Edward Dallingridge: Builder of Bodiam Castle
By Dan Spencer
Ex Historia, Volume 6 (2014)
Introduction: Bodiam Castle, one of the most visually striking medieval castles in England, is situated in East Sussex on the river Rother, near Robertsbridge. In 1385 Sir Edward Dallingridge (c.1364-1393) was licensed to ‘strengthen with a wall of stone and lime and crenellate and construct and make into a castle his manor house at Bodyham [Bodiam], near the sea in the county of Sussex, for defence of the adjacent county and resistance to our enemies’. This licence was issued at a particularly turbulent time in English history. England faced the threat of invasion from France and internal conflict during the reign of Richard II. However, interpretations of the function and purpose of the castle have been deeply divisive in the field of castle studies over the course of the last two decades. In the absence of documentary sources, with the exception of the licence to crenellate, attention has focused on the architectural evidence for the castle. The traditional view, as characterised by Thompson, is that Bodiam Castle was built to provide protection for the nearby coastal towns of Rye and New Winchelsea, which were navigable from Bodiam via the river Rother.
However, since the 1990s, a new consensus on castle studies, particularly following from the work of Charles Coulson, using the evidence of licences to crenellate, claims that castle architecture in the Late Medieval Period was primarily motivated by symbolism and status. In his view, Bodiam has weak defensive features, such as an easy-to-drain moat, badly situated gunports, and thin walls, with the military themed architecture intended to convey a ‘message of power and deterrence’ through the studied exaggeration of features of defensive origin. In Coulson’s opinion, Dallingridge was a newcomer to the area, who needed to compensate for his lack of pedigree; by constructing a magnificent looking castle he was able to promote his wealth and social standing. This interpretation is contested by Platt, who stresses that Bodiam Castle was intended to serve a military purpose, but other authors, such as Creighton and Liddiard, have sought to move away from the ‘war or status’ debate.