Framlingham Castle

History of Framlingham Castle

Framlingham is a magnificent late 12th-century castle, its striking outline reflected in the nearby mere. Surrounded by parkland and estates, it was once at the centre of a vast network of power and influence. Its owners for over 400 years were the Earls and Dukes of Norfolk, the supreme magnates in East Anglia – rich, ambitious and influential both at home and abroad.

Manuscript illustration of King John on horseback
King John hunting on horseback, from a 14th century manuscript. King John was entertained at Framlingham in 1213, by Roger Bigod II.
© Getty Images

The Bigods

Framlingham castle was built by the Bigods, a powerful Norman family in the 12th century. The first stone buildings at the site were probably the work of Hugh Bigod, 1st Earl of Norfolk (d. 1177). But it was under his successor, Roger Bigod II (d. 1221), that the huge stone curtain walls we see today were built.

In 1213 Roger Bigod II entertained King John at the castle. But by 1215 relations had soured - Roger, along with 25 other barons, challenged the high military taxes levied by King John and forced him to accept the Magna Carta. Enraged, John laid siege to Framlingham in 1216. After two days, the castle surrendered. This loss of the castle was only temporary however - it was later restored to the Bigods.

The tomb of Thomas Howard, 3rd Duke of Norfolk, in St Michael’s Church, Framlingham
The tomb of Thomas Howard, 3rd Duke of Norfolk, in St Michael’s Church, Framlingham

The Dukes of Norfolk

In the 14th century Framlingham passed to the Brotherton family. For some 17 years it was in the hands of Margaret, the daughter of Thomas Brotherton, 1st Earl of Norfolk. Margaret, who was known to have enjoyed a lavish lifestyle at the castle, was a powerful woman of the period and the first to be made a duchess in her own right.

Following Margaret's death, her grandson and heir Thomas Mowbray inherited Framlingham. It was then passed down to the famous Howard family in 1483. Despite the brief period of the Howards tenure, Framlingham underwent substantial repairs during this time.

Find out more about Margaret Brotherton
Portrait of Mary I of England (1516-1558)
Portrait of Mary I of England (1516-1558)
© Getty Images

The Tudor connection

Through the disgrace of Thomas Howard, 3rd Duke of Norfolk, Framlingham came into the hands of Mary Tudor, elder daughter of Henry VIII in 1552. It was around this time that the castle became the scene of a succession crisis.

Although the catholic Princess Mary had been named Edward VI's heir by their father, the young Edward attempted to surrender the throne to the protestant Lady Jane Grey. Pursued by supporters of Lady Jane Grey, Mary fled to Framlingham to gather her troops.

It was while she was installed at the castle that she received the news she had been proclaimed queen. One of her first acts as ruler was to restore the estates and dukedom to the Howards.

Find out more about Mary Tudor at Framlingham
Painting of lawyer and philanthropist, Sir Robert Hitcham, who funded the installation of a poor house at Framlingham Castle
Lawyer and philanthropist, Sir Robert Hitcham, who funded the installation of a poor house at Framlingham Castle
© Reproduced by kind permission of the Master and Fellows of Pembroke College, Cambridge

A castle for the poor

In 1635 the castle was sold to a rich lawyer and philanthropist, Sir Robert Hitcham. At his death a year later, he left instructions for the castle buildings to be demolished and a poorhouse built.

After years of legal wrangling, the first poor families arrived in the mid-17th century and a new poorhouse building was finally erected on the site of the medieval castle's hall in 1729. Just over a hundred years later, the last poorhouse inmates left, and the building was used as a parish hall.

Given to the Ministry of Works by Robert Hitcham's old Cambridge college, Pembroke, in 1913, the castle passed to English Heritage in 1984.

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