On 18thJuly 1545, a French fleet led by the High Admiral Claude d’Annabant attacked the south coast of England. He was rather miffed that the English had just captured the port of Boulogne and was after revenge. At Portsmouth, Henry VIIIs ship “Mary Rose” had promptly sunk as it tried to engage them. Further down the coast the French attacked Hove, Brighton and Meeching (now Newhaven) before coming ashore here in Seaford Bay, where they “set certain soldiers on land to burn and spoil the country”. But us Sussex folk ‘will not be druv’ and were having none of it and a local militia was gathered by Sir Nicholas Pelham (1515 -1559) of Lewes.
One chronicler said “the beacons were fired and the inhabitants thereabouts came down so thick that the Frenchmen were driven to fly with loss of diverse of their numbers, so that they did little hurt”. Another account says the French were “met with such manful resistance… they were fain to betake themselves to their ships and galleys and to retire with considerable loss to their own side”
It is estimated that 1,500 Frenchmen landed and they burnt half a dozen cottages at “Blechington Hille” before they were repulsed by Pelham’s rag-tag army which consisted of local townsmen, gentry and yeoman who were presumably getting fed up with the regular incursions by the French, who had been attacking the Sussex coast since the 14thcentury.
It is not recorded how many Sussex men lost their lives in this skirmish, but over a hundred Frenchmen were either killed or drowned. The local people were relieved by this victory and Sir Nicholas became a local hero. The area where the attack had taken place was named after the Pelham symbol and is still to this day known as ‘The Buckle’ and a pub of the same name stood here for many years.
Pelham’s memorial in St Michael’s church in the High Street, Lewes shows him at prayer with his wife Anne Sackville above his children all kneeling on cushions. The memorial is in the form of a Tudor pun “What time the French sought to have sack’t Seafoord, this Pelham did repel them back aboord”
But why the buckle? According to family tradition, an ancestor of Sir Nicholas, Sir John Pelham was present at the Battle of Poitiers in 1356 and, after he captured the sword of the King of France, was given the sword’s strap as a memento. Another theory why the buckle became a Pelham symbol is that he was made ‘a Knight of the Household and Royal Sword Bearer’ in October 1399. In any case, the buckle soon replaced the pelican on the family coat of arms and there are now buckles all over Sussex !