Framlingham Castle

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Framlingham Castle


Franglingham Castle 01.jpg
Location: 52°13’27"N, 1°20’49"E
Key events: Revolt of 1173–1174,
First Barons' War
Condition: Good
Owned by: English Heritage

Framlingham Castle is a castle standing in the market town of Framlingham in Suffolk. It has a complete curtain wall in an interesting thirteen-sided shape, providing a long curtain wall walk. The castle is in the care of English Heritage.

An early motte and bailey or ringwork Norman castle was built on the Framlingham site by 1148, but this was destroyed by Henry II of England in the aftermath of the revolt of 1173-4. Its replacement, constructed by Roger Bigod, the Earl of Norfolk, was unusual for the time in having no central keep, but instead using a curtain wall with thirteen mural towers to defend the centre of the castle. Despite this, the castle was successfully taken by King John in 1216 after a short siege. By the end of the 13th century, Framlingham had become a luxurious home, surrounded by extensive parkland used for hunting.

During the 15th and 16th centuries Framlingham was at the heart of the estates of the powerful Mowbray and Howard families. Two artificial meres were built around the castle, which was expanded in fashionable brick. With a large, wealthy household to maintain, the castle purchased supplies from across England and brought in luxury goods from international markets. Extensive pleasure gardens were built within the castle and older parts redesigned to allow visitors to enjoy the resulting views. By the end of the 16th century, however, the castle fell into disrepair and after the final Howard owner, Theophilus Howard, 2nd Earl of Suffolk, entered into financial difficulties the castle and the surrounding estates were sold off.

Framlingham Castle was given to Pembroke College as a philanthropic gesture in 1636, after which the internal buildings were taken down to make way for the construction of a poorhouse within the site. The castle was used in this way until 1839 when the facility was closed; the castle was then used as a drill hall and as a county court. In 1913, Pembroke College donated Framlingham to the Commissioner of Works. During the Second World War, Framlingham Castle was used by the army as part of the regional defences against a potential German invasion. Today, Framlingham Castle is a scheduled monument and a Grade I listed building, owned by English Heritage and run as a tourist attraction.


11th - 12th centuries

The population of Framlingham in Suffolk rose sharply after the Norman conquest as the village turned into a small town of at least 600 inhabitants, surrounded by valuable lands in one of the most prosperous parts of the country,[1] and part of the estates of Hugh d'Avranches, the Earl of Chester, who granted it in turn to Roger Bigod, the Sheriff of Suffolk. A ringwork or motte and bailey castle was first built in either the 11th or early 12th century in the northern half of the Inner Court of the current castle.[2]

Although the first documentary reference to a castle at Framlingham occurs in 1148, the actual date of its construction is uncertain and three possible options have been suggested by academics. The first possibility is that the castle was built by Roger Bigod in either the late 11th century or around 1100, similar to the founding of Bigod's caput at nearby Eye.[3] A second possibility is that Roger's son, Hugh Bigod, built it during the years of the Anarchy in the 1140s on the site of an existing manor house; the castle would then be similar to the Bigod fortification at Bungay.[4] A third possibility is that there were in fact two castles: the first being built in the late 11th century and then demolished by Hugh Bigod in the 1160s in order to make way for a newer, larger castle.[5]

Historian Magnus Alexander hypotheses the castle might have been built on top of a set of pre-existing Anglo-Saxon, high prestige buildings, a practice common elsewhere in East Anglia, possibly echoing the arrangement at Castle Acre; this would be most likely if the castle was built in the 11th century.[6][nb 1]

The Inner Court, with open backed mural towers

By the late 12th century the Bigod family had come to dominate Suffolk, holding the title of the Earl of Norfolk and owning Framlingham and three other major castles at Bungay, Walton and Thetford.[8] The first set of stone buildings, including the first hall, were built within the castle during the 1160s.[9] Tensions persisted throughout the period, however, between the Crown and the Bigods. Hugh Bigod was one of a group of dissenting barons during the Anarchy in the reign of King Stephen, and after coming to power Henry II attempted to re-establish royal influence across the region.[10] As part of this effort, Henry confiscated the four Bigod castles from Hugh in 1157, but returned both Framlingham and Bungay in 1165, on payment of a large fine of £666.[11][nb 2]

Hugh then joined the revolt by Henry's sons in 1173 and was punished by the destruction of several Bigod castles, including Framlingham; the king's engineer, Alnoth, destroyed the fortifications and filled in the moat at Framlingham between 1174-6 at a total cost of £16 11s 12d, although he probably shored up, rather than destroyed, the internal stone buildings.

