Sussex (; abbreviated Sx), from the Old English Sūþsēaxe ('South Saxons'), is an historic county in South East England corresponding roughly in area to the ancient Kingdom of Sussex. Clockwise, it is bounded to the west by Hampshire; north by Surrey, north-east by Kent, south by the English Channel and is divided for local government into West Sussex and East Sussex and the city of Brighton and Hove. Brighton and Hove was created as a unitary authority in 1997, and was granted City status in 2000. Until then, Chichester had been Sussex's only city.
Sussex has three main geographic sub-regions, each orientated approximately east to west. In the south-west of the county lies the fertile and densely populated coastal plain. North of this lie the rolling chalk hills of the South Downs, beyond which lies the well-wooded Sussex Weald.
The name 'Sussex' derives from the Kingdom of Sussex, founded by Ælle of Sussex in 477 AD, which in 825 was absorbed into the kingdom of Wessex and the later kingdom of England. The region's roots go back further to the location of some of Europe's earliest hominid finds at Boxgrove. Sussex has been a key location for England's major invasions, including the Roman invasion of Britain and the Battle of Hastings.
The appellation Sussex remained in use as a ceremonial county until 1974, when the Lord-Lieutenant of Sussex was replaced with one each for East and West Sussex. The whole of Sussex has had a single police force since 1968.
Finds at Eartham Pit in Boxgrove show that the area has some of the earliest hominid remains in Europe, dating back some 500,000 years and known as Boxgrove Man or Homo heidelbergensis. At a site near Pulborough called The Beedings, tools have been found that date from around 35,000 years ago and that are thought to be from either the last Neanderthals in northern Europe or pioneer populations of modern humans. The thriving population lived by hunting game such as horses, bison, mammoth and woolly rhinos. Around 6000BC the ice sheet over the North Sea melted, sea levels rose and the meltwaters burst south and westwards, creating the English Channel and cutting the people of Sussex off from their Mesolithic kinsmen to the south. Later in the Neolithic period, the area of the South Downs above Worthing was one of Britain's largest and most important flint-mining centres. The flints were used to help fell trees for agriculture. The oldest of these mines, at Church Hill in Findon, has been carbon-dated to 4500BC to 3750BC, making it one of the earliest known mines in Britain. Chalk from Cissbury has been found as far away as the eastern Mediterranean.
Sussex is rich in remains from the Bronze and Iron Ages, in particular the Bronze Age barrows known as the Devil's Jumps and Cissbury Ring, one of Britain's largest hillforts. Towards the end of the Iron Age in 75BC people from the Atrebates, one of the tribes of the Belgae, a mix of Celtic and German stock, started invading and occupying southern Britain. This was followed by an invasion by the Roman army under Julius Caesar that temporarily occupied the south-east in 55BC. Soon after the first Roman invasion had ended, the Celtic Regnenses tribe under their leader Commius occupied the Manhood Peninsula. Tincomarus and then Cogidubnus followed Commius as rulers of the Regnenses.
At the time of the Roman conquest in AD43, there was an oppidum in the southern part of their territory, probably in the Selsey region. A number of archaeologists now think there is a strong possibility that the Roman invasion of Britain in AD43 started around Fishbourne and Chichester Harbour rather than the traditional landing place of Richborough in Kent. According to this theory, the Romans were called to restore the refugee Verica, king of the Atrebates, who had been driven out by the Catuvellauni, a tribe based around modern Hertfordshire.
Sussex was home to the magnificent Roman Palace at Fishbourne, by far the largest Roman residence known north of the Alps. Much of Sussex was a Roman canton of the Regnenses or Regni, with its capital at Noviomagus Reginorum, modern-day Chichester. The Romans built villas, especially on the coastal plain and around Chichester, one of the best preserved being that at Bignor. Christianity first came to Sussex at this time, but faded away when the Romans left in the 5th century. The nationally important Patching hoard of Roman coins that was found in 1997 is the latest find of Roman coins found in Britain, probably deposited after 475 AD, well after the Roman departure from Britain around 410 AD.
