Highways and Byways in Sussex - online book

An illustrated appreciation, of the most interesting districts in Sussex.

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being William de Warenne, who had claims upon William the Conqueror, not only for services rendered in the Conquest but as a son-in-law. When, therefore, the contest was over, some of the richest prizes fell to Earl de Warenne. Among them was the township of Lewes, whose situation so pleased the Earl that he decided to make his home there. His first action, then, was to graft upon the existing fortress a new stronghold, the remains of which still stand.
Ten years after the victory at Hastings the memory of the blood of the sturdy Saxons whom he had hacked down at Battle began so to weigh upon de Warenne's conscience that he set out with Gundrada upon an expiatory pilgrimage to Rome. Sheltering on the way in the monastery of St. Per, at Cluny, they were so hospitably received that on returning to Lewes William and Gundrada built a Priory, partly as a form of grati­tude, and partly as a safeguard for the life to come. In 1078, it was formally founded on a magnificent scale. Thus Lewes obtained her castle and her priory, both now in ruins, in the one of which William de Warenne might sin with a clear mind, knowing that just below him, on the edge of the water-brooks, was (in the other) so tangible an expiation.
The date of the formation of the priory spoils the pleasant legend which tells how Harold, only badly wounded, was carried hither from Battle, and how, recovering, he lived quietly with the brothers until his natural death some years later. A variant of the same story takes the English king to a cell near St. John's-under-the-Castle, also in Lewes, and establishes him there as an anchorite. But (although, as we shall see when we come to Battle, the facts were otherwise) all true Englishmen prefer to think of Harold fighting in the midst of his army, killed by a chance arrow shot into the zenith, and lying there until the eyes of Editha of the Swan-neck lighted upon his dear corpse amid the hundreds of the slain.
The de Warennes held Lewes Castle until the fourteenth century; the Sussex Archaeological Society now have it in their
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