Environments of Change
Did you know that Herstmonceux Castle’s history and indeed its entire raison d’etre is linked to a climate change disaster?
We know that Herstmonceux was farmed from Anglo-Saxon times, throughout the Norman Conquest and until around the late 1300s. Records show that after the year 1250, global temperatures cooled dramatically due to an expansion of north Atlantic ice around the same time. For decades East Sussex was hammered with the most torrential rains and storms that battered the land, causing terrible floods. In 1341 for example, nearby Hooe lost 400 acres of farmland and in 1375 the whole of Herstmonceux was completely waterlogged, leading to grain shortages and famine. Scientists estimate that in total, the county of Sussex lost over 10,000 acres of arable land to the flooding.
For the peasants struggling to work the remaining land in Herstmonceux, the decision to build the Castle in 1440 provided opportunities for work and an alternative livelihood. When Sir Roger Fiennes received permission from the crown to crenellate his manor, there was further good news when it simultaneously expanded the estate of Herstmonceux to 600 acres by royal decree. A massive enclosed, private deer park was created, providing a life-saving boost to the local economy, and essentially turning Herstmonceux Castle into a resort destination for the rich and famous of the day.
Environments of Change is an interdisciplinary research collaboration that uses Herstmonceux Castle and the surrounding area as a focus for some truly remarkable research. Cutting-edge technology, such as digital mapping and 3D modelling is being used to research how factors such as historical weather patterns, climate change, and access to water have shaped how humans lived.
Virtual archaeology is sure to play a major role in the future research plans and examples of what can be achieved can be seen here with this 3D model of the Castle.
Watch this brief reconstruction of Herstmonceux Castle from floorplans:
We sincerely hope the rest of the Castle community is as flattered as we are that our little corner of East Sussex is garnering such scholarly (and international) interest! It is hoped that the research carried out by Environments of Change will not only provide a better understanding of the history of Herstmonceux, but ultimately provide agencies with vital information concerning the history of climate change in Europe that can influence policy makers in the UK and EU.
In 2021, two Masters students from University of Waterloo, Canada (Erin Kurian and Jacqueline Gergal) working with Science Coordinator Dr Simon Coppard, produced two fascinating short videos on the Medieval Climate Optimum and the Little Ice Age from a Sussex perspective and a global perspective, respectively. We have links below: