William De Braose constructed the castle c1070, along with the Norman church, on a natural mound and most of the surviving masonry dates from this time. Except for a period of confiscation during the reign of King John, Bramber Castle remained in the ownership of the De Braose family until the line died out in 1324. During Norman times the coastline would have been much further inland, and at high tide the water would have reached the castle walls.
Despite very little surviving, the basic layout of some areas of Bramber Castle can still be identified. The most prominent feature is a large, rugged lump of stone, all that remains of the Gatehouse tower. Still standing to almost its full height, a single window, and some floor joist holes, are clearly visible within the structure. Beyond the Gatehouse are the existing foundations of what is believed to have been living quarters and a guardhouse. The dressed pillars of an entrance can be made out, but the bulk of the remaining walls now consist of only the basic rough stone infil, the better quality dressing stone having long since been quarried away for use elsewhere. Lying to the north of the gatehouse is the original castle motte, its earthen mound rising to a height of some 30 ft (10 m). A short distance away is a section of the curtain wall and, again, this survives to a reasonable height, up to 10 ft (3 m) in places.
Little is known of Bramber Castle's history and even records kept during the Civil War only mention a 'skirmish' in the village c1642. The church suffered quite badly as a result of the Cromwellian guns being set up in the transepts, where they afforded a better vantage point to fire on Bramber Castle.
Although there is not much to see among the fragmentary ruins, the site does have a wonderful setting, and is obviously enjoyed by the local population around this quiet Sussex village. The lawned areas in the bailey are well maintained, mature trees have transformed the motte into a pleasant shady glade, and the moat now provides a perfect path around the castle perimeter from which to view the site.
There is also a small church (still in use today ) located directly next to the castle's entrance, which used to be a chapel for the castle's inhabitants.
At the general survey of the country in William the Norman's reign, it was ascertained that Bramber belonged to William de Breose, who possessed also forty other manors.
The family were left in possession of their estates by the service of ten knights' fees to the Crown. But in John's tyrannical reign the troubles of the owners of Bramber Castle began. In the year 1203 the anger of the barons began to find voice, and John, alarmed at the symptoms of disaffection, required hostages of them.
William de Breose was one of the suspected nobles, and John demanded his children as hostages for his fidelity. The lady of Bramber was more frank than prudent. When her husband sternly refused to send his children to the king, she added that "she would not trust her children with the king who had so basely murdered Prince Arthur, his kinsman." The imprudent words were carried back to John, who never forgave them. He ordered the family to be seized ; but his creatures came too late to execute his orders-the De Breoses had fled to Ireland.
They had, however, only escaped for a time. The tyrant king caused them to be followed, and at length succeeded in having them seized, and sent to him. They were taken to Windsor, and shut up together in a room of the castle-the whole family (save one)-and were there starved to death by John's order. The imagination of Dante only could picture such a scene of horror as that must have been ; the agony of the mother, who must have blamed herself for their misfortunes; the stern grief of the father; the tears and complainings of the children. John's hideous reign scarcely supplies a fellow-horror to this one.
One son, William de Breose, who was married and had a son, escaped and fled to France ; but when he learned how all his dear ones had perished, he lost courage, and died shortly afterwards.
John had previously taken possession of his estates, and given them to his son Richard; but he restored Bramber to William's son Reginald, the last of his family.
John, the heir of Reginald, died by a fall from his horse in Henry III's reign, and that sovereign's brother took charge of the castle till the infant heir was of age, when it was restored to him.
Bramber devolved at length to the Mowbrays, but was forfeited to the Crown when John de Mowbray was executed for treason, having joined the nobles against the Spencers, the favourites of Edward II.
It was restored by Edward III. to his son, who had followed his liege to the French wars.