Last Updated on July 17, 2020 by Anisa
It seems like there is history everywhere you turn in England. When I went to a small town about two hours northeast of London called Framlingham, I expected to see a beautiful old castle, but I was surprised to learn that a significant historical event took place there back in the 16th century.
Mary Tudor (aka Bloody Mary) was proclaimed Queen of England at Framlingham Castle in July of 1553, making it one of the most historic castles in Suffolk.
Still, it’s a bit out of the way, so you may be wondering if Framlingham Castle is worth a visit? In this post, I will share more of the history of Framlingham Castle, what you will see, and why I think you should visit Framlingham Castle. I have returned several times!
COVID-19 UPDATE: Framlingham Castle is now open (with the exception of the indoor exhibition) but they are limited the number of visitors to keep everyone safe. This means everyone (including English Heritage Members) needs to book a timed ticket in advance online here.
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The History of Bloody Mary
Mary Tudor was the oldest daughter of Henry VIII. Since male heirs are first in line for the throne, when her father died, her younger brother, Edward, became king. Mary was the next in line. However, since Mary was Catholic, Edward wanted to change the line of succession and have the throne to go to Lady Jane Grey next.
When Edward was dying, Mary was summoned to London. She knew if she went to London she would be captured, so she fled to Framlingham Castle in Suffolk instead. While at the castle, she rallied her supporters and was proclaimed Queen of England. She was officially crowned at Westminster Abbey in London later that year.
Mary is remembered for bringing back Catholicism to England after the short-lived Protestant reign of her half-brother. During her five-year reign, she had over 280 religious dissenters burned at the stake earning her the nickname “Bloody Mary.” Bloody Mary was real, not just a drink! If you want to learn more about Mary I, check out this biography.
Framlingham Castle History
Framlingham Castle dates back to the 12th century so there is more to its history than Bloody Mary. It has been owned by some of the most powerful families in the region.
The castle was built by the Bigods, a powerful Norman family. In 1213 Roger Bigod II entertained King John at the castle. He was one of the barons that forced King John to sign the Magna Carta in 1215. King John sieged Framlingham Castle as retaliation in 1216, but soon control of the castle was restored to the Bigods.
In the 14th century, Framlingham Castle passed to the Brotherton family. For 17 years it was the home of Margaret Brotherton, the first woman to be made a duchess in her own right.
Following Margaret’s death, her grandson Thomas Mowbray inherited Framlingham, and it later passed on to the famous Howard family in 1483. (You can learn more about the Howard family at Castle Howard outside of York.)
After Thomas Howard fell out of favor with Henry VIII, the castle was given to Princess Mary (Later Mary I) in 1552. During the reign of Elizabeth I, the castle was used as a prison.
In 1635, the castle was sold to Sir Robert Hitcham who was a lawyer and philanthropist. When he died, he left instructions for the castle buildings to be demolished and a poorhouse to be built. A poorhouse was a government-run building to provide support and housing for the needy.
The video below is a cute illustration of the history of Framlingham Castle.
Visiting the Castle in Framlingham
Even without the historical significance, Framlingham Castle is impressive. It was built in the 12th century on the top of a hill overlooking the town. The walls are still in excellent condition, although most buildings inside the castle are no longer standing. There is a dry moat that surrounds the castle. There are also a few trails around the castle to explore before (or after) heading inside.
As you enter the castle in Framlingham, you will see the plaque marking the historical significance of the site and then a little further in there is a well. First, head to the visitor center and pay the entrance fee.
The visitor center is inside the poorhouse which is the only remaining building standing inside the castle walls. You can pick up your audio guide here.
There is also a gift shop and cafe inside the visitor center. The cafe serves some traditional Tudor dishes like “Tarte Owte of Lent” and vegetable porridge, although with regular light fare and some sweet treats.
I haven’t tried the cafe because we usually pack our own picnic. There are several picnic tables and plenty of room for kids to run around on the lush and green grass.
Framlingham Castle Exhibition
Take the flight of stairs up from the gift shop to the exhibition. Here you will learn more about the castle’s history and the people that lived here. The exhibits are aimed at a younger audience, but I still found them interesting and learned a few things. I enjoyed finding out more about the Howard family and Bloody Mary. There are a few short videos, some interactive displays, and even an area to play dress up. I found the ‘Who Eats What?’ game fascinating. I even found out about a few foods I hadn’t heard about before.
