There is a baseless tradition that the saintly King Edmund had a stronghold here before he was evicted and then killed by the Vikings in 869.  That there was something here has been proved by excavation, but not that it was a castle.  Before 1066 Framlingham was held by Thegn Aethelmaer, but afterwards it passed to Roger Bigod (d.1107), who held it from Earl Hugh of Chester (d.1101) by 1086.  The land itself had been much improved by Roger, with the population increasing from 24 to 36 villains and from 16 to 28 borders.  They were all settled on the 9 carucates of usable recorded land.  Consequently the value of the vill had increased from £16 in 1066 to £36 in 1086.  Roger was a powerful baron holding 117 estates in Suffolk, 6 in Essex and 13 in Cheshire.  His holdings in Normandy, however, were small.

King Henry I made Roger Bigod (d.1107) sheriff of all Norfolk and all Suffolk as he put it on 25 December 1100.  Such an act obviously gave Roger great power, although there appears to be no substance to the oft repeated claim that Henry I gave him Framlingham and allowed him to build a castle there.  This seems to be merely a baseless nineteenth century conjecture.  Roger served William Rufus (1187-1100), as both steward and sheriff when reconciled to his monarch after his rebellion in 1088.  Between 1103 and his death in 1107 Roger seems to have granted the endowment of Framlingham (Great and Little) to Thetford priory which he had founded.  Roger was succeeded by his sons, William (d.1120) and Hugh (d.1177), in turn.  At the end of 1140 Hugh was created earl of Norfolk during the Anarchy of King Stephen's reign.  The new earl was rapidly defeated at the battle of Lincoln on 2 February 1141 and promptly changed sides to the cause of the Empress Matilda (d.1167).  He then fought on as he saw best supporting whichever side seemed to give him greatest advantage.  Consequently, although Framlingham was the Bigod's caput, as earl of East Anglia, he tried to add Norwich to his domains and repeatedly attacked the castle, occasionally taking it before being expelled.  In 1148 Hugh entertained the archbishop of Canterbury at Framlingham castle, when both were hostile to King Stephen.  There they met with many bishops and layment who managed to make a reconciliation between the hostile parties under Hugh's auscpices.

On the accession of King Henry II in 1154, Bigod remained loyal to the Crown, but seems to have intended to remain ‘king' in his own domains.  Consequently in 1157, he and 2 neighbours had all their castles seized, probably for internal fighting or possibly for their opposition to the Crown.  As a result, at Michaelmas 1157, Framlingham was in the king's hand when the Templers in Framingeh' were charged 21s for immunity in their lands.  The next year they paid 42s, while £16 18s were charged against the king's knights of Framingeha'.  In 1158 the Templers of Framlingham were again charged 21s and records were kept for the cost of munitioning Earl Hugh's castle of Walton, which was obviously still in the king's hands.  The earl's fortresses were finally returned by Michaelmas 1165 after the earl had agreed to pay the king £1,000 for his goodwill after their meeting at Nottingham.  Of this sum 500 marks (£333 6s 8d) were paid by the king's writ in the court chamber of Geoffrey Mon' and Ralph Fitz Stephen, leaving 1,000 marks (£666 13s 4d) to be paid.  The earl this year also paid the king £227 10s for the knights and serjeants serving in Wales for the quarter part of a year, a considerable undertaking.  In 1166 he was recorded as holding some 160 knights' fees.  The return of 2 of Hugh's castles - Walton was retained - was probably connected with the king building Orford castle in the mid 1160s.

Earl Hugh paid another 500 marks (£333 6s 8d) to the Crown of this debt, as the remaining 500 marks (£333 6s 8d) were called in before 1173 when he rebelled against the king.  Not surprisingly the earl did not reply to this demand.  He was further recorded as owing £34 16s 8d for his old, pre 1135 fees and 38½ marks (£25 13s 4d) for his new fees as an aid for the marriage of the king's daughter.

