The Medieval Mayhem of Framlingham Castle
Framlingham Castle is a Medieval castle located in Framlingham, a market town in the eastern English county of Suffolk. The first castle was built during the 11th century and was originally a timber structure. Soon after, this wooden castle was replaced by a stone one.
In the centuries that followed, Framlingham Castle was witness to various significant events in English history. Therefore, the castle can be connected to numerous historical figures, including the English monarchs Henry II, John, and Mary. For about three centuries, Framlingham Castle was in the hands of the Pembroke College, Cambridge.
Ultimately, Framlingham Castle was given to the state, and is today under the management of the English Heritage charity.
The Inner Court of Framlingham Castle, showing the open backed mural towers. (foshie / CC BY 2.0 )
The Historical Beginnings of Framlingham Castle
According to the archaeological record, the area around Framlingham Castle was already occupied before the construction of the first castle. An Anglo-Saxon cemetery containing 50 burials, for instance, was discovered beneath the entrance to the castle. Additionally, pottery unearthed close to these burials have been dated to the Middle-Saxon period , i.e., 650 – 800 AD. Moreover, the town ditch is speculated to have served as the boundary of an Anglo-Saxon manorial complex.
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The first castle at Framlingham Castle was built during the 11th century. According to the Domesday Book , which was completed in 1086, the manor of Framlingham was granted to Roger Bigod, the Sheriff of Norfolk and Suffolk. Roger was a Norman knight who travelled to England during the Norman Conquest, and his descendants became the earls of Norfolk. The Bigods would play an important role in the early history of Framlingham Castle.
Roger built a wooden motte-and-bailey castle at Framlingham. This design was introduced to England by the Normans .
Framlingham Castle reflected in The Mere at dawn. The Mere is one of two lakes probably created in the late medieval period. ( pauws99 / Adobe Stock)
Framlingham Castle Becomes A Prize In Rebellions
Roger’s son, Hugh, succeeded his father as sheriff, and was subsequently created Earl of Norfolk by King Stephen. Hugh is commonly thought to have demolished the timber castle in order to replace it with a stone structure. During the Anarchy , Hugh was involved in a local uprising against the king. When Henry II came to power after Stephen’s death in 1154, Hugh surrendered several castles, including Framlingham, to the new king. For the next decade, the castle was occupied by a royal garrison. In 1165, Hugh paid a heavy fine, and regained the castle.
In 1173, three of Henry’s sons revolted against him. This rebellion lasted only eighteen months, with the king emerging victorious in the end. Hugh was involved in this rebellion, fighting on the side of the rebels. As Hugh supported the losing side in the war, he was punished. Framlingham Castle was demolished by the king’s engineer, Alnodus, and the lands of the Bigods were confiscated. Nevertheless, this was only temporary, as these lands were returned to them during the 1180s. By that time, however, Hugh was already dead. The earl had died in 1177, and was succeeded by his son, Roger.
The 12th-century curtain walls and towers of the Inner Court at Framlingham Castle built around the 1190s AD. (Chris Walsh / CC BY 2.0 )
The New Castle, Built With Curtain Walls and 13 Towers
It was during Roger’s time, around the 1190s, that a new castle was built at Framlingham. The remains of the earlier hall and chapel were incorporated into the new structure. The most significant features of Roger’s castle, however, were its massive curtain walls and 13 stone towers. These were the main defenses of the new castle.
It seems that Roger was so confident in the strength of his walls and towers that he decided not to build a keep, or central stronghold, a typical structure of castles during that period. This means that in the event of an attack, the castle had only its walls and towers to rely on for defense. In any case, the curtain walls and towers are still standing today.
In 1213, King John was entertained as a guest by Roger at Framlingham Castle. Three years later, John was back at the castle, though not as a guest, but a besieger. In 1215, the First Barons’ War broke out, and Roger was one of the barons who opposed the heavy military taxes levied by the king on them. Consequently, in 1216, John laid siege to Framlingham Castle. Curiously, in spite of its strong defenses, the castle surrendered after two days. To put pressure on Roger, the king pardoned the earl’s followers who submitted, and at the same time, confiscated the lands of those who refused to submit.
