Bungay was a large estate valued at £5 during the reign of King Edward the Confessor (d.1066).  It then consisted of 9 carucates of land containing a church and was held by Archbishop Stigand.  By 1086 the land was in the king's hand, although some subsidiary estates had been granted to Earl Hugh of Chester (d.1101), when it was also recorded that there were 4 churches in the district.  There is no indication of a castle at this time and it is possible that one was not built until the twelfth century, although there are earthwork indications of older earthworks around the town.

It was possibly as late as the commencement of King Stephen's reign (1135-54), that Hugh Bigod acquired Bungay.  However, despite being fundamental in placing Stephen on the throne, Hugh soon rebelled with the result that at Pentecost 1140 King Stephen led an army against Hugh in Suffolk and took Bungay (Buneie) castle.  A second campaign in August led to Hugh making his peace and that Christmas being made earl of Norfolk.  After defeat at the battle of Lincoln in February 1141 Hugh disputed control of East Anglia with the king, fighting first on one side and then on the other in the civil war, finally losing Ipswich to Stephen in 1153.  Possibly he had regained Bungay by this time, although the fortress is never mentioned.  In 1155 the new King Henry II confirmed Hugh in his earldom and his legally held lands.  However on 19 May 1157, the king went to Bury St Edmunds and demanded that Hugh and his rival, King Stephen's son, Count William of Mortain (d.1159), hand their castles over to him.  Simultaneously the castles of Earl Geoffrey of Essex were demolished at a cost of £9 12s 4d, which suggests that affairs in East Anglia had got out of hand at this time.  In 1159 the Jews of Bongeye, like their brethren of Norwich and Thetford, paid the king £15.  Presumably Bungay was returned to Earl Hugh with his other castles in 1163.  Two years later King Henry began the construction of Orford castle, partially as a counterbalance to Earl Hugh's power in the district.  Earl Hugh seems to have exchanged Bungay with the earl of Leicester, a fellow rebel in 1173-74, before 1166.  In the charter entered by the earl of Warwick in 1166 he had recorded that Hugh Arden held 5 and a third fees, but that the earl of Leicester had 2 of these fees in exchange for Bungay. 

In 1173 Earl Hugh rebelled again, this time in favour of King Henry III (d.1183), the eldest son of Henry II.  On 21 July 1174, King Henry in person, after taking Huntington castle, moved against Earl Hugh at Framlingham castle where the earl was residing with a multitude of Fleming mercenaries.  There Hugh promptly surrendered Framlingham and Bungay castles on condition that his mercenaries were allowed to return to Flanders.  Both castles then outlived their master, with Hugh dying on Crusade, late in 1176.  Then, at the end of May 1177, King Henry ordered the destruction of all the rebellious castles from 1173-74.  This included the Bigod castles of Framlingham, Walton and Bungay as well as Benington.

The town of Bungay seems to have subsequently passed to Ralph Glanville (d.1192), who was holding it when he and his wife Countess Gundreda founded a nunnery there with the consent of King Henry II (d.1189).  Gundreda was the widow of Earl Hugh Bigod of Norfolk (d.1176) and presumably the land had come to her with her first husband who is often credited with founding the castle.  There is no evidence that the castle was returned to Hugh's eldest son, Earl Roger Bigod (d.1221) during the reign of King Richard I (1189-99).  On the contrary by 1199 the town was held by Hugh Bigod, Roger's younger half brother when he gave King John 40 marks (£26 13s 4d) for permission to augment his fair at Bungay.  This Hugh is not heard of again and presumably the castle reverted to Earl Roger on Hugh's death, probably during the reign of King John (d.1216).  Certainly Earl Roger's grandson, another Earl Roger (d.1270), was lord of Bungay during the reign of Henry III (1216-72).  At his death in March 1270 it was recorded that he held Bungay castle and manor of the earl of Warwick for 1 knight's fee and that Roger had received rents from the free tenants of the town of £10 7s ½d.  It has been argued that the refortification of Bungay castle only took place in the 1290s due to the king having granted Earl Roger Bigod the right to crenellate his ‘house' of Bungay on 20 April 1294.  However, the right to crenellate was neither a building instruction or a grant of the right to build, it was merely a sign of favour occasionally granted to castle holders.  Certainly the Inquest Post Mortem states clearly that the castle was a going concern in 1270.  On the death of Earl William Ufford of Suffolk on 1382, the castle was described as old and ruinous.

Encircled by a quick flowing river, the neck of Bungay was early recognised as a powerful defensive position.  The remains of the castle consists of a roughly circular inner ward of 130' diameter.  Centrally within this is are the remains of a massive rectangular keep, about 54' square with walls up to 12' thick and with a deep well within.  The remains of the tower walls stand up to 15' high.  Unusually the keep upper floors were accessed via a circular stair set in the north wall about a third of the way from the west.  The tower was internally divided into 2 north to south running chambers, the western one being foreshortened to allow the extra width the wall need to enclose the stair vice.  On the south side, opposite the stairs, a later forebuilding has been added to the tower with a garderobe in its south-west corner.  The keep is said to most closely resemble the great tower at Scarborough which is claimed to be the late 1150s work of Henry II (d.1189).  It may also have been similar to Walton which might have been contemporary.  Other similar sized keeps had their vice in a corner, which by its very nature is thicker and therefore safer for a stairwell, viz Appleby, Bamborough, Bowes, Brough, Carlisle, Carrickfergus, Chepstow, Colchester, Dover, Hedingham, Middleham, Norwich, Rochester, Safron Walden and the Tower of London.  Beneath the south-west corner of the keep is a mine gallery designed to bring down the tower corner above.  This has been likened to the mine used to collapse the corner of Rochester keep by King John in 1215 and has been suggested as the work of Henry II in 1175.  However, if this was Henry's work the question must be asked as to why he didn't use it?  More likely it is to do with mining the structure for road stone in the eighteenth century.

Surrounding the keep, in a very small inner ward was a polygonal enclosure with a twin towered gatehouse to the west and a small projecting diamond shaped tower to the south where the outer ward curtain once joined the inner enceinte.  All 3 towers appear to have been open backed.  The gate towers have very small internal chambers about 6' in diameter with walls some 8' thick.  There were chambers at wallwalk level as indicated by the remains seen in the southern portion of the south tower.  The gatehouse was original fitted with a drawbridge.  Externally the portion of the towers below the roll moulded string course was ashlar, while above it was simply well coursed rubble.

The irregular nonagonal ward is almost a large shell keep and probably ran around the top of an earlier ringwork which was occupied by the keep.  This makes it somewhat similar to other Norfolk castles, ie. Castle Acre, Castle Rising, Mileham and New Buckenham.  The twin towered gatehouse and inner ward are usually claimed to be Edwardian on the grounds that King Edward (d.1307) granted Earl Roger a license to crenellate in 1294.  Such reasoning is flawed as licences to crenellate mean nothing concerning a castle's building in this era.  More likely the work dates to the late eleventh or early twelfth century with similar gatehouses to this appearing at Beeston, Criccieth, Pevensey, White Castle and Whittington.  The rectangular outer wall was also once walled with turrets at the north-west and south-west corners and a solid twin towered gatehouse to the south-east.  That this work dates to the earlier part of the century is strengthened by the total lack of external apertures.


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