Hugh's son, Roger Bigod, was out of favour until the reign of Richard I; Roger then set about building a new castle on the Framlingham site - the work was conducted relatively quickly and the castle was certainly complete by 1213.[13] The new castle comprised the Inner Court, defended with 13 mural towers; an adjacent Lower Court with smaller stone walls and towers, and a larger Bailey with timber defences.[14] By this time, a castle-guard system was in place at Framlingham, in which lands were granted to local lords in return for their providing knights or soldiers to guard the castle.[15]

13th century

The mere

The First Barons' War began in 1215 between King John and a faction of rebel barons opposed to his rule. Roger Bigod became one of the key opponents to John, having argued over John's requirements for military levies.[16] Royal troops plundered the surrounding lands and John's army arrived on 12 March, followed by John the next day.[17] With John's permission, messages were sent on the 14th from the castle to Roger, who, influenced by the fate of Rochester Castle the previous year, agree that the garrison of 26 knights, 20 sergeants, 7 crossbowmen and a priest could surrender without a fight.[18] John's forces moved on into Essex, and Roger appears to have later regained his castle, and his grandson, another Roger, inherited Framlingham in 1225.[19]

A large park, called the Great Park, was created around the castle; this park is first noted in 1270, although it may have been constructed somewhat earlier.[20] The Great Park enclosed 600 acres stretching 2 miles to the north of the castle, and was characterised by possessing bank-and-ditch boundaries unusual in Suffolk.[21] The park had a lodge built in it, which later had a recreational garden built around it.

In 1270 Bigod, the 5th Earl, inherited the castle and undertook extensive renovations there whilst living in considerable luxury and style,[22] while sinking into debt with moneylenders and the Crown. Edward I seized Roger's lands and only released them on the condition that Roger grant them to the Crown after his death. Roger agreed and Framlingham Castle passed to the Crown on his death in 1306.

14th century

The 12th-century walls of the Inner Court

Edward II gave the castle to his half-brother, Thomas of Brotherton, the Earl of Norfolk. In 1362 it passed into the Ufford family. William de Ufford, the Earl of Suffolk, held the castle during the Peasants' Revolt of 1381, with much of the revolt occurring close to Framlingham.[23] From the Uffords, the castle passed first to Margaret Brotherton, the self-styled "Countess-Marshall", and then to Thomas de Mowbray, the Duke of Norfolk.[24] The Mowbrays seem to have used Framlingham Castle as their main seat of power for most of the 15th century.[23]

Two large lakes, called meres, were formed alongside the castle by damming a local stream. The southern mere, still visible today, had its origins in a smaller, natural lake; once dammed, it covered 23 acres and had an island with a dovecote built on it.

15th - 16th centuries

Tudor brickwork in the Inner Court

John Howard, the Duke of Norfolk, began a sequence of improvements to the castle during the Tudor period. Under the Howards the castle was extensively modernised; fashionable brick was used to improve parts of the castle; ornamental chimneys were added; the battlements were reduced in size to exaggerate the apparent height of the walls, and the Howard coat of arms was added to the gatehouse. The Great Chamber was probably built across the Inner Court at this time, linking the Great Hall with the chapel and chambers on the east side of the castle, and by 1524 there were at least 29 different rooms in the castle.[25] The drawbridge outside the gatehouse was replaced with the current permanent bridge between 1524–47; by this time a half-moon defensive structure had been built in stone to defend it.[26] A pleasure garden had been built in the Lower Court by the 16th century, with several ornamental ponds and terraced walkways - the garden would probably have also had fruit trees, herb gardens and fountains.[27] Another pleasure garden was built in the Bailey, and a second bridge built across the moat to allow access to it directly from the Inner Court. The Prison Tower was redesigned to become a viewing gallery for the new formal gardens below.

The castle was expensively decorated in a lavish style during this period, including tapestries, velvet and silver chapel fittings and luxury bedlinen.[28] A hundred suits of armour were stored in the castle and over thirty horses kept in the stables.[29]

The 3rd Duke of Norfolk was attainted in 1547 for his part in supporting the claim of Mary to the throne; Henry VIII died the day before Thomas was due to be executed at the Tower, and his successor, Mary's half-brother Edward VI, reprieved Thomas but kept him in the Tower, giving Framlingham to Mary.[30] When Mary seized power in 1553 she collected her forces at Framlingham Castle before successfully marching on London.[31] Thomas was released from the Tower by Mary as a reward for his loyalty, but retired to Kenninghall rather than Framlingham.[32] The castle was leased out but when the 4th Duke was executed for treason by Elizabeth I in 1572 the castle passed back to the Crown.[33]

Repairs to the castle appear to have been minimal from the 1540s onwards, and after Mary left Framlingham the castle went into a fast decline.[34] A survey in 1589 noted that the stonework, timber and brickwork all needed urgent maintenance, at a potential cost of £100.[31] The Great Park was disparked and turned into fields in 1580.[35]

