Framlingham is a magnificent example of a late 12th-century castle. Built by Roger Bigod, Earl of Norfolk, one of the most influential people at the court of the Plantagenet kings, the castle, together with Framlingham Mere, was designed both as a stronghold and a proclamation of power and status. Architecturally, the fortress is notable for its curtain wall with regular mural towers, being an early example of this style.
The castle fulfilled a number of roles. It was at the centre of the struggle between the Bigod barons and the Crown, and Mary Tudor mustered her supporters here in 1553, before being crowned Queen. At the end of the 16th century it was a prison: later still a Poorhouse was built within the walls. Today the imposing stone walls and crenellated towers with their ornate Tudor chimneys dominate, while the grassy earthworks around the castle are subdued reminders of its outer defences. To the west, the Mere provides a stunning setting.
This lordly fortress stands upon a low hill on the N. of the town, on the E. side of the county, about thirteen miles from the coast. It is certain that a Saxon stronghold existed here in early ages, since it was here that Edward, King of the East Angles, was besieged by the Danes in A.D. 870; he escaped from thence, but was overtaken at Hoxne, and shot to death with arrows.The remains of the present castle consist of an imposing circlet of walls, somewhat oval in shape, enclosing an area of 1¼ acres; the surrounding walls are 44 feet in height and 8 feet thick, flanked by 13 square mural toners, which overtop the wall by 14 feet, all nearly entire; close up to the walls was the inner moat, beyond which were two other broad belts of deep water, encircling all but the W. side, where the fortress was rendered inaccessible by a far-reaching watery marsh or mere.
Holinshed affirms the castle to have been held by William I. and by Rufus, but little is known about it previous to the reign of Henry I. in 1103, when the place and other demesnes were granted to Roger Bigod, who died in 1107. William Bigod succeeded him, but perished at sea when returning from Normandy in 1120, at the time when Prince William was drowned at Barfleur. His brother Hugh followed him in the estates ; he was steward of the household of Henry I., and was created Earl of the East Angles afterwards by Stephen, on his testifying on oath that the late King had nominated Stephen as his successor in preference to his daughter Maud, the wife of the Emperor Henry V. of Germany.
This Hugh made peace with Henry II. on his accession, but afterwards espoused the side of the King’s rebellious sons against their father in 1173, and on the landing of Robert, Earl of Leicester, with his army of Flemings, he allowed them to occupy Franlingham and his other castles, from whence they despoiled the country round. Wherefore, the next year, when Henry returned from France, he proceeded to wreak vengeance on Hugh Bigod, and attacked and took his castles of Ipswich and Walton, and then proceeded to Framlingham, which, being at the time perhaps unfinished and weak, was delivered up, and Henry then followed the earl to his castle of Bungay (q.v.), and there brought him to terms. We have the accounts of payments made, in 1175, for pulling down Framlingham Castle and filling up its ditch. Earl Hugh, having died at the Crusade in 1177, was succeeded by his son, Roger, who was restored to the title and estates, and must have repaired and rebuilt the dismantled castle, for we find that in 1215 King John besieged him in it and obtained its surrender; but next year, when John was endeavouring to conciliate some of his barons, Roger Bigod had Framlingham restored to him, and three more of his family held it till the death of Earl Roger in 25 Edward I., when, in default of heirs, the property fell to the Crown. Edward I. then bestowed Framlingham on his fifth son, Thomas of Brotherton, Earl of Norfolk, and Earl Marshal of England, whose widow (after him), had it for life from Edward II.
Then the castle and lordship vested in the Lady Joan, one of the two sisters of her late husband, married to William de Ufford, Earl of Suffolk, and at the death of them, to her sister Margaret, the wife of John Lord Segrave. The place next went to their daughter and heiress, married to John, Lord Mowbray, she being created Duchess of Norfolk, at whose death the castle, with its honour and manor, descended to her son, Thomas, Lord Mowbray, who was created hereditary Earl Marshal of England and Duke of Norfolk.John, Duke of Norfolk, dying 1475, left an only daughter Anne, who was espoused to Richard, Duke of York, second son of Edward IV., murdered in the Tower with his brother. Edward V., and on Anne’s early death, this castle and lordship passed to a collateral heir of the first Duke, John Howard, whom Richard III. created third Duke—(Shakespeare’s ” Jockie of Norfolk “)—and who was killed at Bosworth Field. His son Thomas, Earl of Surrey, was first attainted by Henry VII., but was afterwards restored by him, and became his Lord Treasurer.
This was the Victor of Flodden, made Duke of Norfolk by Henry. VIII. He lived at Framlingham in great State, and died there in 1524. He was succeeded by his eldest son Thomas, the third Howard Duke, who also dwelt here in much splendour ; he fell, however, under the displeasure of Henry VIII., and after long imprisonment only escaped execution by the death of the tyrant on the night before this was to have taken place. His son, the poet Earl of Surrey, had, however, been beheaded, and the estates which had been surrendered were granted by Edward VI. to his sister Mary, Framlingham and Kenninghall included.