Earl Hugh (d.1176) after rebelling in the spring of 1173, welcomed the earl of Leicester at Framlingham
the next year, before the latter marched off to defeat at the battle of Fornham, where Earl Hugh's son and heir, Roger (d.1221) fought against him.  The king at the end of July 1174 moved against Framlingham castle where the earl was residing with a multitude of Fleming mercenaries.  On the drawing near of the royal army, which also contained 500 carpenters, Hugh promptly surrendered Framlingham and Bungay castles on condition that his mercenaries were allowed to return to Flanders.  Hugh also paid the king £12 10s of his outstanding debt for the royal marriage, leaving that debt reduced to £22 6s 8d. 

Both Bigod castles, now under royal control, apparently survived their master, with Hugh dying on Crusade, late in 1176.  According to a contemporary chronicler, it was only at the end of May 1177 that King Henry ordered the destruction of all the rebellious castles from 1173-74.  This included the Bigod castles of Framlingham and Bungay.  However, as early as Michaelmas 1175, Alnoth the Engineer was allowed £14 15s 11d by writ of Richard Lucy and the overview of Robert Mantel and Alnoth himself, for the carpenters and masons (cementarios) who were sent to level Framlingham castle.  That masons were sent almost certainly confirms that the castle had masonry components and therefore that the Romanesque castle predated 1173 as the architecture would suggest.  This would mean that it was the south-east section of the castle that was demolished to make it indefensible and not that the whole structure was reduced to its foundations.

Alnoth was also allowed 36s 1d for filling in the castle ditch or moat.  Further work was obviously carried out the next year when Robert Willauesham and Alnoth the engineer oversaw the throwing down of Walton castle for the grand sum of £31 8s 3d.  Surprisingly the cost for levelling Framlingham came to only £7 10s 6d.  To put this in perspective, £20 was spent at the same time on repairing Norwich castle keep.  Walton castle has sadly disappeared, probably with the corner of the old Roman fort into the sea, but it is stunning that the destruction of this castle cost more than that of Framlingham which cost over £21 if the pipe roll accounts of 1175 and 1176 are combined.  Even more peculiar is the fact that Bungay castle, which was recorded as destroyed at the same time is nowhere mentioned in the rolls.  Possibly the destruction of Bungay was therefore erroneously entered as Framlingham in 1 of the 2 years.  The destruction of the earl's castles did have one benefit to the aging earl, for at Michaelmas 1176 the king pardoned Earl Hugh his remaining debt of 500 marks (£333 6s 8d) from his fine of 1163.  Instead Hugh made a new fine with his king for £466 13s 4d (700 marks) in recompense for all the damage he had caused.  For this he was allowed to hold all the lands he held of the king for his life.  Of the fine he immediately paid £133 6s 8d (200 marks), leaving a debt of £333 6s 8d (500 marks).  Presumably he soon afterwards set out on crusade.

On news of Earl Hugh's death reaching England the king quickly seized his lands and farmed them out to Bartholomew Glanville, Chaplain Wimarus and William Bardolf.  That September they accounted for the earl's debts of £100 112s from the old fine made in the time of the war of Earl Hugh as well as an increment of £100 from the same time as well as other debts.  They further noted that Roger Bigod was now summoned for these debts and that the sheriff had paid off the £100 and some other minor amounts.  Later the fine of £333 6s 8d was noted as being owed by Roger alone.  The next year the debts of Roger Bigod, run up by his father in the time of his war, were listed.  These included various fines and farms, one of which was for the damage done to the honour of Eye at £94 6d as well as a £10 tallage on Little Framlingham and £12 12s for the farm of Orford.  In total this came to debts of £100 112s and £567 12s 4d, the king then wrote these massive amounts off.  Despite this, it was only at Michaelmas 1179 that it was recorded that Roger Bigod had agreed to exchange all the debts of his father to the Crown for the damage he had done in his war for a debt of 500 marks (£333 6s 8d).

