by John | Jun 15, 2011 |

Framlingham Castle


Arriving at Framlingham Castle today we see the extensive remains of a magnificent 12th century stone enclosure. Built by Roger Bigod, Earl of Norfolk, and influential member of the court of Henry II, the castle, together with the Mere, was designed both as a stronghold and as a symbol of power and status.

The continuous curtain wall, an early example of this style, is flanked by thirteen open backed towers, crowned with Tudor chimneys, of which most are dummies. In the lower bailey stands the Prison Tower and a gatehouse with a spiral stairwell, both projecting from the curtain wall. A wide, deep ditch and a very large outer bailey encase the rest of the curtain wall. It is believed that there has been a fortification at Framlingham since the sixth century, and King Edmund is said to have met the Danes nearby in battle and after sought protection at Framlingham. Before Domesday Framlingham was held by Aelmer, a Thane, and consisted of 24 villagers with a total value of £16.

After Domesday, under Roger Bigod, it had risen to 32 villagers with a value of £36. Excavations for a drain at Framlingham in 1953 uncovered 25 skeletons, some with 8th century dress ornaments, which are thought to belong to the Saxon cemetery. The first Norman building was a classic motte and bailey castle of local timber. The earth would have been dug from the ditches and piled up on the inner side which were then faced and topped with timber palisading. Soon after the wooden structure was replaced with stone, making the castle both stronger and giving the local population a sure reminder of who was in charge. 

The first Bigod of any note was Robert le Bigod, who gained the favour of William the Bastard, Duke of Normandy, by informing him of the intended treachery of William, Count of Mortain. Robert held lands in Normandy and served Duke William as one of his seneschals. He is described at the Battle of Hastings as; "Small of body, but brave and bold, he assaulted the English gallantly".

His son, Roger is also believed to have served at Hastings. He was endowed with the forfeited estates of the Earl of Norfolk, Ralph de Guader after his downfall in 1074. In 1101 he was given the estates of Framlingham by Henry I. However Henry II confiscated all of Bigod's possessions. His son, Roger II, appealed with his mother on several occasions for the return of their inheritance. This was denied by Henry and the estates at Framlingham remained with the crown until Henry's death. 

On the succession to the throne of Richard Coeur de Lion in 1189, Roger Bigod II was taken into favour; the new King giving him the Earldom of Norfolk, and the stewardship of the royal household. It was around this time that the new castle at Framlingham was built. Roger Bigod second Earl of Norfolk was to remain loyal to Richard and in his absence from England on Crusade he supported the King's authority against the designs of Prince John. 

When John succeeded to the throne Bigod gained John's favour. Although it did not last, as in 1215 Bigod joined the confederate barons in a movement which resulted in the Magna Carta. Bigod was excommunicated and the following year King John attacked Framlingham Castle. After just 2 days Bigod and his men surrendered, the defeated garrison consisting of 26 Knights, 20 Men-at-arms, 7 crossbowmen, a chaplain and 3 others.

The Bigods had to wait until Henry III succeeded to the throne before Framlingham Castle was returned to their control once more. "With you, O King, I will gladly go; as belongs to me by hereditary right, I will go in the front of the host before your face" "And without me, you will go with the rest?" "Without you, O King, I am not bound to go, and go I will not" "By God, sir Earl, you shall either go or hang!" "By God, O King, I shall neither go nor hang!" "By God, sir Earl, you shall either go or hang!" "By God, O King, I shall neither go nor hang!" This is said to be the exchange in 1297 between Roger Bigod, fifth Earl of Norfolk, Marshall of England and King Edward I when the Earl refused to serve in Gascony, while the King fought in Flanders. Bigod did not go, nor did he hang, but on his death in 1307, all his estates passed to the crown with the end of the Bigod Earls of Norfolk.

In 1553, King Edward VI gave Framlingham Castle to his sister Mary. Her colours flew over the gateway and thousands of her supporters camped around the castle. It was at Framlingham Castle, a few months later, that she learnt she had been made queen and it was from here that Mary and her supporters marched to her coronation.
Ironically, Mary's successor, Queen Elizabeth, used the castle as a prison for priests who defied the new Church of England, before returning it to the Howards in 1613.
But the Howards preferred to live in Kinningham, Norfolk and the castle was leased and finally sold to Robert Hitchen in 1635. On Hitchen's death in 1664, much of the castle was pulled down including the great hall in order to build a workhouse; further buildings were pulled down in 1688. In 1729 a poorhouse was built in the grounds (now housing the Visitor Centre).

You can walk around the ramparts of Framlingham Castle from where there are fantastic views of the town and the Mere. Today, the imposing stone walls and crenellated towers with their ornate Tudor chimneys dominate, while the grassy earthworks around the castle are subdued reminders of busier times. An impressive audio guide is available. Well worth a visit the castle hosts summer concerts, firework displays and recreations of ancient battles.

Administered by English Heritage - click here for visitor information.


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