Inner Court - Framlingham Castle

Inner Court

Poorhouse - Framlingham Castle

Poorhouse - Framlingham Castle


Framlingham Castle is a castle in the market town of Framlingham in Suffolk. The population of Framlingham in Suffolk rose sharply after the Norman invasion of England as the village turned into a small town of at least 600 inhabitants, surrounded by valuable lands in one of the most prosperous parts of the country. The region was owned by the powerful Hugh d'Avranches, the Earl of Chester, who granted it in turn to Roger Bigod, the Sheriff of Suffolk. A ringwork or motte and bailey castle was first built in either the 11th or early 12th century in the northern half of the Inner Court of the current castle. Although the first documentary reference to a castle at Framlingham occurs in 1148, the actual date of its construction is uncertain.


By the late 12th century the Bigod family had come to dominate Suffolk, holding the title of the Earl of Norfolk and owning Framlingham and three other major castles at Bungay, Walton and Thetford. The first set of stone buildings, including the first hall, were built within the castle during the 1160s. Tensions persisted throughout the period, however, between the Crown and the Bigods. Hugh Bigod was one of a group of dissenting barons during the Anarchy in the reign of King Stephen, and after coming to power Henry II attempted to re-establish royal influence across the region. As part of this effort, Henry confiscated the four Bigod castles from Hugh in 1157, but returned both Framlingham and Bungay in 1165, on payment of a large fine of £666. Hugh then joined the revolt by Henry's sons in 1173. The attempt to overthrow Henry was unsuccessful, and in punishment the king ordered several Bigod castles, including Framlingham, to be destroyed. The king's engineer, Alnoth, destroyed the fortifications and filled in the moat at Framlingham between 1174-6 at a total cost of £16 11s 12d, although he probably shored up, rather than destroyed, the internal stone buildings.


Hugh's son, Roger Bigod, was out of favour with Henry, who initially denied him the family earldom and estates such as Framlingham. Roger finally regained royal favour when Richard I succeeded to the throne in 1189. Roger then set about building a new castle on the Framlingham site - the work was conducted relatively quickly and the castle was certainly complete by 1213. The new castle comprised the Inner Court, defended with 13 mural towers; an adjacent Lower Court with smaller stone walls and towers, and a larger Bailey with timber defences. By this time, a castle-guard system was in place at Framlingham, in which lands were granted to local lords in return for their providing knights or soldiers to guard the castle.


The First Barons' War began in 1215 between King John and a faction of rebel barons opposed to his rule. Roger Bigod became one of the key opponents to John, having argued over John's requirements for military levies. Royal troops plundered the surrounding lands and John's army arrived on 12 March, followed by John the next day. With John's permission, messages were sent on the 14th from the castle to Roger, who, influenced by the fate of Rochester Castle the previous year, agree that the garrison of 26 knights, 20 sergeants, 7 crossbowmen and a priest could surrender without a fight. John's forces moved on into Essex, and Roger appears to have later regained his castle, and his grandson, another Roger, inherited Framlingham in 1225.


A large park, called the Great Park, was created around the castle; this park is first noted in 1270, although it may have been constructed somewhat earlier. The Great Park enclosed 600 acres, stretching nearly 2 miles to the north of the castle, and was characterised by possessing bank-and-ditch boundaries, common elsewhere in England but very unusual in Suffolk. The park had a lodge built in it, which later had a recreational garden built around it. Like other parks of the period, the Great Park was not just used for hunting but was exploited for its wider resources: there are records of charcoal-burning being conducted in the park in 1385, for example. Four other smaller parks were also located near the castle, extending the potential for hunting across a long east-west belt of emparked land.


In 1270 Roger Bigod, the 5th Earl, inherited the castle and undertook extensive renovations there whilst living in considerable luxury and style. Although still extremely wealthy, the Bigods were now having to borrow increasing sums from first the Jewish community at Bungay and then, after the expulsion of the Jews, Italian merchants; by the end of the century, Roger was heavily in debt to Edward I as well. As a result, Roger led the baronial opposition to Edward's request for additional taxes and support for his French wars. Edward responded by seizing Roger's lands and only releasing them on the condition that Roger granted them to the Crown after his death. Roger agreed and Framlingham Castle passed to the Crown on his death in 1306. By the end of the 13th century a large prison had been built in the castle; this was probably constructed in the north-west corner of the Lower Court, overlooked by the Prison Tower. The prisoners kept there in the medieval period included local poachers and, in the 15th century, religious dissidents, including Lollard supporters.

Panorama - Framlingham Castle

Panorama - Framlingham Castle

Edward II gave the castle to his half-brother, Thomas of Brotherton, the Earl of Norfolk. Records show that Framlingham was only partially furnished around this time, although it is unclear if this was because it was in limited use, or because fittings and furnishings were moved from castle to castle with the owner as he traveled, or if the castle was simply being refurnished. The castle complex continued to thrive, however, and on Thomas' death in 1338 the castle passed first to his widow, Mary, and then in 1362 into the Ufford family. William de Ufford, the Earl of Suffolk, held the castle during the Peasants' Revolt of 1381, with much of the revolt occurring close to Framlingham. From the Uffords, the castle passed first to Margaret Brotherton, the self-styled "Countess-Marshall", and then to Thomas de Mowbray, the Duke of Norfolk. The Mowbrays seem to have used Framlingham Castle as their main seat of power for most of the 15th century.


