Castle of the Week 59 – Castle Rising

Castle Rising is located near the old port of King’s Lynn on the North Norfolk coast, England. Standing on an enormous area of man-made ditches and banks, the inner bailey contains two buildings: the foundations of a Norman chapel of 11th century origin and the great tower, dated at around 1138-1140.

The great tower (keep) is a squat, rectangular donjon some 80ft by 70ft and rising 50ft tall. On the eastern side of the keep lies a staircase behind a sturdy wall, itself decorated by a corbelled frieze and the intricate patterns can still be seen in large areas today. Entrance to the castle was via this staircase at second storey level. The ditches were originally walled, but very little of this stonework remains.

Built by William d’Albini, Earl of Sussex, to celebrate his marriage to the widow of Henry I, it was modelled on the keep at Norwich and the castle covers an area of 12 acres. The Domesday Book of 1086 tells us that before and after 1066, Rising was an outlying member of the great manor of Snettisham. The Saxon archbishop of Canterbury, Stigand, held it from 1052 until the Normans overthrew him in 1070. William the Conqueror then handed it to Odo, Bishop of Bayeux and Earl of Kent, and his half-brother, on whose orders the Bayeux Tapestry was made.

The castle remained in the d’Albini family for nearly 200 years, until eventually it came into the hands of the Crown. Royal ownership until the 16th century led to the castle’s brightest period of history, with Kings, Queens and Princes all staying at the castle. 1331 saw Isabella, daughter of King Philip IV of France and wife of Edward II residing there. But in 1327 she was found to be an accomplice in Edward’s murder and was held at the castle by her son, Edward III. This part of the castle’s history is fascinating, and leads to the myth of the She-Wolf of Rising. Isabella was only 12 when she married Edward II, and his preferences lay with young men rather than women. Despite them raising a child, Isabella was a notoriously passionate woman and took a lover in the form of Roger Mortimer. Edward III discovered this and held her captive, but with all the privileges of a dowager queen. It was initially thought that Isabella died at the castle, but Edward III allowed her to travel to different locations and recent records indicate that she actually died at Hereford in 1358. Legend still speaks of a great white wolf with fiery red eyes that haunts Rising and its battlements.

The castle was granted to Edward, Black Prince of Wales in 1337. Edward strengthened the fortifications in case of a landing from the French at the nearby coast.

Rising was put on a state of alert during the Wars of the Roses. In 1461, the Yorkist Edward IV tried to displace Henry VI, a Lancastrian. The King’s men of Norfolk were ordered to take over the castle and hold it with men-at-arms. It seems that this was the start of the decline at Rising, as previously the castle, despite its fortifications, was more residential in use, despite its military function.

Rising was partially maintained until 1544 and only small sums of money were spent in repairing the castle. In 1572 a survey to Queen Elizabeth I outlined the full cost of repair, which indicated that a large sum of money would be required, and also detailed the cost for demolishing the decaying structure, which was considerably less. Luckily, the castle was not pulled down despite its increasingly ruinous condition. It remained in the Howard family until 1968 when it was passed to the state.

Write-up and pictures provided by Sulis.