The rape of Chichester: Introduction

A History of the County of Sussex: Volume 4, the Rape of Chichester. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1953.

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'The rape of Chichester: Introduction', in A History of the County of Sussex: Volume 4, the Rape of Chichester, (London, 1953) pp. 1-2. British History Online [accessed 5 March 2024]


There are very good reasons for believing that immediately after the Conquest King William gave to Earl Roger of Montgomery the whole of West Sussex, (fn. 1) that is to say the half of the county west of the River of Shoreham (the Adur, to use its modern name), corresponding to the ecclesiastical division of the Archdeaconry of Chichester. This constituted 'the Rape of Earl Roger' and centred upon Arundel where he established his castle. The term 'Rape', applied to the divisions of Sussex in and after 1086, is usually presumed to be derived from the Anglo-Saxon rap, (fn. 2) a (measuring or delimiting) rope, and it is just possible that this word was already in use for some kind of territorial division, perhaps for East and West Sussex, though there is absolutely no evidence of this. At some date before 1086 an additional Rape had been formed for William de Braose, with its centre at his castle of Bramber, at the expense of Earl Roger to the west of the Adur and of William de Warenne to the east. (fn. 3) At the time of the Domesday Survey (1086) the Rape of Earl Roger covered what formed later the Rapes of Arundel and Chichester. In the Survey there is no trace of any castle at Chichester, the first known reference to one being in 1142; (fn. 4) so it is probable that this castle (an essential feature of a Rape as originally constituted, apparently) was built by Henry I after Earl Roger's son Robert de Bellesme forfeited his estates in 1102. Nor does the Survey suggest any jurisdictional division between the two later Rapes: the order in which the Hundreds (fn. 5) are entered being—Singleton (C), Dumpford (C), Easebourne (C), Rotherbridge (A), Westbourne (C), Stockbridge (C), Manhood (C), Easwrith (A), Poling (A), Bury (A), Avisford (A), Box (C). William de Aubigny, who acquired the honor of Arundel by his marriage with Adelize, widow of King Henry I, was styled indiscriminately Earl of Arundel or Chichester, or of Sussex after 1156, when Henry II gave him the 'third penny' of the issues of the county and confirmed to him the franchises belonging to 'the honor and castelry (or Rape) of Arundel', (fn. 6) of which the knights' fees were scattered over West Sussex.

As late as 1248 when the Justices on circuit held the 'Pleas of the Crown', (fn. 7) which were recorded under Hundreds, while these were duly grouped under their several eastern Rapes, the Hundreds in the (later) Rapes of Arundel and Chichester are jumbled together. Moreover, in 1237 a return was made that William de Picheford held 'in the Rape of Arundel in the Hundred of Box' land called la Grave [Groves in Oving] of the king's gift. (fn. 8)

It seems, therefore, that before 1250 there was no such entity as the Rape of Chichester. For the 'Pleas of the Crown' in the Eyre of 1262 the Hundreds are definitely grouped according to the Rapes of Arundel and Chichester, the latter group being headed 'Bailiwick (Balliua) of Chichester'; (fn. 9) and in the Hundred Rolls of 1275 the Rape of Chichester makes its first appearance by name. It would seem likely that the creation of this new division was connected with the partition of the estates of Hugh de Aubigny, the last Earl of Arundel of his line, between his coheirs after his death in 1243. While John FitzAlan acquired Arundel, Robert de Mohaut obtained the overlordship of the twelve fees constituting the honor of Halnaker, and certain other estates in the neighbourhood. The unity of overlordship being thus lost, it may have appeared convenient to divide this district into two separate Rapes more consonant with those in the eastern parts of the county. Of any orders given or measures taken to bring this about no trace has been found.

The boundary between the Rapes of Chichester and Arundel started on the coast at the small stream dividing the parish of Pagham from that of Felpham; it ran roughly due north, except for a divagation eastwards to include the parish of Slindon, which was a peculiar of the Archbishop of Canterbury and therefore attached to his Hundred of Pagham. Once established it remained unaltered, the only change in the contents of the Rape being in 1844, when the long narrow strip constituting North and South Ambersham, till then a detached part of the parish of Steep and county of Hampshire, was annexed to Sussex. (fn. 10)


  • 1. Suss. Arch. Coll. lxxii, 20–9.
  • 2. It is at least as likely that it derives from the Old Norse reip, a rope. It is said that when Rollo acquired Neustria (Normandy) 'suis fidelibus terram funiculo divisit' (Suss. Arch. Coll. xv, 150, quoting Guillaume de Jumièges). Ducange gives funiculus (literally 'a little rope') as meaning a division of land.
  • 3. Suss. Arch. Coll. lxxii, 20–9.
  • 4. The 'priest of the castle' is mentioned in that year: Liebermann, Anglo-Norm. Geschichtesquellen, 95. The chapel of the castle is mentioned in 1192: Pipe R. Soc. N.S. ii, 204.
  • 5. The letters (A) and (C) indicate the Rape. of Arundel and Chichester.
  • 6. W. Farrer, Honors and Knights' Fees, iii, 7, 8.
  • 7. Assize R. 909.
  • 8. Feud. Aids, v, 618. The compiler of the Index, missing the significance of this entry, points out that Box Hundred is in the Rape of Chichester.
  • 9. Assize R. 912.
  • 10. Under the Parliamentary Boundaries Act of 1832 (3 Wm. IV, c. 64) the Ambershams were to be considered as part of Sussex for election purposes; by the Counties (Detached Parts) Act of 1844 (7 and 8 Vic. c. 61) they became part of Sussex for all civil purposes; but it was not until 1890 that they were transferred, by Order in Council, from the diocese of Winchester to that of Chichester.