The Anglo Saxon Chronicle records that in AD477 Aelle landed in Sussex with his three sons. Having fought on the banks of the Mearcredesburna, it seems Aelle secured the area between the Ouse and Cuckmere in a treaty. After Aelle’s forces seized the Saxon Shore fort of Anderida, the South Saxons were able to gradually colonise free of Romano-British control and extend their territory westwards to link with the Saxon settlement at Highdown Hill. Aelle was recognised as the first 'Bretwalda' or overlord of southern Britain. He was probably the most senior of the Anglo-Saxon kings and led the ill-fated campaign against King Arthur at Mount Badon.
By the end of the 7th century, the region around Selsey and Chichester had become the political centre of the kingdom. In the 660s-670s, King Aethelwealh of Sussex formed an alliance with the Mercian king Wulfhere and together they took the Isle of Wight from the West Saxons, probably at the battle of Biedanheafele. As Mercia's first Christian king, Wulfhere insisted that Æthelwealh also convert to Christianity. Æthelwealh was baptised in Mercia, with Wulfhere as his sponsor. Wulfhere gave the Isle of Wight and Meon Valley to Aethelwealh, with Wulfhere acting as overlord. The alliance with Mercia was sealed with Æthelwealh taking the hand of Eabe, a Mercian princess in marriage.
Wilfrid, the exiled bishop of York, came to Sussex in 681 and with King Æthelwealh's approval set up a mission to convert the people of Sussex to Christianity. Æthelwealh gave Wilfrid land on the Manhood peninsula, close to his own royal estate and Wilfrid founded Selsey Abbey. The mission was jeopardised when King Æthelwealh was killed by Cædwalla, a prince of Wessex. Cædwalla confirmed Æthelwealh's grant of land and Wilfrid built his Selsey Abbey. Cædwalla was driven out by the South Saxon nobles Berthun and Andhun.
The South Saxons fought off the West Saxons in 722 and again in 725. At the end of the 8th century, Ealdwulf was perhaps the last independent king of Sussex, after which Sussex and other southern kingdoms came increasingly under Mercian rule. Mercia's grip was shattered in 825 at the battle of Ellendun, after which Sussex and the other southern kingdoms came under the control of Wessex, which later grew into the kingdom of England.
Sussex was the venue for the momentous Battle of Hastings, the decisive victory in the Norman conquest of England. In September 1066, William of Normandy landed with his forces at Pevensey and erected a wooden castle at Hastings, from which they raided the surrounding area. The battle was fought between Duke William of Normandy and the English king, Harold Godwinson, who had strong connections with Sussex and whose chief seat was probably in Bosham. After having marched his exhausted army all the way from Yorkshire, Harold fought the Normans at the Battle of Hastings, where England's army was defeated and Harold was killed. It is likely that all the fighting men of Sussex were at the battle, as the county's thegns were decimated and any that survived had their lands confiscated. William built Battle Abbey at the site of the battle, with the exact spot where Harold fell marked by the high altar.
Sussex experienced some of the greatest changes of any English county under the Normans, for it was the heartland of King Harold and was potentially vulnerable to further invasion. The county was of great importance to the Normans; Hastings and Pevensey being on the most direct route for Normandy. The county's existing sub-divisions, known as rapes, were made into castleries and each territory was given to one of William's most trusted barons. Castles were built to defend the territories including at Arundel, Bramber, Lewes, Pevensey and Hastings. Sussex's bishop, Æthelric II, was deposed and imprisoned and replaced with and William the Conqueror's personal chaplain, Stigand. The Normans also built Chichester Cathedral and moved the seat of Sussex's bishopric from Selsey to Chichester. The Normans also founded new towns in Sussex, including New Shoreham (the centre of modern Shoreham-by-Sea), Battle, Arundel, Uckfield and Winchelsea.
