The Mighty Arundel Castle


Arundel Castle, located in the town of Arundel in West Sussex, has stood proudly next to the River Arun since the 11th century.  Originally built by Roger de Montgomery, Earl of Arundel, it has since descended through some of the most powerful families in English history including the d’Albinis and the Fitzalans in the 13th century and then the Fitzalans and the Howards in the 16th century.   It has been the ancestral seat of the Dukes of Norfolk for over 850 years and is currently occupied by Edward Fitzalan-Howard, the 18th Duke of Norfolk and his family.

The old motte and bailey.
The old motte and bailey.

Originally built as a motte and bailey castle in 1068, the 100 feet high motte still stands, surrounded by a dry moat.  The second oldest feature is the gatehouse, which dates from 1070.  The stone shell keep placed high upon the motte was built by William d’Albini II to strengthen deferences.  Upon his death in 1176 the castle reverted back to the crown, whereupon Henry II greatly extended and improved the building.


The Howards of Arundel, from the 15th to the 17th centuries, were one of the most powerful and prominent families in England.  One of the most famous members was Thomas Howard (1473 – 1554). Thomas was a ruthless character, determined to raise the fortunes of his family, and as uncle to both Anne Boleyn and Catherine Howard (both Queens to Henry VIII) he succeeded in doing so.  Thomas was instrumental in securing the marriages and enjoyed a considerable rise in power and status as a result.  He managed to weather the wrath of the King when Anne and Catherine were subsequently accused of adultery and executed.  Despite being sent to the Tower on numerous occasions he was never severely punished and always succeeded in being restored to his original position of power. However, eventually the King’s patience waned and Thomas was sentenced to death, from which he was only saved because Henry VIII died the night before his execution.

Another famous member of the Howard family was Lord Howard of Effingham, who successfully repelled the Spanish Armada in 1588, with Sir Francis Drake.


During the Civil War (1642-45), the castle was besieged twice.  First by the Royalists who managed to take control and then later by Cromwell’s Parliamentarians led by William Waller.  Consequently, the castle was severely damaged, but nothing was done to restore the building until 1718 when the 8th Duke (1683-1732) commissioned James Gibbs to supply plans for restoration.  It was not until the 11th Dukes (1746-1815) occupation that further restoration took place.

The Royal visit of 1846 prompted the 13th Duke to make further alterations in preparation for the three day visit of Queen Victoria and her husband, Prince Albert,  The Duke commissioned the complete remodelling of the Queens’ apartment, including a complete refurnishing, commissioning finest Victorian furniture and a portrait of the Queen herself.  The Royal visit was a great success.


The final phase of restoration was carried out by the 15th Duke (1847-1917), during which the main purpose was to modernise.  As a result Arundel was one of the first country houses in England to be fitted with electric light, comprehensive fire fighting equipment, central heating and even service lifts.  The 16th Duke (1908 – 1975) nearly signed over his family’s magnificent castle to the National Trust, but he died before such plans were finalised. The 17th Duke cancelled the negotiations with the National Trust and set up an independent charitable trust to ensure Arundel Castle’s continued survival throughout the 21st century.

The Inner Court.
The Inner Court.

Arundel Castle is open to the public and is such a treat to visit.  It’s impressive structure cannot fail to impress. The extensive layers of history are neatly interwoven into the very fabric of the building.  Whether you are interested in the medieval knights of old, or the sieges of the Civil War, or the lavishness of the Victorian interior, there is something for you. The gardens, which have been open to the public since 1854, are a delight to explore.  And of course, one must not fail to visit the Fitzalan Chapel, founded in 1380, located within the eastern end of the church building.

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