Cowdray Castle - once a great and
important building, now a curiosity linked to a strange
The Ruins of Cowdray Castle
at Midhurst, West Sussex
Most people associate the
name of Cowdray with polo, but it has long been a major estate on
the edge of Midhurst, West Sussex. The sombre ruins of the
original Cowdray Castle are clearly visible close to the town,
looking a little like the setting for a horror film.
The building of Cowdray
Castle started during the early 16th Century. In 1542, following
the Dissolution of the Roman Catholic Church, Henry the Eighth
awarded the castle to one Sir Anthony Browne, Master of the
Horse. This was a little strange since Browne was a staunch Roman
Catholic. Browne died in 1548.
Cowdray Castle saw its heyday in the time of Browne's son,
Sir Anthony Browne the Second. An important man in the court of
Queen Elizabeth the First, he was highly trusted by the Queen and
sent by her on missions overseas to act on her behalf. Browne
entertained the Queen at long parties held at Cowdray in her
honour, parties that lasted for days with great banquets and
But all was not well for - some might say - the family was living
on borrowed time.
At the time that the first Anthony Browne had been awarded
Cowdray he took control also of Battle Abbey (in East Sussex).
After razing many of the church buildings to the ground he
evicted the monks and, as a result, was cursed by the last monk
of Battle Abbey who said that his family line would perish by
fire or water.
Just over 250 years later in 1793 the 8th Viscount Montague,
descendant of the Browne family, was drowned in a boating
accident - trying to shoot a waterfall on the River Rhine. A week
later Cowdray burned to the ground, leaving the ruins we see
today. (An alternative account puts events in the other order -
that the house was burned down by workmen preparing for the
homecoming and wedding of Viscount Montague, and that he died
abroad one month later immediately after receiving a letter
telling him of the fire).
The Cowdray estate passed to the Viscount's sister who
married and had two sons. They were drowned in a boating accident
Coincidences - or something more?
This Memorial Temple lies in the Cowdray estate a short distance
outside Midhurst - at Benbow Pond on the road towards
Built in 2000, it was erected in memory of the late Viscount
Cowdray the Third.
It is surrounded by an arboretum, and public access will be
allowed once the arboretum has grown.