The partially demolished Framlingham fortress was probably only returned to Hugh's son, Roger Bigod (d.1221), after Richard I (1189-99) became king.  Certainly Roger was only made earl of Norfolk on 25 November 1189 by King Richard.  Later, he served King John loyally until the Magna Carta dispute of 1215 when he joined the barons' 25 and was excommunicated by the pope.  In early March 1216 Framlingham castle was besieged and taken by King John, surrendering after 2 days despite having a garrison of 26 knights, 20 serjeants, 7 crossbowmen and a priest.  By 21 March the castle was garrisoned for the Crown and the named members of the garrison gave security as they came to the king's peace.  On 5 April Helias Beauchamp was made royal constable of the garrison of Framlingham while the sheriff of Norfolk and Suffolk was ordered to seize all the chattels and goods of Earl Roger Bigod.  Presumably the castle was regranted to Roger by the end of the war in 1218.  Certainly by 1225 the vill was back in Bigod hands when it was valued at £105.  On 6 July 1270 the Inquest Post Mortem on his grandson, Earl Roger Bigod of Norfolk, found that he was lord of Framlingham castle set in its park. 

Unlike Bungay, Framlingham castle remained in use during the later Middle Ages being held by the Brotherton, Ufford, Mowbray and Howard families in succession.  Under them repair work and expansions were carried out in brick.  By the end of the sixteenth century the castle was in ruins.  In the mid seventeenth century the internal buildings were demolished and their sites used to build a poor house.

The castle overlooks the River Ore and stands slightly off centre within large earthworks.  These consist of 4 separate parts.  Centrally lies the inner ward with a slightly smaller outer bailey to the west.  To the south and east lies a large horseshoe shaped bailey and to the north a rectangular town defence that fades out towards the south.  A water marsh or mere lay to the west beyond the outer bailey.  A 1997 survey determined that this was an artificially dug feature.

The current masonry remains are undated, but the plethora of Romanesque arches would suggest a Norman date and probably multiple building dates.  An early date for the fortress has been held to be impossible as the castle was ‘demolished' after the Bigod rebellion of 1173-74.  Such claims need to be fully investigated both archaeologically and historically.

The core of the castle complex now consists of a walled inner ward, about 320' north to south and 230' east to west, surrounded by an 80' wide and about 25' deep ditch.  The curtain was made of local flint and sedimentary septaria stones, while the quoins or the turrets were fashioned from sandstone.  It is readily apparent that the walls were made in approximately 2' deep layers which give the masonry a pseudo-Roman look - see Pevensey castle for proper Roman walls.

Beyond the main ward to the west at Framlingham lies a rectangular outer ward, which bounds the mere to the west.  The inner ward is currently entered via a fifteenth century bridge which leads over the great ditch to a simple rectangular gate tower.  This was reworked in the sixteenth century by Duke Thomas Howard of Norfolk (d.1524) who added his coat of arms above the new gate.  Internally there is a Romanesque arch, although the internal portion of the structure has now gone.  Underneath the external Romanesque gateway another triangular arch has been added which is similar to those found at the keep at Orford.  Presumably all of these are later additions.  The gatehouse appears a normal rectangular tower affair, similar to those found throughout early sites in England, viz. Berkhamsted, Castle Acre, Castle Rising, Harbottle, Hay on Wye, Launceston, Lewes, New Buckenham, Old Sarum, Portchester, Restormal, Richards Castle, Tintagel and Tremarton.  The gatetowers at Portchester and Richards Castle, also having been extended outwards like Framlingham.  Just inside the gatehouse is the castle well, some 100' deep.