With as many as 83 people living in the castle at any one time, the castle played a major role in the surrounding economy during the period. Large amounts of food and drink were purchased to support the household - over twelve months in 1385-6, for example, over £1,000 was spent, including the purchase of 28,567 imperial gallons of ale and 70,321 loaves of bread. By the 14th century the castle was purchasing goods from across western Europe, with wine being imported from France, venison from parks as far away as Northamptonshire and spices from the Far East through London-based merchants. The castle purchased some goods, such as salt, through the annual Stourbridge Fair at nearby Cambridge, then one of the biggest economic events in Europe. Some of this expenditure was supported by the demesne manor attached to the castle, which comprised 420 acres of land and 5,000 days of serf labour under feudal law. A vineyard was created at the castle in the late 12th century, and a bakery and a horse mill were built in the castle by the 14th century. Surrounding manors also fed in resources to the castle; in twelve months between 1275-6, £434 was received by the castle from the wider region.


The Wars of the Roses during the 15th century saw prolonged fighting between the Yorkists and Lancastrians for the control of the English throne. John Howard, a Yorkist supporter, was killed at Bosworth Field in 1485 and in the aftermath his son Thomas, the 2nd Duke, was attainted, forfeiting his and his heirs' rights to his properties and titles, and placed in the Tower of London. The Lancastrian victor at Bosworth, Henry VII, granted Framlingham Castle to John de Vere, but Thomas finally regained the favour of Henry VIII after fighting at the Battle of Flodden in 1513. Framlingham was returned to Thomas and the Duke spent his retirement there; he decorated his table at the castle with gold and silver plate that he had seized from the Scots at Flodden. The castle was expensively decorated in a lavish style during this period, including tapestries, velvet and silver chapel fittings and luxury bedlinen. A hundred suits of armour were stored in the castle and over thirty horses kept in the stables.


The 3rd Duke of Norfolk, also called Thomas, made far less use of the castle. Thomas was attainted in 1547 for his part in supporting the claim of Mary to the throne; Henry VIII died the day before Thomas was due to be executed at the Tower, and his successor, Mary's half-brother Edward VI, reprieved Thomas but kept him in the Tower, giving Framlingham to Mary. When Mary seized power in 1553 she collected her forces at Framlingham Castle before successfully marching on London. Thomas was released from the Tower by Mary as a reward for his loyalty, but retired to Kenninghall rather than Framlingham. The castle was leased out but when the 4th Duke, another Thomas, was executed for treason by Elizabeth I in 1572 the castle passed back to the Crown. Repairs to the castle appear to have been minimal from the 1540s onwards, and after Mary left Framlingham the castle went into a fast decline. As religious laws against Catholics increased, the castle became used as a prison from 1580 onwards; by 1600 the castle prison contained 40 prisoners, Roman Catholic priests and recusants. In 1613 James I returned the castle to Thomas Howard, the Earl of Suffolk, but the castle was now derelict and he chose to live at Audley End House instead. Thomas's son, Theophilus Howard, fell heavily into debt and sold the castle, the estate and the former Great Park to Sir Robert Hitcham in 1635 for £14,000. Hitcham died the following year, leaving the castle and the manor to Pembroke College in Cambridge, with the proviso that the college destroy the internal castle buildings and construct a poorhouse on the site instead, operating under the terms of the recently passed Poor Law.


After the collapse of the power of the Howards, the county of Suffolk was controlled by an oligarchy of Protestant gentry by the 17th century and did not play a prominent part in the English Civil War that occurred between 1642-6. Framlingham Castle escaped the slighting that occurred to many other English castles around this time. Hitcham's bequest had meanwhile become entangled in the law courts and work did not begin on the poorhouse until the late 1650s, by which time the internal buildings of castle were being broken up for the value of their stone; the chapel had been destroyed in this way by 1657. The first poorhouse at Framlingham, the Red House, was finally built in the Inner Court and used as a home for poor families; it proved unsatisfactory and, following the mismanagement of the poorhouse funds, the Red House was closed and used as a public house instead. The maintenance of the meres ceased around this time and much of the area returned to meadow. In 1699 another attempt was made to open a poorhouse on the site, resulting in the destruction of the Great Chamber around 1700. This poorhouse failed too, and in 1729 a third attempt was made - the Great Hall was pulled down and the current poorhouse built on its site instead. Opposition to the Poor Law grew, and in 1834 the law was changed to reform the system; the poorhouse on the castle site was closed by 1839, the inhabitants being moved to the workhouse at Wickham Market. The castle continued to fulfil several other local functions. During the outbreak of plague in 1666, the castle was used as an isolation ward for infected patients, and during the Napoleonic Wars the castle was used to hold the equipment and stores of the local Framlingham Volunteer regiment. Following the closure of the poorhouse, the castle was then used as a drill hall and as a county court, as well as containing the local parish jail and stocks.


All ground floor areas within the castle walls are level compacted gravel surfaces and wheelchair accessible. The Exhibition (within Poorhouse) has level access. There are steep spiral stairs to upper floors and wall walk. Earthworks beyond the castle accessed via rough tracks and very undulating ground. Entrance/Set Down is a single track road to the entrance to the castle. Will require reversing 300m. Please call in advance for arrangements for disabled parking. Assistance dogs are welcome and a bowl and toileting are available. There are disabled toilet facilities on site. Entry includes access to the Lanman Trust's Museum of local history. There is a shop, food kiosk and picnic area. Exhibition in the Poorhouse tells the story of the people who lived in the castle during its long and varied history. Visitors can explore the Mere, the castle’s outer courts and the wall-walk with its spectacular views over the surrounding countryside. Interactive audio tour included in admission price.


Location : Church Street, Framlingham, Suffolk, IP13 9BP

Transport: Saxmundham (National Rail) then bus. Bus Routes : Galloway European 118, 119; Nightingales 482; and PF Travel 62.

Opening Times : Daily 10:00 to 18:00

Tickets : Adults £8.40;  Concessions £7.60;  Children (5 - 15) £5.00

Tel: 01728 724922