By 1217, however, the war was over. John died in 1216 and was succeeded by his nine-year-old son, Henry II, who became King Henry II .
The structural outline 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. (Ministry of Works, HMSO / Public domain )
Through Marriage the Castle Passed to Margaret Brotherton
The new king returned Framlingham Castle to Roger, and it remained in the hands of the Bigod family until 1306, when the 5th Earl of Norfolk, Roger Bigod, died without an heir. Consequently, the castle returned to the Crown, and was managed by the relatives of the king, one of whom was Margaret Brotherton, an influential English noblewoman of the 14th century.
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Margaret Brotherton was born in 1320, and was the daughter of Thomas Brotherton, the fifth son of King Edward I , and younger half-brother of Edward II. After the extinction of the Bigod family , the Earldom of Norfolk was created again, and Thomas was the first nobleman to hold this peerage. Framlingham Castle, naturally, came as part of the earldom.
When Thomas died in 1338, he was succeeded by his daughter, Margaret, as the earl did not have any sons to inherit his title. Following the death of her first husband, John Segrave, 4th Baron Segrave, Margaret married Sir Walter Mauny, 1st Baron Mauny. As the marriage went ahead without the king’s license, Margaret ran into trouble with the law, and was detained in Somerton Castle in Lincolnshire in 1354. In the same year, however, Margaret was released, and her family estates returned to her. In the following year, she was pardoned for her unlicensed marriage and travelling illegally.
Apart from the Brotherton estates, which Margaret inherited in its entirety after the death of her sister’s heirs, the countess also possessed the lands of her first husband, and part of the war profits of her second. In other words, Margaret was an incredibly wealthy woman.
The countess seems to have spent much of her time at Framlingham Castle, and is recorded to have led a lavish lifestyle there. According to the account by Giles of Wenlock, the keeper of the household, in the year 1385/6, the amount of food and drink that was bought by the castle included 70321 loaves of bread, 40 casks of red herring, 72½ carcasses of beef, 9 wild boar, 151 carcasses of pork, 697 carcasses of mutton, 24 pounds of saffron, and gallons of red and white wine from St Emilion and Gascony. In 1397, Margaret was elevated from countess to duchess, thereby becoming the first English woman to be made a duchess in her own right.
Margaret died in 1399 and the Duchy of Norfolk passed into the hands of Thomas de Mowbray , Margaret’s grandson through her daughter Elizabeth de Segrave. Although the de Mowbray family were in possession of Framlingham Castle for much of the 15th century, it seems that they did not do much to the property.
Tudor brickwork in the Inner Court, including a carved brick chimney. (Keith Evans / CC BY-SA 2.0 )
The Castle Passes from The Mowbrays to the Howards
In 1483, the castle passed into the hands of John Howard, a grandson of Thomas de Mowbray. John was eventually killed at the Battle Bosworth in 1485, during which he was fighting on the side of the House of York. Although John held Framlingham Castle for only two years, he is believed to have carried out extensive repairs and refurbishments on the structure. John’s son, Thomas Howard, is also thought to have made some significant refurbishments to the castle, including the remodeling of the gatehouse, and the addition of brick chimneys.
The Howard family’s ownership of Framlingham Castle ended in 1547, following the execution of Henry Howard by Henry VIII in 1547. Consequently, the castle was in royal hands yet again. Edward VI, Henry’s successor, is said to have held his first court at Framlingham Castle, and in 1552, gave the castle to his half-sister, Mary I, along with the Howard estates in East Anglia. In the following year, Edward was dead, and a brief struggle for the throne ensued. On the one hand was Mary, the king’s half-sister, and on the other was Lady Jane Grey, Edward’s first cousin once removed.
