montgomery subsequently built a castle at Arundel from which he commanded the surrounding area.
The castle, possibly built on the site of an old Saxon fort, has a very colourful history. In 1094 de Montgomery's son, Hugh died without an heir while his brother, Robert de Belesme, had the castle confiscated by King Henry I after having rebelled against him. Over the next 450 years or so the castle passed into the hands of the d'Aubigny family and by marriage to the Fitzalans and finally in 1555 to the Norfolks. The castle has been held by the Norfolks ever since. The Norfolks are one of the noblest families in Britain and the Duke of Norfolk holds the post of Earl Marshall, among whose duties is the organisation of the coronation and other state events.
Because of the castle's strategic position it has been besieged several times notably by King Henry I in 1102, by King Stephen in 1139 and by the parliamentary army in 1643 during the English Civil War between King and Parliament during the mid 17th century. The last of these sieges inflicted particular damage to the castle after the parliamentarians placed a canon on the nearby church of St Nicholas to weed out the castle's royalist defenders. As such of the original buildings from the Montgomery period only the gatehouse remains. The shell keep built by King Henry II in the late 12 th century on top of the motte also remains. Thus, what is seen of the castle today are largely reconstructions made by Charles the 11 th Duke at the end of the 18th century and Henry, the 15 th Duke, at the end of the 19th century. This does not, however, take away from the splendour of the castle, which overlooks the town of Arundel like something out of a fairytale.
The interior and grounds of the castle are very impressive. The Baron's Hall is as long as a football pitch and adorned with paintings by masters such as Holbein, Van Dyck, Reynolds and Gainsborough. Similarly impressive are the Grand Staircase with its heraldic beasts bearing shields and the Dining Room with its splendid and ornate furniture. The castle is set in over 1000 acres of parkland to which the public has unrestricted access. The 16 th Duke established the tradition of having visiting test cricket teams from abroad play their first match in the grounds against a select Duchess of Norfolk team.
The highlight of the parkland is Swanbourne Lake, a popular picnic area, where it is also possible to go boating. A little way from the lake lies an open area of lakes and meadows from where a huge range of tame and wild water foul can be observed. In mid August the castle and other venues in Arundel play host to the annual Arundel Festival that offers the visitor a wonderful insight into English country life.
More Historical Sites to visit in Sussex:
- Fishbourne Roman Palace
- Battle & Battle Abbey
- Bodiam & Bodiam Castle
- Hastings Castle
- Waverley Abbey