One of the largest, best preserved and most lavishly decorated keeps in England, surrounded by 20 acres of mighty earthworks. Begun in 1138 by William d’Albini for his new wife, the widow of Henry I, in the 14th century it became the luxurious exile-place of Queen Isabella, widow (and alleged murderess) of Edward II. Owned and managed by Lord Howard of Rising. (EH)
Rising was a seaport town
When Lynn was but a marsh;
Now Lynn it is a sea-port town
And Rising fares the worse.
The inaccessibility of the place may account for its choice originally as a fortress.There can be no doubt that the site, selected for the formation of an ancient British earthwork, was, as happened also at Castle Acre, in later times utilised by the Romans for a castrum, and was so adapted by them, with additional earthworks on the E. and W. of the central oval stronghold. This latter British work consists of a mighty bank enclosing an area measuring 80 yards N. and S. by 67 E. and W., surrounded outside by an enormously broad and deep ditch, the top of the rampart standing 30 feet above the ground inside, and measuring some 60 feet from the bottom of the ditch. On the W. of this work is a rectangular piece of ground, abutting on the ditch, and enclosed on its three sides by a separate ditch; while on the E. of the central work is a much larger rectangular enclosure, having likewise a broad ditch, which is, however, separated from the central ditch at both ends for access purposes, and inside is another high bank of earth. The two rectangular spaces were the additions of the Romans. The whole covers an area of about thirteen acres.
The lands here had belonged to Archbishop Stigand, and were bestowed by the Conqueror on his half-brother, Bishop Odo of Bayeux and Earl of Kent; but on that prelate’s rebellion, the Red King gave them to William d’Albini, and from him they passed to his son William “of the Strong Hand,” to whom the founding of the Norman castle is attributed. He married Queen Adeliza, the widow of Henry I., and assumed in her right the title of Earl of Arundel, being shortly after created also Earl of Sussex. He was succeeded by his son William, who died in 1196, and whose son, dying in 1221, left two sons, William the elder, who died s.p. in 1224, and Hugh d’Albini the other, who married Isabel, daughter of William, Earl de Warren and Surrey, of Castle Acre; he, too, died s.p., leaving four co-heirs:
- Robert, son of his eldest sister Isabel, the widow of Robert de Tateshall.
- John FitzAlan, son of Isabella, another sister by John, Lord FitzAlan.
- A sister, Nicholane, wife of Roger de Somery.
- A sister, Cecily, wife of Roger, Lord de Montalt.
Upon the partition of the last earl’s vast estates, the castle and manor of Rising went jure uxoris to Lord Montan, who left two sons, John and Robert, and they succeeded in turn; but John’s son died s.p., and Robert, who was a noted warrior and statesman, having also no issue, entered into an agreement with Edward III. for the sale of this castle anti its lands, for the sum of 10,000 marks, retaining it for his own lifetime and that of his wife, with reversion to the Queen Dowager, Isabella, for her life ; after her to John of Eltham, Earl of Cornwall, second son of King Edward, with remainder to the King and his heirs.
Robert de Montalt died s.p. three years later (December 1331), when his widow Emma, for an annuity of £400, surrendered her life interest to the Queen Dowager, who entered into possession and took up her residence at Rising. On her death in 1338 (John of Eltham having died s.p.), Edward the Black Prince inherited as Duke of Cornwall, and from him the property descended to his son, Richard II., as an appanage of the Duchy. King Richard II. exchanged it with John le Vaillant, Duke of Brittany, for the castle of Brest, but this was set aside in 1397, when Rising reverted to the Duchy. Henry VIII. exchanged it with Thomas Howard, .Duke of Norfolk, and in 1693 it came to another Thomas Howard, ancestor of the Earls of Suffolk and Berks, one of whose descendants still holds the lands and castle, under the will of the late Hon. G. T. Howard.