A plot was hatched to ensure that Jane, a protestant, would be England’s new ruler. Mary, however, withdrew from London to Framlingham Castle when she heard of the plot. Along the way, Mary gathered her supporters, and by the time she reached the castle, she had about 15000 men willing to fight for her. The plot ultimately failed and its leader, the Duke of Northumberland, surrendered. Thus, bloodshed was avoided, and Mary returned to London in triumph.
One of the five medieval stone heads reset into the walls of the castle poorhouse. (Tomline43 / CC BY 2.0 )
The Castle Is Restored to the Howard Family and Then Sold
Following Mary’s ascension, Framlingham Castle was restored to Thomas Howard, Henry Howard’s father, who had been imprisoned in the Tower of London since 1546. When Thomas died in 1554, his titles and properties, including Framlingham Castle, went to his grandson, also named Thomas Howard. This Thomas plotted to remove Queen Elizabeth I from the English throne and was executed in 1572 when the plot was discovered. Once again, Framlingham Castle returned to the Crown, but was restored to the Howard family again in 1603, this time by King James I.
Framlingham Castle left the hands of the Howard family for the last time in 1635, when it was sold to Sir Robert Hitcham, a politician who rose to the rank of Attorney General, for a sum of £14000. Hitcham died in the following year, and the castle and its estates were left to Pembroke College, Cambridge, his alma mater .
The college inherited the castle on the condition that the property was put in a trust that would benefit Framlingham, Debenham, and Coggeshall, three Suffolk towns. Additionally, Hitcham stated in his will that apart from the castle walls, the rest of the structure was to be demolished, and a poor house be built on the site.
The poorhouse, with the Red House wing (l), the 18th century middle wing and the remains of the old Great Hall (r). (Dave Briggs / CC BY-SA 2.0 )
New Buildings Are Added To Framlingham Castle in 1654
It took nearly 20 years for Hitcham’s will to be carried out, as the first new building was only constructed on the site of the castle in 1654. This was the Red House, which was intended to be used as a dwelling. This original intention was abandoned, and the building was converted into the Poor House. According to the castle’s entry in Historic England , it soon became clear that the Poor House did not have sufficient capacity to accommodate all the poor who came to its doors. Therefore, in 1664, the building was torn down, and a larger Poor House was built in its place.
The Poor House operated until 1839, after which its function was taken over by the new union workhouse at Wickham Market. English Heritage , on the other hand, states that the new Poor House was only built in 1729 and was used for about a century. In either case, after the Poor House ceased operations, the building was repurposed as a parish hall.
In 1913, Pembroke College gave Framlingham Castle to the Ministry of Works. This means that the castle was now the property of the state. Three years later, the castle became a scheduled monument, which was a clear indication of its historical significance. In 1984, the responsibility of managing Framlingham Castle was handed over to the English Heritage charity, and in the following year, the castle was listed as Grade I. Since then, repair and preservation works have been carried out on the castle’s surviving structures, and the monument is today a tourist attraction.
Panoramic view of Framlingham Castle, looking into the Inner Court from the south wall. (Evan Fetherolf / CC BY 3.0 )
From One Thousand Years of Private Ownership to Tourism Site
To conclude, Framlingham Castle is a historical monument that is able to trace its history all the way back to the 11 thcentury. Over the course of its almost 1000-year history, Framlingham Castle witnessed many significant events in English history.
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Moreover, the castle witnessed the rise and fall of various English royal dynasties and noble families – the Plantagenets, the Bigods, the Tudors, and the Howards.
Whilst these came and went, the castle remained firmly grounded in the land. Eventually, the castle switched from being a dwelling of the powerful to an accommodation for the poor, and from a place accessible to only a privileged few to a tourist site accessible to the public.
Top image: One of the spectacular views of Framlingham Castle, which has aged into a highly interesting tourist attraction managed by the English Heritage charity today. Source: Ian Dalgliesh / CC BY-SA 2.0
By Wu Mingren
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