Fairly well-preserved 11th century motte and bailey, with fragment of probable 12th century curtain wall. Documented in John’s reign and in the late 13th century.
Today, the ruins of a 19th century folly are situated on the summit of the motte and can be accessed by a flight of stone steps for spectacular views of the town and surrounding countryside. The original line of the ‘bailey’ can still be seen as the line of buildings following the streets around the castle. Sections of the curtain wall are all that remain of the 12th century castle that once dominated the site and information boards provide a more in-depth look at its history.
At the foot of the motte the level grassy area is popular for picnics whilst in the Summer months children’s activities and outdoor theatre productions are regularly held on site.
The castle grounds are open from Easter to October between 9am and early evening each day. There is no parking on site. Please use the town centre car park from where, a waymarked route leads to the castle.
Little remains here but the earthworks, which, however, are remarkable, and date, perhaps, from a time prior to Saxon occupation. A huge rampart, formed in the shape of an oval, lying N.E. and S.W., whose major axis measures 400 feet, and the minor 250, contains at its N.E. end an immense artificial mound, rising to the height of 60 feet; no doubt this was in Saxon times the site of a timber fortress and dwelling, to be succeeded by a Norman shell keep, of which, unfortunately, there are no remains, and all the masonry now existing consists of a few fragments of the old rampart wall upon the N. and S. sides.
Here, in the days of Edward the Confessor, his falconer, Edric, had his family aula, or hall, and after the Conquest it was given to Robert de Malet, son of that Robert who accompanied Duke William from Normandy, whose name is on the Roll of Battle Abbey, and who received for his services 120 manors, including; the honour of Eye. Robert de Malet is said to have raised a Norman keep upon the mound, which would be surrounded with a stone wall and, outside of that, by a ditch; a wall also capped the entire circuit of the earthen vallum.
De Malet held the office of Great Chamberlain under Henry I., but appears still to have espoused the hopeless cause of Robert Curthose, that King’s elder brother, and was, in consequence, dispossessed by Henry, and banished from the country. His lands were then bestowed on Stephen of Blois, afterwards King of England, and in later times they came to William, Earl of Boulogne and Moretain, who died in 1160, when all reverted to the Crown. King John, in his sixth year, gave the castle and honour to William Longespee, Earl of Salisbury, and after him John’s second son, Richard, Earl of Cornwall, had them. In 13 Henry III., Hubert de Burg, Earl of Kent, held them ; but in 20 Henry III. we find Henry, Duke of Brabant and Lorraine there. In 1258 they were in the possession of Edmund, Earl of Cornwall. After him the fortress became vested in King Edward I., and after him Edward II. conferred it and its lands upon various persons. Edward III., in his eleventh year, bestowed it on Robert de Ufford, when he made him Earl of Suffolk, giving him a special grant in tail of the castle, town, and manor of Eye, with the manors depending upon that honour. This noble’s son, William, clying in 1382, and leaving no issue, the whole fell again to the Crown, who next bestowed the property on the de la Poles.
Richard II, in his ninth year, in creating Michael de la Pole (who had married Katherine, only daughter of Sir John Wingfield), Earl of Suffolk, conferred on him the castle and lordship of Eye. He was afterwards attainted (see WINGFIELD), but Henry IV. restored to his son the title and estates, which this family held till 5 Henry VIII., when Edmund de la Pole was beheaded and they reverted to the Crown. Charles I. settled the property in dower on Queen Henrietta Maria, who, with the exception of the Commonwealth interlude, held it till her death in I669. Then it was settled on Catherine, Queen of Charles II., and subsequently the castle and honour came into the possession of the Lords Cornwallis, and next, by purchase, to Sir Edward Kerrison, Bart., the late owner. (Castles Of England, Sir James D. Mackenzie, 1896)
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