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Hurstmonceaux Castle

URSTMONCEAUX was one of the latest built castles in England, being erected just before the period of embattled manor- houses; its name means the wood of the Monceaux, a Norman family who came in with the Conqueror, Hurst or Hyrst being the Saxon for wood. Sussex was rich in woods, therefore we find many places in this county ending in Hurst, and it is the name of one of the old Sussex families. The castle is built of brick, with copings of stone; and as bricks did not come into use till the fifteenth century, the date of its erection is tolerably certain. Two towers, eighty-four feet high, flank the entrance.

The corbels of the parapet are tolerably perfect, and it is altogether a fine ruin. Had it not been dismantled by its last owner, Thomas Lennard, Earl of Sussex, it might have remained to the present day as perfect as Warwick or Chirk Castles. But he sold it before his death, and the best materials were used about 1777, to build a manor house in the neighbourhood.

Hurstmonceaux was a castle in the days of the Conqueror, and never changed owners by purchase from that time till 1708, continuing always in one family, though, as we have seen, the castle was rebuilt in the fifteenth century. It is five miles from Pevensey, and seven miles southeast of Battle.

Hurstmonceaux Castle Sussex

From the Monceaux it came by marriage to the Fiennes, by one of whom the present castle was erected in 1440. He was created Baron Dacre in 1458. Of his grandson a sad story is told; unfortunately a true one.

The young Lord Dacre succeeded to his grandfather's property in 1525, when he was just seventeen years of age. His boy. hood had been neglected, for his father was a man of disreputable character, and had been once committed to the Fleet prison for harbouring felons; thus the poor lad had had bad examples from his earliest days, and had received very little education. He was, however, on his accession to the title, taken to court, and married, while yet very young, to a daughter of Lord Abergavenny.

Dacre was a handsome young man, with some attractive qualities. He was, probably, good-natured and liberal, but he was weak and easily led into mischief. His favourite companions were three gentlemen named John Mantell, John Frowdys, and George Roydon. These wild youths, with some others, devised what they probably considered a frolic. They resolved to hunt by moonlight, and their chase should be after the deer of their neighbour, Sir Nicholas Pelham, who lived at Laughton, a man of the highest reputation. The "joke " was arranged ten days before it was carried out, and then, in the moonlight, the idle young men started intent on their wild sport. But in the meadows near the river Cuckmere in Helling]y Wood. they encountered three men who were quarreling. One of them was a gamekeeper of Sir Nicholas Pelham's. He of course interfered for the protection of his master's property, and his companions, forgetting their dispute, sided with him. A fray ensued, in which the poor gamekeeper received such terrible injuries that he died in two days (May 2).

The huntsmen had been recognised by the men, however; and Lord Dacre, his three friends, and several others were arrested on the charge of murder. Lord Dacre was tried by his peers, found guilty, and sentenced to death. He was confined in the Tower, of which his intimate acquaintance and neighbour in Sussex, Sir John Gage, was constable. "On the 8th of June," says Holinshed, "the sheriffs of London were ready at the Tower, to receive the prisoner and lead him to execution on Tower Hill; but a gentleman of the Lord Chancellor's house came and in the king's name commanded to stay the execution till two in the afternoon, which caused many to think that the king would have granted him his pardon." But no reprieve arrived, and at three o'clock on that bright June day, the unfortunate young man was delivered by the Constable of the Tower to the sheriffs, who led him on foot between them to St. Thomas Waterings (near the second milestones on the old Kent Road), where he, Mantell, Frowdys, and Roydon, all died a disgraceful death.

As the slaying of the gamekeeper must have been unpremeditated, the crime could scarcely have been more than manslaughter; but the law was then extremely severe and pitiless. Archdeacon Hare thought that "the law was strained to convert Lord Dacre into an accomplice in the crime;" but documents exist that prove he had a fair trial.

Many persons in the neighbourhood were unjustly sought to be implicated in this sad affair, and Sir Nicholas Pelham was thought to have been severe and unjust in the matter; but there was no evidence of any ill-feeling on his part towards Lord Dacre. Mrs. Gore, in her tragedy of "Dacre of the South," represents him (Dacre) as the victim of the tyranny and jealousy of the knight; but this is a poetical fiction.

The truth is that the poor young man - he was not quite twenty-four when he died - was sacrificed to the follies and vices of his associates.

Gough, in his additions to Camden, describes the castle as it was then, with its three courts; its hall, chapel, and kitchen reached to the upper storey, and the oven in its bakehouse was fourteen feet in diameter. In the east corner of the foundation was an octagonal room, once a prison, with a stone post and iron chain in the middle of it. Stairs built wholly of brick, without any woodwork, led to the galleries, and in each of their windows was painted the wolf-dog, which was the ancient supporter of the family arms. A very picturesque and beautiful dwelling was Hurstmonceaux in the fifteenth century.

Archdeacon Hare was for some years Rector of Hurstmonceaux, and is interred in its quiet churchyard; his brother, who assisted him in writing the "Guesses at Truth, by two Brothers," sleeps near him. John Stirling was for a few months the Archdeacon's curate.

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Picturesque England - Matthew Spong 2004