Medieval castle and associated earthworks. The castle was built as a keep with two baileys in 1165 by the Earl of Norfolk. He rebelled against the King, and in 1174, after a short siege involving a mining assault to bring the keep down, was surrendered and the keep slighted. Licence to refortify the site was granted in 1294, the wreck of the early keep being surrounded by a wall with a twin tower gatehouse and a single tower. At this time the inner bailey was also walled. The castle was abandoned circa 1365.
In 1987 the castle was presented to the town by the Duke of Norfolk and is kept in repair by Bungay Town Trust and Suffolk County Council.
The river Waveney, which forms the boundary between Suffolk and Norfolk towards the E., encloses with a loop a small tract of elevated ground, projected, as it were, into the northern county, upon which stand the town and castle of Bungay.
Roger Bigod obtained this manor at the same time as Framlingham, soon after the Domesday Survey, but it is not known whether it was he or his immediate successor who founded the castle here. Hugh Bigod, Earl of Norfolk, who is termed ” inquietissimus,” having espoused the cause of the rightful heir to the Crown, the Empress Maud, in 1140, Stephen came against him and took his Castle of ” Bunie,” but afterwards received Bigod into favour again, and restored the castle, for which the earl was made to suffer on Henry’s coming to the throne, when his castle and his dignities were taken away, but again for a brief period only, as he was reinstated in 1163. Ten years after, when Queen Eleanor, in revenge for her wrongs, had stirred up her three eldest sons to revolt against their father, Earl Bigod declared for their side, and received in his castle of Framlingham the rebel Earl of Leicester and his army of Flemings for some days, when on their way to attack Haughly Castle (q.v.).
For this repeated disaffection he was made to pay dearly, when, in 1174, the King, after his shameful penance at Becket’s shrine, proceeded in victorious progress against his rebellious barons. He came first against the Earl of Norfolk and took Framlingham, after which he prepared to attack the earl’s last stronghold of Bungay. The old ballad declares how Bigod retreated thither in all confidence :
“Hugh Bigod was lord of Bungay tower, And a merry lord was he,
so away he rode on his berry-black steed And sang with licence and glee,
‘ Were I in my castle of Bungay,
Upon the river of Waveney,
I would ne care for the King of Cockney.’
However, when Henry the King sat down before this castle and summoned it, Hovenden relates that, though the Earl had a garrison of 500 men in it, so many lost heart and deserted that he was left to make what terms he could with his Sovereign, and these, when settled, were the payment by him of 1000 marks (perhaps equal in value to £20,000 of our currency), and the demolition of his castles. Then he went to the Crusade, and died three years later.
The lands and honours of the earldom were restored to Roger Bigod, the son of Earl Hugh, by Richard I., in 1189, on the payment of another 1000 marks, but this castle remained in its ruined state for nearly 100 years, when another Roger Bigod obtained a licence to crenellate his house built on the former site ; and it is the ruin of his castle which we now see. He left the place to his widow Alice, and being s.p., after her to King Edward I., dying in the twenty-fifth year of that King. He thus disinherited his brother, intentionally, it is said, on account of being dunned by him for a debt. In 1312, Edward II. seized all the lands and castles, &c., and bestowed them on his brother, Thomas de Brotherton, fifth son of Edward I., who died in 1328, leaving two daughters, the elder of whom, Alice, carried Bungay to her husband, Edward de Montacute; and his daughter Joan, born here 1348, married William de Ufford, Earl of Suffolk, who, on Montacute’s death (35 Edward III.), became owner of Bungay. But he evidently did not use this fortress, as in 1382 it is returned as both old and ruinous.
The property and castle afterwards passed to the Howard family, and from them in the last century to an inhabitant of Bungay, named Mickleborough, who sold it to Mrs. Bonhote, the authoress of a novel, called, ” Bungay Castle.” Rooms were then fitted up in the old keep, which the owner used as a summer residence, but she sold it; about 1800, to Charles, Duke of Norfolk, who was desirous to retain this ancient home of his ancestors.
The existing ruins are those of the second castle rebuilt in the reign of Edward I. They consist of an octagonal enclosure of massive walls, with two low circular towers; in the midst are the remains of the keep, a building 54 feet square, but all is much shattered. Below the mound on which the castle stands are some large earthworks, which formed the outer defences, and which appear to have been originally part of a British or Saxon entrenchment, occupied later by Norman works, as was the case at Castle Acre, Norfolk, at Eye, and elsewhere in very many places.
Suckling gives a drawing of the two circular towers, almost disengaged, and ruined at top, which flanked the gatehouse, the passage through which was once supported by a series of sharply pointed arches. The towers are built solid for a certain height, and then contain small rooms which are not lighted even by loopholes. The walls of the keep are standing in some places, 10 to 12 feet in thickness. In the centre of the keep is a deep well of mineral water; this citadel and the inner ward are on elevated ground, and command the moats and the outer defences of earthen ramparts down to the river. Numerous fragments of masonry are found scattered throughout the castle grounds. A ditch on the S. side, now dry, once communicated with the river, and there was a ford near where the Cock Bridge now stands commanded by this castle, being perhaps its original raison d’etre.
In the “Proceedings” of the Suffolk Archaeological Institute for 1891 is given the result of recent excavations at this castle, whose foundations show that the existing keep was erected on the site of an older building. The castle well was found in the N.W. corner of the building, anti the staircase in the N.E. angle ; also two air shafts were discovered on the S. side leading into an underground chamber, 14 feet square, which may have been for storage of fresh .water, the well being of mineral composition. (Castles Of England, Sir James D. Mackenzie, 1896)