The castle was built in the mid-fifteenth century as a luxurious private home to reflect the wealth and status of its owner, Sir Roger Fiennes. Dismantled internally in 1776 when it was considered too expensive to repair, the castle was the haunt of smugglers for a time and eventually a popular ivy-clad ruin during the Victorian era. By the mid-1930s it had been fully restored and was once again a sumptuous private dwelling. The castle and its estate were sold to the Admiralty after WWII and became the home of the Royal Greenwich Observatory for more than forty years. In 1993, the estate was gifted to Queen’s University in Canada by a wealthy and grateful former student, Dr Alfred Bader and now functions as their UK campus as well as being a very popular visitor attraction.
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The name Herstmonceux is derived from both Saxon and Norman origin. ‘Herste’ is a Saxon word indicating a wooded hilltop. By the end of the 12th century, there was already a well-established manor where the castle now stands. The lady of the manor, Idonea de Herste married a Norman nobleman named Ingelram de Monceux. Over time the manor became known as the Herst of the Monceux and then eventually Herstmonceux.  Upon the death in 1330 of the last male Monceux to own the manor, it passed to the Fiennes family through the marriage of Maud Monceux to Sir John Fiennes. It was their great grandson Sir Roger Fiennes who built Herstmonceux Castle after he fought alongside Henry V in France, including the Battle of Agincourt in 1415, and then became Treasurer to the household of Heny VI. As a consequence, Sir Roger became a very wealthy man, enabling him to build Herstmonceux Castle as a magnificent, fortified home.


Herstmonceux Castle picture

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Castle Legend

The legend of the Headless Drummer
The most famous ghost of Herstmonceux Castle is the Headless Drummer who is said to walk the ramparts at night beating his drum. Some accounts say that he was killed at the Battle of Agincourt in 1415 and his body returned to Herstmonceux but there is another version of the story. An elderly Lord Dacre once lived in the castle with his beautiful young wife. He dressed in a drummer’s uniform and appeared in different parts of the castle in order to frighten off any of his wife’s lovers or suitors. The constant drumming made his wife very angry and eventually she locked him in a room and left him to die. Unfortunately for her, the sound of his drum could still be heard, frightening her lovers away.