The one special interest which clings to the old tower before us is the tradition that it formed the prison-house for twenty-seven long years of Isabella, the Queen Dowager, the She Wolf of France, after the retributive justice which fell upon her paramour Mortimer; and we have wondered at the stern treatment of his mother by Edward III., who could thus immure her for life, “forbidding her ever to go out, or show herself abroad; ” for this is the history as told by Miss Strickland on the authority Of Froissart. But reference to the Patent Rolls, and researches in the records of the Corporation of Lynn, have disproved this story. First, as we have seen, Rising became in 1331 Queen Isabella’s own property, for which she paid an annuity of £400 to Montalt’s widow, and though she took up her abode here, she by no means lived entirely at this castle, but occasionally visited other parts of the kingdom. Her son seems to have treated her with ceremony. In 1330 she was conducted with much State from the castle of Berkhamstead, where she .was living, to Windsor, to keep Christmas with the King and Court. In 1338 she was residing at Pontefract Castle. Then she entertained at Rising her son and his Court with Royal State, and in 1344 Queen Isabella was with the King and Queen at the palace of Norwich, with a large gathering of nobles and knights assembled to keep the King’s birthday, where, amid other delicacies, they “there had an enormous pie—wondrously large.” She likewise stayed at various times at Northampton, Walsingham, and Langley; indeed, from the twelfth year of her son’s reign, Isabella seems to have been constantly on the move. Finally, she did not die here, as is stated, but at her own castle of Hertford, as is proved by the inquisition taken at Salisbury, which shows that she died at the castle of Hertford on August 22, 1358, aged 63. In the Cottonian Library is a MS. of the household book of Queen Isabella from October 1357 until her death, during the whole of which time she was at Hertford, having repaired thither from Castle Rising. Nor is Miss Strickland accurate in telling that she “chose for her grave the Grey Friars church where Mortimer’s remains rested;” that infamous character having been buried, temporarily, at Grey Friars in Coventry, while the remains of the Queen Dowager were laid in Grey Friars church within Newgate, with much ceremony, the King attending. It is said that, with characteristic hypocrisy to the last, she was buried with the heart of her murdered husband on her breast; and it is shown that for the last year of her life, the daughter and grandson of Roger Mortimer were among her closest friends. (Harrod.)
The presence of these existing earthworks is the only apparent reason for the selection of this locality for a Norman castle, the buildings of which were erected almost wholly within the central work; but of all those which constituted the castle—walls, towers, hall, chapels, lodgings, kitchens, offices, stables, &c.—nothing remains except the great tower, or Keep, the chapel, gatehouse, and a few foundations of the constable’s buildings of the reign of Henry VII.
The encircling wall, with its mural towers, which capped the summit of the high rampart, has quite disappeared, with the exception of a few fragments of a brick portion of the date of Henry VI. Gone also are the great hall, the gallery, and State apartments of the castle proper, where Queen Isabella entertained her son and his Court ; these probably stood in the space S.E. of the keep ; but, like many another castle, this one was suffered to fall into decay and ruin at an early period, since in 22 Edward IV. it was reported that there was ” never a house in the castle able to keep out rain, wind, nor snow.” Some repairs were given in the reign of Henry VII., but in the survey of 34 Henry VIII., all was again in ruin; besides, slips of the earthworks took place which destroyed and buried many of the buildings, including the chapel of St. Nicholas, on the N. side, which has been excavated of late.
The greater part of the gatehouse is Norman, but the bridge is of later date, its arch being Perpendicular. The porter’s lodge, just within the gate, shown in an old drawing, has vanished.
But there still remain to us the walls of the superb great tower, a building 75 feet by 64, and 50 in height, having walls 6 feet and 7 feet thick, the ornamentation of which shows it to be late Norman. Like other Norman keeps it is entered from a magnificent fore-building on the E. side, containing the staircase to the second floor, all which part is tolerably perfect. The fabric is divided into two unequal portions by a thick wall running E. and W. from foundations to roof, as at London, the larger rooms being on the N. side. The exterior is plain; the quoins being supported by pilasters, meeting at the angle, the N. and S. fronts being also strengthened by pilasters, while deeper ones shroud the loopholes on the W. front.
Originally there were but two stages in the building, the basement, which is lighted by loops only, having the kitchen and well on the N. side, with three masonry piers for supporting a vaulting for the floor above, and two vaults at the W. end. In the N.E. corner is a spiral stair by which this stage is reached from the upper floor. An opening in the massive cross wall admits to the room on the S. side which was vaulted at one end, and was ceiled by joists and beams elsewhere.
To reach the upper floor one enters the fore-building at the S.E. angle by the great staircase outside the E. wall of the keep. This is a very noble work, having a rich late Norman arcade of interlacing arches along its E: side. Half-way up the approach is protected by a doorway, the door of which .was closed by wooden bars, whose sockets are still to be seen ; and at the top of the flight is a lobby with a magnificent quadrupled archway at the entrance into the great hall on the upper floor. Below this lobby is a dungeon or prison. The hall is on the N. side, and has a mural gallery on the N. wall for lighting purposes, at the E. end of which is a spiral stair to the later third floor above, and at the W. end is a small circular closet in the N.W. angle of the tower. On the W. end are two small apartments carried by the vaulting at the end of the basement, having garderobes on the outer wall. The roof was of tile supported by timber, with leaden gutters.
From the hall access is gained to the large lodging apartment of the keep, which is furnished with many mural recesses and chambers, and has at its E. end two small rooms, carried by the vaulting below, which may have formed an oratory and a priest’s room. There are likewise two other rooms contrived over the great staircase, and a curious small passage between them, with a descending stair leading to an opening in the E. wall, the use of which is difficult to discern.
It is satisfactory to think that this magnificent building is now in hands which will guard it from further destruction. (Castles Of England, Sir James D. Mackenzie, 1896)