On the death of Edward in 1553, his sister Mary narrowly escaped a snare laid by Northumberland to entrap and imprison her, and at once sought safety at her seat of Kenninghall in Norfolk. Once here, on July 9, she sent an order to the Privy Council in London, directing them to proclaim her Queen, to which they returned a reply branding her with illegitimacy. Mary then took measures for maintaining her right, and at once received the support of two Catholic gentlemen of Norfolk, Sir Henry Jerningham and Sir Henry Bedingfield, who joined her with their tenantry. It was then thought that, Kenninghall not being strong enough to stand a siege, it would be best for her to fix her quarters at some strong post near the coast, from whence she could, on an emergency, escape to Holland, and seek the protection of her kinsman Charles V. No place could meet her requirements so well as her own castle of Framlingham, so leaving Kenninghall on July 11 on horseback, with her suite, she did not draw bridle till they arrived at Framlingham (a ride of twenty miles), where not only were the defences of the fortress in perfect order, but the State apartments and accommodation of the castle buildings were well suited to receive a Queen with her retinue and guards. Miss Strickland describes the entry, when “the picturesque train of knights in warlike harness, and their men-at-arms guarding equestrian maids of honour, with the heiress of the English Crown at their head, wended their way by torchlight up the wooded eminence on which the Saxon town of Framlingham is builded.” Then crossing over the two deep moats by the causeway the cavalcade entered “beneath the embattled gateway, surmounted then, as now, by the arms of Howard.” Once in safety within these strong walls, Mary raised her standard over the gatehouse, and assumed the title of Queen Regnant of England and Ireland. Her party at once gained strength, and not only the Catholic lords and gentry of Norfolk and Suffolk crowded to her support, but many Protestants also, so that in a very short time an army of 13,000 men, serving without pay (for she had no money), was encamped, or quartered, round Framlingham Castle.
Alas! the castle buildings and lodgings, which Mary found in the exact state as they were left by the old Duke of Norfolk when he surrendered them to Henry VIII for the Prince of Wales, were all pulled down in 1639, but the outlines of the State apartments can still be traced on the walls against which they were built, and the curious chimneys are still there. One of these belonged to the State bedchamber on the second floor, said to have been Mary’s room, having on one side of it a small recess with an arched window looking eastward, which was probably an oratory. The Governor, in 1553, was of the old faith, one Thomas Sheming, and a priest called “Sir Rowland” still officiated in the castle chapel, whose gable is marked on the E. wall opposite. There are also some small windows which lighted a gallery leading from the State apartments to this chapel, along which Mary must often have passed.
The extensive view of the North Sea obtainable from the castle towers was now of importance in case of a necessity to leave the country, and to this day a lane leading to the coast is called ” Bloody Queen Mary’s lane ; ” it was kept open for retreat while the approaches to the castle through the forest were obstructed with felled trees.
Five days after Mary’s arrival, a fleet of six ships of war, sent to besiege Framlingham, was carried over to her side by their crews, and the ships at Harwich likewise declared for her, their guns and warlike stores being sent for the defence of the castle. A Privy Council was now formed, which sent a proclamation of defiance to London, and rewards were offered for the person of Northumberland. He was at Cambridge, and, appalled at the revolution, lost heart and gave himself up, and was sent to the Tower, though he had himself proclaimed Mary Queen at Cambridge. Mary broke up from Framlingham on July 31, and commenced her triumphant march to London by way of Ipswich; and on the same day her sister Elizabeth and the Privy Council started from London to meet their Sovereign at Ingatestone. Thence the Queen went to her mansion at Wanstead, where she disbanded her troops, and then proceeded to make her entry into London.
At Mary’s accession the attainder on Norfolk was reversed, and the Queen restored to him his estates of Framlingham and Kenninghall. He was then an old man of eighty, and he died at this castle the next year. His grandson succeeded him, Thomas, fourth duke, who fell a victim to his attachment to the cause of Mary Queen of Scots, and was beheaded by Elizabeth, last of the sanguinary Tudors, when all the estates again reverted to the Crown. James I. granted Framlingham again to the Howards, who sold the property in 1635 to Sir Robert Hitcham, Knight; he dying next year, bequeathed the place to the Master and Fellows of Pembroke College, Cambridge, and in their hands it remains. Hitcham directed that the whole castle (which was probably in a dilapidated state) should be pulled down, except what was built of stone, and this was done in 1639. All the lodgings, halls, chapel, and offices were dismantled, and with the materials a poorhouse was built within the walls, and some charitable houses.
What remains is chiefly of the reign of Edward II., though much was added later by the Howards. The chief entrance was at the gatehouse on the S., where are carved the arms of Brotherton, Mowbray, Howard, and others, and which had a portcullis and drawbridge ; this building was the work of Thomas Howard, the second duke, together with the Perpendicular windows and the very incongruous but beautiful red chimneys. Upon the W. there was a barbican which was standing in 1617, the foundations of which may be traced to the right of the bridge. At that time there stood in the inner court a handsome well with carved pillars supporting a canopy ; the chapel adjoined the E. wall, and the great hall was on the W.; while between the two was a large range of rooms with a cloister below it. A postern gave egress on the E., over a bridge built on stone piers, to the park, which was large and well-wooded, long since disparked and converted into fertile fields. The outer ballium, to which a timber bridge from the postern led, is shown in the thirteenth-century plan to be laid out as a “pleasaunce ” or garden. (Castles Of England, Sir James D. Mackenzie, 1896)