Herstmonceux Castle

Herstmonceux Castle is located in East Sussex. The site of the castle was originally the location of a manor house until a castle was built in its place in the 15th century.

The most notable feature of the Herstmonceux castle is that its external façade is entirely built with bricks, making it one of the oldest and among the rare few brick buildings in England.

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The original structure underwent significant ruin and demolition in subsequent centuries and today, only the exterior of the original structure remains while the interior has been repeatedly modified and renovated in 19th and 20th centuries.

History of Herstmonceux Castle

At the time of the Norman Conquest of England, the castle was the site of a manor house. After the conquest, the lady of the manor house married a Norman nobleman towards the end of the 12th century whereby the manor was renamed ‘Herst of the Monceux’, later turning into Herstmonceux.

Norman Conquest of England

The modern-day castle was originally built later in 1441 when the lord of the manor became Henry VI’s Treasurer.

The castle passed to the hands of a Lincoln’s Inn lawyer in 1708. The interior of the castle was demolished on the whim of its owner in the late 18th century and it remained a ruin until renovated in the 20th century. It became the site of the Royal Greenwich Observatory in 1957 and is the site of Queen’s International Study Center today.

Herstmonceux Castle Location

Herstmonceux Castle is located in East Sussex near the village of Herstmonceux.

Herstmonceux Castle Official Website

Herstmonceux Castle Timeline

In the early 12th century, the site of the castle had a manor house at Herst. Later, the lady of the castle married a Norman nobleman named Monceux at the end of the 12th century. In 1441, the reigning lord of the manor decided to construct a castle at the site, with the permission of the king.

The owner of the castle in 1541, Sir Thomas Fiennes, fell out of favour with Henry VIII and was hanged. The estate passed to royal possession although it eventually reverted to Fiennes’ descendants. It was sold to a lawyer named George Naylor in 1708.

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In 1777, the final gasp of the original structure came when the interior of the castle was demolished while the exterior walls were left intact. It then remained in ruins until restored in the 20th century.

What Type of Castle is Herstmonceux?

The original castle was built with an eye to residential comfort. Sir Roger Fiennes, who had the castle built, expended a considerable sum to have it constructed as a brick building. The structure’s overall nature was that of a residential palace rather than serving any defensive purposes.

It briefly became a royal castle during the reign of Henry VIII.

Herstmonceux Castle *Interesting Features

The most interesting thing about the Herstmonceux castle is that it is a brick building. At the time of its construction in the 15th century, the use of bricks in England was fairly rare and unusual. Even more interesting is the fact that despite being a brick building, at least a part of the original brick construction still stands to this day, something which can’t be said of many other brick structures.

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Herstmonceux Castle Construction

The castle is built using brick and the exterior is finished in green sandstone. All along the exterior walls of the castle, and at each of the corners, octagonal towers line the building. These towers, in turn, are set up with machiolated battlements on top.

The castle is surrounded by a huge moat which serves more of a decorative than defensive purpose. A brick bridge is built over this moat which then connects to the main building of the castle at a grand gatehouse. Another gate apart from this main entrance is located in the northern wall of the castle.

Herstmonceux Castle Size

The castle is surrounded by a vast area of parks and gardens. The gardens of the castle are estimated to span an area of 148 hectares.

Herstmonceux Castle Defences

Since the Herstmonceux castle wasn’t constructed as fortification structure, no effective defenses were added to it. The castle’s architecture includes many defensive features but all of them serve a decorative and ornamental purpose.

This includes the large moat which adds to the scenic beauty of the castle and the towers and battlements on top of these towers, which were never used and were never meant to be used for defence. The castle never came under any attack and was not actively involved in any notable military action throughout its history.

Herstmonceux Castle Fame

The castle is famously associated with Sir Thomas Fiennes who was involved in a poaching incident. He apparently poached King’s deer and was responsible for the death of a gamekeeper. This ultimately resulted in his own death after being convicted as a commoner.

Another notable association with this castle is that of Robert Hare-Naylor. He was responsible, on the whim of his wife, for ordering the demolition of most of the original interiors, leaving only the external structure extant. Another claim to fame of the castle is that it was used as the site of the Royal Greenwich Observatory and hosted the Isaac Newton Telescope for many years.

Herstmonceux Castle Summary

Herstmonceux castle was the site of a manor house at the time of the Norman Conquest. Later a Norman lord named Monceux came in possession of it from whom the place derived its name as ‘Herst of Monceux’, later becoming Herstmonceux.

In the 15th century, a descendant of the Monceux’s, Roger Fiennes, became King’s Treasurer. He then had a castle built in the place of the manor. The notable thing about the castle is its brick construction and highly decorative exterior.

The castle remained in the Fiennes family until the early 18th century when it passed to the Naylor family. Later in the century, a Naylor descendant had the interior of the castle demolished. It lay in ruins until the 20th century when it was renovated and fitted up for use as Royal Observatory.