Saturday, July 17, 2010

Framlingham, Gateway to the Counter-Reformation

Framlingham is a name that may evoke little to most people, but to me it is mildly evocative, mostly as somewhere that used to be talked about at school, an interesting and convenient place to take us for one of those educational outings that schools have always tried to provide for their pupils (teachers hate them, of course- once you get outside the classroom all sorts of things can go horribly wrong). I mentally attach the word ‘Castle’ to it, and it then evokes memories of some great role in English history, though until last week I couldn’t have said what that role was, or even to what era it belonged. I’m not even sure I ever went there, but I think I must have done.

It turns out to have been built in the 12th C by Roger Bigod, who had very much his own ideas about both politics and architecture. It has no keep, but is just a curtain wall some 30ft high enclosing a couple of acres rather irregularly. Inside are a couple of normal houses, and once there were more, great salons and dining halls and living quarters for the lords and their staff. The towers have no backs, there were just wooden walkways across them to link the ramparts, which could be removed quickly if the enemy got up. It can’t have been a lot of fun waiting up there, watching for signs of an approaching army, knowing that if anything went wrong you would probably be thrown off.

The enemy was usually the King, as the lords of Framlingham over the centuries had a far greater interest in making a fortune out of wool (like many families in the area- Suffolk, as I forgot to mention) than in going to war, and a couple of monarchs were none too happy about this. But the castle held out and in the 16th C was the property of Mary Tudor, in a brief interlude between centuries of ownership by the Howard family. It was here, confident in the loyalty of her tenants, that she waited during the brief reign of the tragic Lady Jane, and here that she began her rule, and from here that she set out to be crowned.

It’s still surrounded by the remains of the bailey and a partial moat, a pleasure meadow linked by a ruined bridge, and a path leads to a mere where the usual fish and birds disport themselves. To the north there was once a great park, dotted with hunting lodges, but it was long ago disparked and is now a forest, gaining in the exchange I would say.

The church is also worth a look. Large, perpendicular, lots of wood, and a monumental Renaissance tomb that has been described as comparable to anything outside Italy. Sorry I can’t upload photos, drawbacks of rural living, but Google should be able to help.

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