Framlingham Castle Wall Walk
The highlight of my visit was the Castle Wall walk. Glancing up, it looked a little intimidating, especially since the castle walls are so old. After climbing up an old spiral staircase, I arrived at the top, where there was a walkway around the whole castle. (Note: There is no lift access to the wall walk, so, unfortunately, it is not accessible.) The chimneys along the wall are the oldest surviving Tudor chimneys in the country. The view of the inside of the castle, the countryside, and the town was impressive.
Then as we were walking around the top, it started raining. No big deal, I had my umbrella (or brolly as they call it). Well, then it got windy. After my umbrella was blown inside out a few times I was ready to go back down. On the way back down you can stop in the small museum. It houses artifacts from the last 100 years or so collected by a local resident – Harold Lanman.
Framlingham Castle Meer Walk
In addition to the path in the dry moat around the castle, there is also a 3/4 mile long circular trail around the Meer. It’s an easy and flat walk with lovely scenery.
We enjoyed the views of the castle (from across the Meer) and saw some interesting wildlife – birds, butterflies, and even a small water snake.
Fun Fact About Framlingham Castle
The castle that Ed Sheeran sings about in “Castle on a Hill” is Framlingham Castle. He grew up in Framlingham, Suffolk and now owns four properties in the area!
Framlingham Castle with Kids
Framlingham Castle is very popular with families. The grass area inside has plenty of space for kids to run around. The exhibition inside the Poorhouse is interactive and designed for a younger audience. Additionally, kids will enjoy doing the castle wall walk. English Heritage periodically will have special events like jousting that are perfect for kids.
Outside the castle, kids love running around in the moat and rolling down the castle hill. The Meer walk is also well suited for young ones.
Logistics for Visiting Framlingham Castle
Framlingham Castle Hours
Framlingham Castle opening hours are 10 am to 5 pm, but the days it is open varies throughout the year, so be sure to check here before you plan your visit.
Framlingham Castle Admission
Admission (as of July 15, 2020) for adults is £11.30 and children are £6.80. If you are going as a family, you can save some money by buying the family ticket which includes 2 adults and 3 children for £29.40. An audio guide is included in your admission. When special events are on, there may be additional charges.
English Heritage members (like us) get in free. Click here for more information about English Heritage. It also gets you into over 400 more historic sites across England. There is also a special English Heritage pass for visitors where you can have access to all the sites for either 9 or 16 days. Click here for more information on the English Heritage Visitor Pass.
Parking at Framlingham Castle
There is plenty of parking at Framlingham Castle as there is an overflow lot for busier days. Parking is free for English Heritage members but there is a charge for non-members.
How Long to Visit Framlingham Castle
You can easily see the castle in 1-2 hours, not including picnicking or time spent exploring the moat area outside the castle.
How to Get to Framlingham Castle
Unfortunately, Framlingham Castle is not easy to get to from London. The best way is to drive. Trains don’t get you very close, but if you are going from London to Framlingham, you could take the train to Ipswich. Then, the 118 bus will take you from Ipswich to Framlingham.
Accessibility at Framlingham Castle
Framlingham Castle was built in the 12th century, so there are challenges in making it accessible. Those with mobility issues can visit the exhibition but it would be difficult to do the wall walk or the trails in the dry moat. There are a lot of stairs going up to the wall and the paths in the moats are steep and uneven. Please consider these points when deciding whether to make the journey to Framlingham Castle. I did see a man on crutches manage to do the wall walk.
Best Time to Visit Framlingham Castle
If you can try to plan your visit to Framlingham Castle when the weather is pleasant. You want to be able to enjoy the castle wall walk, having a picnic, and exploring the area outside the castle. If the forecast is rainy or cold, there are exhibits to see inside.
Overall, I enjoyed my visit to Framlingham Castle. (In fact, I have visited several times since) Seeing the historical plaque inspired me to read more about Mary I and it is a fascinating story. I love those plaques! I would love to hear about other places where these plaques have helped you learn more about history.
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Expert Tips for Visiting Framlingham Castle
- Pack a picnic to enjoy inside the castle if the weather is nice.
- You can explore the outside of the castle without paying admission.
- Framlingham Castle is run by English Heritage, which also manages over 400 historic sites in England. You may want to consider a membership or visitor’s pass if you plan on visiting several English Heritage sites.
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