Castle of the Week 21 – Framlingham Castle

Framlingham Castle is in Suffolk in East Anglia. Its thirteen massive towers dominate the flat country round it.

It was built in the 12th century although there had probably been some sort of castle there since the 6th century. King Edmund is supposed to have fought the Danes nearby and sought protection at Framlingham. After fleeing from the castle, he was captured and murdered in nearby forests.

The first definite records are that the site was given to Roger le Bigod by King Henry I in 1100. A simple motte & bailey castle was built with the outer bailey protected by a palisade and ditch on 3 sides and a lake (possibly artificial, possibly natural) on the fourth. Roger’s second son Hugh (the first Earl of Norfolk) reconstructed the castle in stone, but it was dismantled in 1176 by Henry II following Hugh’s rebellion against him. The land was returned Hugh’s son Roger who built the present curtain wall which may have incorporated earlier domestic buildings. The towers were self-contained so it was un-necessary to have a keep.

Roger was one of the rebel barons who stood against King John and the castle was besieged in 1216 by John’s foreign troops. Framlingham’s defenders comprised of 26 knights, 20 men-at-arms, 7 crossbowmen and 3 others. The entire garrison was forced to surrender after two days and the Earl waited for King John’s death for the castle to be returned to his family.

For the next 200 years, ownership passed between the Royal family and their favourites, ending up in the possession of the Howard family. Thomas Howard, Duke of Norfolk, carried out a lot of modernisation during Henry VII’s reign and the Tudor brickwork and chimneys can still be seen today. During Henry VIII’s reign, Framlingham was forfeited to the Crown and Edward VI gave it to his half-sister, the future Queen Mary I in 1553. She stayed for the long summer of 1553 whilst waiting to see if Lady Jane Grey’s attempt to win the throne was successful or not. Once she became Queen, she restored the castle to the Howard family but they didn’t live there any more.

The 4th Duke was executed for treason and the castle was returned to the Crown, in this case Elizabeth I and it was used as a prison for Catholic priests who had defied the new Church of England. It wasn’t looked after properly and became dilapidated so in 1613 it was returned to the Howard family who sold it to Sir Robert Hitcham in 1635. He died a year later and left it to Pembroke College, his alma mater. His will stated that the interior of the castle should be demolished and a Poorhouse built in its place. Workmen started to destroy the interior of the castle and the Poorhouse was started 30 years later. In 1665 the Black Death spread round the area and the partly built Poorhouse was used for victims. 40 years later the buildings remaining within the walls were converted into a workhouse and were then rebuilt in 1729.

It was no longer used as a workhouse after 1837 and since then has had many different uses including a court, fire station and drill hall. It was given to the nation by the College in 1913 and is now looked after by English Heritage. Sadly it’s now just a shell.

Write-up and images provided by GillB


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