Framlingham Castle is a beautiful, largely intact Medieval castle, which you can discover in Suffolk, Eastern England.
I visited the castle in early 2014 – I was lucky enough to pick a sunny Winter’s day.
The majority of Framlingham was built in about 1190. Today, the castle consists of 13 proud stone towers, which are connected by a mighty ring of ‘curtain wall’, which forms a rough circle.
The main attraction of the castle today is the dramatic ‘wall walk’. You can walk round the entire circuit of outer walls, crossing each of the 13 towers.
Each point of the wall walk boasts amazing views across the Suffolk countryside. It’s a really impressive experience, and I loved it.
Although there’s lots to see from the top of the castle walls, nowadays, there isn’t much to see inside of them. Most of the internal Medieval buildings have since disappeared, after they fell into disrepair.
There is one remaining hall – which is the present day museum, and used to be a Poor House. It was built in 1729 for the down-at-heel.
Adjacent to Framlingham Castle, you’ll discover the dramatic Castle Mere. The mere is a deep lake and wetland – and the expanse of water is about 3,000 years old.
The boggy mere and mirror-like lake form a beautiful contrast to the castle, and provide a perfect setting for reflective photographs of this amazing fortress.
Here are my favourite stories and experiences from my visit to Framlingham Castle, which span 900 years of history of this amazing place.
A Castle Built in 1190, In One of the Wealthiest Spots of England
Framlingham Castle is located in Suffolk, in East Anglia. Suffolk is a pretty county of gently rolling fertile plains.
These lands have always been important for agriculture – particularly in the production of wool.
In addition to good lands, Suffolk is fortuitously placed close to London (in present day terms, it’s a couple of hours of driving from the city – or about a day or two of riding, back in the Medieval period). Suffolk is also relatively well-linked via sea-routes to France and the European Mainland.
All these factors helped to mark the settlement of Framlingham as a particularly wealthy area. From the 1100s onwards, it was possessed by some of the most auspicious landowners in England.
The first wooden buildings were built here in the early 1100s. But the majority of the flint-walled castle which you can see today was formed in about 1190, by Roger Bigod II, a wealthy local noble.
Defensive Might: Thirteen Tall Towers and One Mighty Curtain Wall
Framlingham Castle was made out of local flint, and most construction took place during the late c12th.
The castle is shaped like a rough circle, consisting of a thick outer curtain wall which wraps around 13 tall towers.
Only one element juts out from the ring of walls – the Western Tower (as pictured below), which protected the Postern Gateway into the castle.
In later years, the basement of the Western Tower was likely turned into a prison.
Unlike many other Medieval castles, Framlingham Castle doesn’t have a central stronghold (a tower called a ‘Keep’).
Instead, if the castle had have been attacked in Medieval times, it would have depended on the strength of the 13 towers and the curtain wall to keep any intruders out.
As you walk around the curtain walls today, you can appreciate the amazing view of the Suffolk countryside – and this view would have enabled you to spot any attackers approaching from miles away.
Additionally, even before an attacker reached the castle, they would have to navigate the adjacent mere (the lake and surrounding boggy marshland).
Surrounding the castle, there was a deep ditch, too. The remains of this can be seen today and, although it was never filled with water (meaning that Framlingham Castle never boasted a moat), it would have hindered any attacker who tried to approach, or dig under, the outer walls.
There’s an even more cunning trick built into the castle, too.
Although it’s possible to walk along the top of the castle walls today (the ‘wall walk’), the stone pathway runs out at certain points – and you must cross some of the towers using a wooden bridge.
In Medieval times, this was a stroke of military genius.
If an attacker had entered Framlingham Castle and had ascended onto the ‘wall walk’, those defendants protecting the castle could lure them around the stone pathway until they reached a point between two wooden bridges.
The defendant could then intentionally knock the bridges to the floor, leaving the attacker trapped high up on the castle walls with no means of descent.
I guess they could then be finished off by a talented archer. It was a cunning trap.
The Remains of Once Grand Rooms – and Decadent Red Brick Chimneys
During Medieval times, enclosed within the walls of the castle, visitors would have discovered the magnificent Great Hall, used for banquets and entertaining. The Poor House, which is visible today, was built in 1729 upon the remains of the Great Hall.
Back in Medieval times – in, the say, 1300s – there would also have been many other buildings, too – including a kitchen and stables. These were all were extended and aggrandised during Tudor times – we can suppose that a brick cloister, alongside some decadent bedrooms, were added to the castle.
Despite such past grandeur, virtually all the buildings which once nestled inside the castle walls have been destroyed.
You are now only able to see alcoves and holes within the curtain wall which would once have been fireplaces or windows inside these buildings, which backed onto the outer wall of the castle.
One interesting Tudor addition still survives, however. Delicate red brick chimneys were built on top of many of the castle towers during the c16th – ‘crowning’ the castle, if you like.
These handsome brick chimneys were built according to different styles and designs, and, if you look closely, each has a subtly different design.
Intriguingly, none of these chimneys functioned as a flue for smoke or fumes. They were all purely decorative. The chimneys were probably inspired by the grand architecture of Hampton Court Palace, and were added to give the castle a more prestigious appearance.
Framlingham’s Moment of Fame: The Proclamation of Mary, Queen of England
Framlingham Castle was the setting for a crucial moment in English history: the crowning of Mary Tudor as the first Queen of England in July 1553.
Mary’s crowning was the cumulation of a dramatic tale of chase, risk, and subterfuge.
When sickly King Edward VI died early in 1553, there was a question as to who would become the next monarch of England.
Some of Edward’s old courtiers – including the ambitious Dudley family – tried to position a young girl, Lady Jane Grey, to be the Queen of England. Lady Jane had a vague claim to the throne – but was favoured by some nobles due to her Protestant religion (and malleable personality).
Mary Tudor, the Catholic brother of Edward I, had a much stronger claim to become Queen. However, Lady Jane was forced onto the throne immediately after Edward’s death, before Mary could reach London to stake her authority.
Resultantly, the Dudley family sent out search parties to capture and imprison Mary, who they claimed to be an impostor who wished to usurp their rightful Queen of England.
Mary fled to the town of Ipswich and then to her sanctuary – Framlingham Castle, which had been passed to the Tudor dynasty.
She holed herself up in the castle and strengthened her troops and support.
Remarkably, the people of England decisively turned to support Mary Tudor. As the sister of the old King, the people saw her as their rightful ruler – despite her Catholic inclination.
Whilst Mary was safely nestled in the castle, vast groups of countrymen gathered outside the walls, expressing their support for the Queen.
This popular uprising spread all the way to the outskirts of London.
Mary was emboldened by the popular support, and the Dudleys – who had plotted against her – saw their game was up. They rescinded their claim that Lady Jane was the Queen of England, and Queen Mary was proclaimed Queen of England on July 19th 1553, inside Framlingham Castle.
If you’ve enjoyed reading about my trip to Framlingham, I think you’ll also like reading about my trip to Tamworth Castle – another fantastic castle in England.
Plotting, Pursuit, And Even More Secrets of Framlingham Castle…
Wish to enjoy more of Mary Tudor’s quest to become Queen of England?
To understand exactly why Dudley was so treacherous?
Or keen to unravel the true significance of those beautiful chimney-pots?
If you’d like to unearth more mysteries of Framlingham Castle, you need my first print book, Exploring English Castles.