At the general survey of the country in William the Norman's reign, it was ascertained that Bramber belonged to William de Breose, who possessed also forty other manors.
The family were left in possession of their estates by the service of ten knights' fees to the Crown. But in John's tyrannical reign the troubles of the owners of Bramber Castle began. In the year 1203 the anger of the barons began to find voice, and John, alarmed at the symptoms of disaffection, required hostages of them.
William de Breose was one of the suspected nobles, and John demanded his children as hostages for his fidelity. The lady of Bramber was more frank than prudent. When her husband sternly refused to send his children to the king, she added that "she would not trust her children with the king who had so basely murdered Prince Arthur, his kinsman." The imprudent words were carried back to John, who never forgave them. He ordered the family to be seized ; but his creatures came too late to execute his orders-the De Breoses had fled to Ireland.
They had, however, only escaped for a time. The tyrant king caused them to be followed, and at length succeeded in having them seized, and sent to him. They were taken to Windsor, and shut up together in a room of the castle-the whole family (save one)-and were there starved to death by John's order. The imagination of Dante only could picture such a scene of horror as that must have been ; the agony of the mother, who must have blamed herself for their misfortunes; the stern grief of the father; the tears and complainings of the children. John's hideous reign scarcely supplies a fellow-horror to this one.
One son, William de Breose, who was married and had a son, escaped and fled to France ; but when he learned how all his dear ones had perished, he lost courage, and died shortly afterwards.
John had previously taken possession of his estates, and given them to his son Richard; but he restored Bramber to William's son Reginald, the last of his family.
John, the heir of Reginald, died by a fall from his horse in Henry III's reign, and that sovereign's brother took charge of the castle till the infant heir was of age, when it was restored to him.
Bramber devolved at length to the Mowbrays, but was forfeited to the Crown when John de Mowbray was executed for treason, having joined the nobles against the Spencers, the favourites of Edward II.
It was restored by Edward III. to his son, who had followed his liege to the French wars.
The castle became afterwards the property of John, Duke of Norfolk, and again brought ill fortune with it, as the superstitions of that age said.
For the Duke - the "Jockey of Norfolk" of Shakspeare's Richard III. - fell on Bosworth Field, and the castle and manor were forfeited again to the Crown, and were bestowed by Henry upon Thomas Lord Delaware and his heirs.
Bramber seems to have been always possessed by restless owners - in general opposed to the sovereign; only once taking the king's side, and that in the case of usurping, blood-stained Richard. It has long been reduced to a ruin, its remains overlooking the little picturesque village in which doubtless dwell far happier people than those who once owned the stately castle of Bramber.
There is an amusing anecdote in the life of Wilberforce illustrating the relation of members to the snug boroughs they held, and were supposed to represent. Travelling once in this direction, and struck probably by the picturesque ruin, he called the postboy and inquired the name of the place they were passing through.
"Bramber, sir," was the reply.
"Bramber, Bramber," said Wilberforce, recalling the name with an effort; "why, that's the place I'm Member for."
We cannot leave this beautiful Sussex without saying a word or two about its grand coast. From the white cliffs of Dover to the shores of Brighton and Bognor, it is watered by the sea of the Channel; here and there presenting a bolder front to the waves that roar and fret against its cliffs, as at Beachy Head, a grand headland that has seen many a storm and hostile fleet pass by it, when French, Spaniards, and Dutch have tried unsuccessfully to win in many a sea fight of past centuries the tight little island.