Framlingham Castle

Framlingham Castle, Suffolk
Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Lesson at a glance

Suitable for: Key stage 4

Time period: Medieval 974-1485

Download: Lesson pack

What was the primary function of Framlingham Castle in the ‘Middle Ages’?

Framlingham Castle is located in the market town of Framlingham in Suffolk. It was built by Roger Bigod, a knight, after the Norman Conquest of England in 1066. At this time the Normans sought to assert their control over the Anglo-Saxons, and Framlingham was probably fortified with a castle to intimidate the local population. Initially, the castle was built out of wood, with the building work taking place sometime between 1066 and 1107. Stone buildings were constructed later at the castle after 1150.

In 1157, Framlingham castle was confiscated from the powerful Bigod family by King Henry II. The castle remained in his possession until 1165 when Hugh Bigod, 1st Earl of Norfolk and the son of Roger Bigod, paid a huge sum of money to regain the castle.

In order to understand why Henry II seized Framlingham castle, we first need to recognise how castles were used during the reign of Henry II’s uncle, King Stephen. During the reign of King Stephen, England was torn apart by a long and gruelling civil war. Barons rebelled against the king and used castles as their headquarters, ruling the surrounding villages as if they were kings themselves. This meant that many barons got used to running things their own way. When Henry II succeeded Stephen to the throne, he felt that the barons were far too powerful and unwilling to submit to his authority. Therefore Henry II took over their castles.

The king dared them to oppose him. The barons knew that if they attempted to resist, Henry would raise an army and take their castles by force. So, the barons backed down and then tried to buy their castles back at a later date. This happened to Hugh Bigod, who lost Framlingham Castle to the king in 1157, and bought it back eight years later in 1165.

Bigod later rebelled against Henry II in 1173. As punishment, he was exiled and in 1175, Henry II ordered Hugh Bigod’s castle at Framlingham to be dismantled by an expert team of masons and carpenters, which is revealed in our first document below.

When the Bigod family regained possession of their castle in 1189 under King Richard I, they had to rebuild it. The stone curtain wall that survives today was the result of this reconstruction. It is thought that the work was completed by 1213, as Roger Bigod II entertained King John at Framlingham castle that year.

Roger Bigod II was one of the leading barons who forced King John to grant Magna Carta. During the civil war which followed, King John successfully besieged and took control of Framlingham castle, but it was returned to the Bigod family when the civil war ended. Framlingham remained in the hands of the Bigod family until the fourteenth century when it passed to the Brotherton family, who were cousins of the king. The Howard family inherited the castle in 1483 and set to work on a large-scale refurbishment project. By the end of the sixteenth century the castle had fallen into ruin.



  • Castles were an important part of the medieval world, but represented different things to different people. Do you think this order would have changed Alnoth’s opinion of castles?


  • Who ordered the repair and provisioning of Framlingham castle? Who was responsible for carrying out the order? Where did the money come from? And who ultimately paid for the work?


  • Where was the original ‘writing’ of Thomas, Earl of Norfolk, produced? Does this tell us anything about the role of Framlingham Castle in Medieval England?  Can you find the word ‘Framelyngham’ in the original document?


  • What does this tell us about the function of Framlingham Castle in the Middle Ages?


  • Hunting was big part of medieval life for rich lords and ladies. They would have based themselves at their castle, and gone hunting in nearby parks. What does the evidence presented in the source reveal about the function of castles in Medieval England?


  • What does the existence of a cottage and a messuage inside the walls of Framlingham Castle suggest about how the castle would have looked like? Does it change your perception of what it would have been like to live in the castle?
  • What does the document reveal about the function of Framlingham Castle in Medieval England?


  • Do you think it reveals anything about the function of Framlingham Castle in Medieval England? If not, do you think the record is valuable for any other reason?
  • If you were writing a history of Framlingham castle, how might you use this source? If this document didn’t exist, would it really matter for our understanding of Framlingham Castle, and the people who lived there?

Teachers' notes

The introduction has outlined some of the key events in the history of Framlingham castle, but the medieval documents held at The National Archives can reveal much more about the appearance of the castle, the people who lived and worked there, and the various functions it performed. Therefore, based on these documents, the key enquiry question for students to discover is: what was the primary function of Framlingham Castle in the ‘Middle Ages’?

It is important that students read each document, and decide if it supports the case for one of the following functions:

  • military
  • local government
  • leisure
  • other

For example, ‘source 1 supports the case that the primary function of Framlingham is… because it says that…’

The questions provided with each source, therefore act as prompts for the overarching question: What was the primary function of Framlingham Castle in the ‘Middle Ages’?

The records used cover a range of material including royal grants, extracts from pipe rolls and the Calendar of Patent Rolls, royal orders, licences and pardons. We hope that these documents will offer students a chance to develop their powers of evaluation and analysis. All sources have been provided with a transcript and as the language may prove challenging, we have also provided a simplified version with more difficult words defined within the text. Each source is captioned and dated to provide a sense of what the document is about. Alternatively, teachers may wish to use the sources to develop their own lesson in a different way or combine with other sources.

All the documents included in this lesson relate to Framlingham Castle which features in the specification for ‘OCR History GCSE module: Castles Form and Function c1000-1750 as specified site’ in conjunction with English Heritage. Framlingham Castle is the first named site for OCR in 2018.

External links

Images of historic sites

An overview of the ‘Middle Ages’

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Lesson at a glance

Suitable for: Key stage 4

Time period: Medieval 974-1485

Download: Lesson pack

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