17th - 21st centuries

In 1613 King James I granted the castle to Thomas Howard, the Earl of Suffolk, but the castle was now derelict and he chose to live at Audley End House instead.[36] Thomas's son, Theophilus Howard, fell heavily into debt and sold the castle, the estate and the former Great Park to Sir Robert Hitcham in 1635 for £14,000; as with several other established parks, such as Eye, Kelsale and Hundon, the Great Park was broken up turned into separate estates. Hitcham left the castle and the manor in his will to Pembroke College in Cambridge, with the proviso that the college destroy the internal castle buildings and construct a poorhouse on the site instead, operating under the terms of the recently passed Poor Law.[37] he poorhouse closed by 1839.

After the Ancient Monuments Consolidation and Amendment Act 1913, Pembroke College took the opportunity to donate Framlingham to the Commissioner of Works.[38] The undulating Inner Court was levelled up to its present form as part of the Commissioner's maintenance works.[39] During the Second World War, Framlingham was an important defensive location for British forces; at least one concrete pill box was built near to the castle as part of the plans to counter any German invasion, and Nissen huts were erected and a lorry park created in the Bailey.[40]

Today, Framlingham Castle is a scheduled monument and a Grade I listed building, owned by English Heritage and run as a tourist attraction, incorporating the Lanman Museum of local history.[41] The castle mere is owned by Framlingham College and run by the Suffolk Wildlife Trust.[42]


Plan of Framlingham castle: A - Inner Court; B - Lower Court; C - Bailey; D - town walls; E - poorhouse; F - site of first Great Hall; G - site of chapel; H - well; I - site of kitchen; J - Postern Gate; K - Prison Tower


Framlingham Castle is located on a bluff overlooking the River Ore, and today is made up of three distinct parts, the Inner Court, the Bailey and the Lower Court, surrounded by the remaining mere and farmland.[43]

The Bailey lies to the south of the walled Inner Court and was originally topped by a wooden palisade and earthworks, of which only the latter survive.[44] The Bailey would have entered from an eastern gate and contained a range of buildings, probably including a Sergeant's Chamber, a Knights' Chamber, the Great Stable, barns and a granary.[45] Modern visitors to the castle enter the complex through the Bailey from the south, which also contains the modern car park for the castle.[46]

The Inner Court, or the Castle, lies beyond the Bailey across the 15th-century bridge that replaced the earlier drawbridge on the site.[47] The gate tower that forms the entrance is a relatively simple design from the 12th century: the fashion for much grander gatehouse designs began shortly afterwards.[48] The 2nd Duke of Norfolk, Thomas Howard, however, had it remodelled in the 16th century, adding his coat of arms and additional ornamentation to the walls.[49] The Inner Court is formed around a stone curtain wall of local flint and septaria stone, 34 feet high and 8 feet thick, protected by thirteen square mural towers with open backs, each around 47 feet high, with corners made of sandstone.[50] A wall-walk runs around the top of the towers and wall.[51]

Originally various buildings were built around the curtain wall. Moving clockwise from the entrance to the Inner Court, the shape of the 12th-century castle chapel can still be made out on the curtain wall.[52] Convention at the time required a chapel to point along a north-east/south-east axis; in order to achieve this, the chapel had to extend out considerably into the bailey, similar to the design at White Castle.[53] The chapel is adjacent to the site of the first stone hall in the castle, built around 1160; in the 16th and 17th centuries the chapel tower was probably also used as a cannon emplacement.[54]

On the far side of the Inner Court is the poorhouse, built on the site of the 12th-century Great Hall.[55] The poorhouse forms three wings: the 17th century Red House to the south, the 18th-century middle wing, and the northern end which incorporates part of the original Great Hall; all of the building was subject to 19th-century renovation work.[56] Five carved, mediæval stone heads are set into the poorhouse, taken from the older mediæval castle buildings.[57] Next to the poorhouse is the Postern Gate, which leads to the Prison Tower.[58] The Prison Tower, also called the Western Tower, is a significant defensive work, redesigned in the 16th century to feature much larger windows. In the middle of the Inner Court is the castle well, 100 feet deep.[59]

A number of carved brick chimneys dating from the Tudor period can be seen around the Inner Court, each with a unique design; all but three of these were purely ornamental, however, and historian R. Allen Brown describes them as a "regrettable" addition to the castle from an architectural perspective.[60] Two of the functional Tudor chimneys make use of original mid-12th century flues; these two chimneys are circular in design and are the earliest such surviving structures in England.[61]

