William de Braose, 1st Lord of Bramber

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The early Norman church at Bramber was at the centre of a dispute between William de Braose and Fécamp Abbey.

William de Braose (or William de Briouze), First Lord of Bramber (died 1093/1096) was previously lord of Briouze, Normandy. He was granted lands in England by William the Conqueror soon after he and his followers had invaded and controlled Saxon England.

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Norman victor

De Braose was given extensive lands in Sussex[1] by 1073. He became lord of the Rape of Bramber[2] where he built Bramber Castle. De Braose was also awarded lands around Wareham and Corfe in Dorset, two manors in Surrey, Southcote in Berkshire and Downton in Wiltshire.[1] He became one of the most powerful of the new Lords of the early Norman era.

He continued to bear arms alongside King William in campaigns in England, Normandy and Maine in France.

He was a pious man and made considerable grants to the Abbey of St, Florent, Saumur and endowed the formation of priories at Sele near Bramber and at Briouze.

He was soon installed in a new Norman castle at Bramber, to guard the strategically important harbour at Steyning and so began a vigorous boundary dispute and power tussle with the monks from Fécamp Abbey, in Normandy to whom King William I had granted Steyning, brought to a head by the Domesday Book, completed in 1086.

Domesday squabble

It found that de Braose had built a bridge at Bramber and demanded tolls from ships travelling further along the river to the busy port at Steyning. The monks also challenged Bramber's right to bury people in the churchyard of William de Braose's new church of Saint Nicholas, and demanded the burial fees for themselves, despite it being built to serve the castle not the town. The monks then produced forged documents to defend their position and were unhappy with the failure of their claim on Hastings, which was very similar. The monks claimed the same freedoms and land tenure in Hastings as King Edward had given them at Steyning. Though on a technicality William was bound to uphold all aspects of the status quo before Edward's death, the monks had already been expelled 10 years before that death. King William wanted to hold Hastings for himself for strategic reasons and ignored the problem until 1085, when he confirmed their Steyning claims but swapped the Hastings claim for land in the manor of Bury (near Pulborough in Sussex). In 1086 the King William called his sons, barons and bishops to court (the last time an English king presided personally, with his full court, to decide a matter of law) to settle this. It took a full day, and the Abbey won over the baron, forcing William de Braose to curtail his bridge tolls, give up various encroachments onto the Abbey's lands, including a farmed rabbit warren, a park, 18 burgage plots, a causeway, and a channel to fill his moat, and organise a mass exhumation and transfer of all Bramber's dead to the churchyard of Saint Cuthman's Church in Steyning.[3]

A Norman dynasty founded

William de Braose was succeeded as Lord of Bramber by his son, Philip. William de Braose was present for the consecration of a church in his hometown of Briouze, whence the name de Braose originates, in 1093, so we know he was still alive in that year. However, his son Philip was issuing charters as Lord of Bramber in 1096, indicating that William de Braose died sometime between those dates.

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