In 1264, the Sussex Downs were the location of the Battle of Lewes, in which Simon de Montfort and his fellow barons captured Prince Edward (later Edward I), the son and heir of Henry III. The subsequent treaty, known as the Mise of Lewes, led to de Montfort summoning the first parliament in English history without any prior royal authorisation. A provisional administration was set up, consisting of de Montfort, the Bishop of Chichester and the Earl of Gloucester. These three were to elect a council of nine, to govern until a permanent settlement could be reached.
Sussex under the Plantagenets
During the Hundred Years War, Sussex found itself on the frontline, convenient both for intended invasions and retaliatory expeditions by licensed French pirates. Hastings, Rye and Winchelsea were all burnt during this period and all three towns became part of the Cinque Ports, a loose federation for supplying ships for the country's security. Also at this time, Amberley and Bodiam castles were built to defend the upper reaches of navigable rivers.
Early modern Sussex
Like the rest of the country, the Church of England's split with Rome during the reign of Henry VIII was felt in Sussex. In 1538 there was a royal order for the demolition of the shrine of Saint Richard, in Chichester Cathedral, with Thomas Cromwell saying that there was "a certain kind of idolatry about the shrine". In the reign of Queen Mary, 41 people in Sussex were burnt at the stake for their Protestant beliefs. Elizabeth re-established the break with Rome when she passed the 1559 Acts of Supremacy and Uniformity. Under Elizabeth I, religious intolerance continued albeit on a lesser scale, with several people being executed for their Catholic beliefs.
Sussex escaped the worst ravages of the English Civil War, although in 1642 there were sieges at Arundel and Chichester, and a skirmish at Haywards Heath when Royalists marching towards Lewes were intercepted by local Parliamentarians. The Royalists were routed with around 200 killed or taken prisoner. Despite its being under Parliamentarian control, Charles II was able to journey through the county after the Battle of Worcester in 1651 to make his escape to France from the port of Shoreham.
Late modern and contemporary Sussex
The Sussex coast was greatly modified by the social movement of sea bathing for health which became fashionable among the wealthy in the second half of the 18th century. Resorts developed all along the coast, including at Brighton, Hastings, Worthing, and Bognor. At the beginning of the 19th century agricultural labourers' conditions took a turn for the worse with an increasing amount of them becoming unemployed, those in work faced their wages being forced down. Conditions became so bad that it was even reported to the House of Lords in 1830 that four harvest labourers (seasonal workers) had been found dead of starvation. The deteriorating conditions of work for the agricultural labourer eventually triggered riots, first in neighbouring Kent, and then in Sussex, where they lasted for several weeks, although the unrest continued until 1832 and became known as the Swing Riots.
Railways spread across Sussex in the 19th century and county councils were given to Sussex's eastern and western divisions in 1889.
During World War I, on the eve of the Battle of the Somme on 30 June 1916, the Royal Sussex Regiment took part in the Battle of the Boar's Head at Richebourg-l'Avoué. The day subsequently became known as The Day Sussex Died. Over a period of less than five hours the 17 officers and 349 men were killed, including 12 sets of brothers, including three from one family. A further 1,000 men were wounded or taken prisoner.
With the declaration of the World War II, Sussex found itself part of the country's frontline with its airfields playing a key role in the Battle of Britain and with its towns being some of the most frequently bombed. As the Sussex regiments served overseas, the defence of the county was undertaken by units of the Home Guard with help from the First Canadian Army. During the lead up to the D-Day landings, the people of Sussex were witness to the build up of military personnel and materials, including the assembly of landing crafts and construction of Mulberry harbours off the county's coast.
In the post-war era, the New Towns Act 1946 designated Crawley as the site of a new town. As part of the Local Government Act 1972, the eastern and western divisions of Sussex were made into the ceremonial counties of East and West Sussex in 1974. Boundaries were changed and a large part of the rape of Lewes was transferred from the eastern division into West Sussex, along with Gatwick Airport, which was historically part of the county of Surrey.