One of the castle meres can still be seen to the west of the castle, although in the 16th century there were two lakes, much larger than today, complete with a wharf.[62] This dramatic use of water to reflect the image of the castle is similar to that used at several other castles of the period, including Bredwardine and Ravensworth Castle.[62] The view from the Great Hall in the Inner Court would originally have included the gardens of the Lower Court, and these would have then been framed by the mere and the Great Park beyond.[63] The area around the castle today remains a designed and managed landscape; although the Great Park is now covered by fields, the view still gives a sense of how the castle and landscape was meant to appear to its late mediæval owners.[64]

Panorama looking into the Inner Court from the south wall

Outside links

("Wikimedia Commons" has material
about Framlingham Castle)


  1. Nicola Stacey and John Rigard prefer the late 11th century date for the founding of the castle; Magnus Alexander prefers the 1140s; J. Coad has proposed the two-castle option. The 11th century date carries the disadvantage of having no documentary evidence, and being slightly unusual for East Anglia, where the regional lords built relatively fewer castles during this period. The 1140s option closes the time gap with the first documentary reference in 1148 and fits well with Hugh Bigod becoming an Earl in 1140, but raises the question of what the Bigods had done with the site during the first forty years of their ownership. The two-castle model also lacks firm supporting evidence.[7]
  2. It is impossible to accurately compare 12th century and modern prices or incomes. For comparison, £666 is approximately the annual income of the wealthiest baron in England around 1200.[12]


  1. Alexander, pp.12–13; Dyer, p.63.
  2. Alexander, p.17, citing Coad, pp155-8.
  3. Stacey, p.23; Ridgard, p.2; Alexander, p.17.
  4. Alexander, pp.17–8.
  5. Alexander, p.18; Coad, p.160.
  6. Alexander, p.18.
  7. Stacey, p.23; Ridgard, p.2; Coad, p.160; Alexander, p.17.
  8. Pounds, p.55; Brown (1962), p.191.
  9. Raby and Reynolds, p.21.
  10. Pounds, p.55.
  11. Brown (1962), p.191; Carpenter, p.224; Stacey, p.24.
  12. Pounds, p.147.
  13. Alexander, p.20.
  14. Stacey, p.17; Raby and Reynolds, p.6.
  15. King, pp.16–7.
  16. Liddiard (2005), p.94; Stacey, p.25.
  17. Liddiard (2005), p.94.
  18. Liddiard (2005), pp.83, 94.
  19. Liddiard (2005), p.94
  20. Taylor, p.40; Alexander, p.26.
  21. Hoppitt, pp.152, 161; Taylor, p.40.
  22. Stacey, pp.26–7.
  23. 23.0 23.1 Ridgard, p.5.
  24. Ridgard, p.5; Stacey, p.28.
  25. Alexander, p.21; Stacey, p.21; Ridgard, p.130.
  26. Alexander, p.21; Raby and Reynolds, p.18.
  27. Taylor, p.40l; Stacey, p.17.
  28. Stacey, pp.7–8, 19.
  29. Stacey, p.21.
  30. Ridgard, pp.6–7; Stacey, p.33.
  31. 31.0 31.1 Ridgard, p.7.
  32. Raby and Reynolds, p.13; Stacey, p.34.
  33. Raby and Reynolds, pp.13–4.
  34. Ridgard, pp.6–7.
  35. Hoppitt, pp.161–2; Alexander, p.44.
  36. Alexander, p.45; Raby and Reynolds, p.14.
  37. Raby and Reynolds, p.14; Stacey, p.37.
  38. Raby and Reynolds, p.14; Alexander, p.50.
  39. Alexander, p.50.
  40. Alexander, p.50; Stacey, p.40.
  41. Stacey, p.17.
  42. Stacey, p.40.
  43. Raby and Reynolds, p.16.
  44. Raby and Reynolds, p.30.
  45. Raby and Reynolds, p.31.
  46. Raby and Reynolds, p.15.
  47. Raby and Reynolds, pp.17–18.
  48. Pounds, p.149.
  49. Raby and Reynolds, p.18 Stacey, p.6.
  50. Raby and Reynolds, p.19; Stacey, p.5.
  51. Stacey, p.10.
  52. Raby and Reynolds, p.22.
  53. Pounds, p.240.
  54. Raby and Reynolds, p.21; Stacey, p.14.
  55. Raby and Reynolds, p.24.
  56. Raby and Reynolds, pp.25–6; Stacey, pp.7, 10.
  57. Stacey, pp.7-8.
  58. Raby and Reynolds, p.27.
  59. Stacey, p.7.
  60. Ridgard, p.3; Stacey, pp.5, 15.
  61. Stacey, p.14.
  62. 62.0 62.1 Creighton, p.79.
  63. Liddiard (2005), p.115.
  64. Taylor, p.40; Liddiard (2005), p.114.


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