The enceinte curtain stood some 34' high and was up to 7½' thick and is quite clearly of at least 2 separate builds.  The earliest part consists of an oval enclosure about 300' by 150'.  The south-east portion of this has been destroyed and a new rectangular projection added with sides about 130' north to south by 170' east to west.  The ditch around the new angular work is also less flat bottomed than the older ditch.  From the gatehouse the enceinte runs around the western and northern sides of the enclosure and contains 7 backless rectangular turrets all about 50' high.  The wallwalk passes through each turret, often through Romanesque doorways with white sandstone quoins.  The original curtain appears to have been solid and had no ground floor loops, apart from to the west where a hall block once lay between 2 turrets.  This block has subsequently been overlain by the poorhouse although part of its north front still remains.  Within the poorhouse are 5 reset corbels carved as heads.

Just south of the poorhouse is a postern that leads between 2 walls to an exit to the south next to the rectangular outer ward prison tower.  This had its windows enlarged in the sixteenth century.  The tower is matched to the north by a backless rectangular turret which makes up the other remaining section of curtain walling of the outer ward.  Other than the postern, which does not actually enter the outer ward, there is no apparent means of egress between the 2 wards.  To say the least, this is unusual.

Opposite the poor house are the remains of the earliest hall block at the castle.  This consists of a rectangular chamber about 90' by 40'.  Of this the inner walls have all vanished, but several apertures remain through the east curtain.  Also above the wall are 2 Tudor brick chimneys which make use of the round sandstone flues of the early hall.  All the rest but one of these sixteenth century chimneys scattered around the site are purely decorative and not functional.

South of the hall block lay a chapel which projected eastwards beyond the enceinte.  This appears rather similar to the chapels at Kildrummy and Lochleven castles in Scotland.  Perhaps in all 3 cases the chapels predated the defences - hence their peculiar positionings in relation to their curtains.  The chapel therefore makes a large curtain tower, but it is noticeable that the curtains north and south of the structure are not on the same alignment, although the masonry looks like an identical build.  Centrally there was a small Romanesque chancel window.

South again of the chapel is the latter angular extension with one backless turret to the south and 2 solid turrets flanking an unusual pentagonal tower at the angle.  In the extension are a series of double looped embrasures all facing south.  There are no loops in the east wall.  Quite plainly these do not appear in the older three-quarters of the enceinte.  Such ground level crossbow curtain defence is unique with its twin looped embrasures.  Single looped embrasures in curtains are not common, but examples can be found at Rhuddlan inner ward (traditionally dated to the 1270s but possibly up to a century earlier) and Grosmont (1220s) in Wales and Dunamase(c.1180-1220) in Ireland.  It is apparent that the 7 crossbowmen in the 1216 garrison would have been hard pressed to man these loops let alone the tops of the 14 inner towers including the gatehouse.  All these towers seem to have had central loops in all 3 sides in their upper floors.

The outer ward, some 200' north to south by 130' east to west, was apparently added to the castle after the inner ward was built, though as the 2 surviving towers seem similar to those of the inner ward, presumably not long after.  Geophysical surveying in 2002 confirmed that the enclosure was completely walled.  The northern rampart, some 10' high, ended before the backless turret, postern gate and the wall running up to the inner enceinte, but stopped some 12' short of it. 

The town ditch, some 35' wide and about 4' deep with its associated bank, to the north east of the castle, has been suggested as the boundary of an Anglo-Saxon manorial complex.  Beneath the entrance to the castle some 50 burials were uncovered with associated pottery which suggested that the cemetery was in use about 650-850 AD.  Excavations within the castle between the Poor House and the eastern edge of the curtain wall in 1972 recorded an archaeological record to a depth of 20'.  This was interpreted as a moat which predated the stone castle and possibly represented the outer defences of a motte, ringwork or platform, occupying the northern half of the inner bailey.  It was further suggested that this structure was demolished in the second half of the twelfth century, though whether this was the archaeology being made to fit the scant historical evidence or not is open to question.  It was also recognised that as castles were often built over previous Saxon manorial complexes, that this might be a remnant of that.  Considering the Romanesque nature of the ruins the latter may be more likely.


Copyright©2020 Paul Martin Remfry