Castle Rising was begun in 1138 by William d’Aubiny (sometimes spelt d’Albini) II, on his marriage to Adeliza, the widow of Henry I. William had inherited the estate of Snettisham (which included Rising) from his father, who had been granted various estates in Norfolk. William also built castles at New Buckenham, Norfolk and Arundel in the south of England, having been made Earl of Arundel in 1139. New Buckenham Castle would go on to serve as William’s and the d’Albinis caput (administrative centre) for their estates in Norfolk.
Prior to the castle being built, the site of the castle at Rising had little significance. It was neither strategically important or a great centre of note. After the Norman conquest of England in 1066, the land on which the castle stands was granted to Odo of Bayeux, the half brother of William the Conqueror. During this period, no doubt, several Anglo-Norman buildings occupied the site. When Odo fell from favour, the site the castle now stands on was granted to the d’Albini’s.
With William’s growing wealth and influence, he began constructing his castles. With the site at Rising not having been of any strategic importance, it has been suggested the reason for constructing the castle at Rising was due to the area not being densely populated which made it easy to establish a deer park and the easy access to building materials sourced locally or shipped to the site, as it had good access from the sea at the time.
Once the construction of Castle Rising had began, the settlement of Rising was moved to the north of the castle site and became a planned Norman settlement laid out in a grid-fashion. An early Norman chapel that had been constructed on the site in around 1100, this would now be used as the chapel for the castle with a new church being established in the new settlement for the local populous.
Castle Rising was constructed with massive earthworks, including three baileys. One bailey lies to the east of the castle and measures 82 metres by 59 metres. The eastern bailey was constructed to form a barrier to ingress into the interior of the castle and is connected to the inner bailey via a bridge. A gatehouse into the inner bailey was constructed at the same time of the castle to prevent further progress into the castle.
The inner bailey at Castle Rising measures 73 metres by 60 metres which is encompassed by a massive rampart with ditch. Originally, this rampart wouldn’t have been as large as they are seen at the castle today, being 18 metres high from the bottom of the ditch. It would have been roughly half of this height. There may have been a wooden palisade or other defence on top of this rampart, though a wall was added at a later point.
The western bailey at Rising has been levelled into the form of a platform and is no longer connected to the rest of the castle.
The keep at Rising is what is known as a ‘hall keep’, these are different to tower keeps such as the Tower of London, Hedingham Castle, and Rochester Castle, in that they are oblong and resemble a hall rather than a tower. There are a number of other hall keeps in existence, such as those at Norwich, Chepstow and Falaise, France. It is believed that the keep at Rising is heavily influenced by the design of the keep at Norwich.
Castle Rising keep is constructed from carrstone rubble with ashlar facings, with timbers added to provide extra strength. The main body of the keep is 24 metres by 21 metres wide. The walls of the keep are about 15 metres high with pilaster buttresses and a forebuilding along the east side of the keep. There are four turrets that are formed from clasping buttresses on the keep, along with arcading and decorative stonework that form part of the previously mentioned forebuilding. The castle has a Romanesque style.
During the Anarchy, William d’Albini supported King Stephen against the Empress Matilda’s claim to the throne of England. In 1145 King Stephen granted William permission to open a mint at Castle Rising. Once the conflict had ended and King Stephen had died, the mint was closed on the order of Stephen’s successor, Henry II, Matilda’s son. While William had supported King Stephen in the conflict, he would go on to be a loyal supporter of King Henry, which enabled him to keep his landholdings.
In 1173 there was a major rebellion against King Henry led by his three sons, his wife and numerous other supporters. William supported the king, with a new phase of construction occurring at Castle Rising to bolster its defences. The earth ramparts were increased in height and west bailey was altered significantly.
Castle Rising would remain the property of the d’Albini family until 1243, when Hugh d’Albini died, leaving no children the castle passed to Roger de Montalt. By 1327, the castle had passed to Roger’s brother Robert, he sold the castle at Rising to the crown with a lifetime lease for him and his wife, Emma, to remain in the castle. About the time of this arrangement, some works were undertaken to the castle, including the keep being raised in height at one end with a peaked roof added. Also, a new kitchen was added to the facilities at the castle.
In 1326, Queen Isabella of France, who was Queen of England through her marriage to Edward II led a revolt against her husband with Roger Mortimer. Queen Isabella and Mortimer were successful in seizing the English throne and installing Isabella’s son, also called Edward, as the new king (Edward III). Isabella would rule as regent on her son’s behalf, with the support of Mortimer, for four years. In 1330, Edward III seized power from his mother and Mortimer.
Queen Isabella, was initially held at Berkhamsted Castle in Hertfordshire before being released. It is at this time she gained ownership of Castle Rising. Edward granted his mother Castle Rising and Emma de Montalt sold her rights in the castle to Isabella for £400. Isabella would use Castle Rising as her main residence until her death 1358. On gaining ownership of the castle, extensive building works were undertaken to ensure the castle was suitable for a queen. A new residential range was added to accommodate Isabella, a new chapel and other new buildings were added. It is thought that around this time a wall was added around the inner bailey to improve security.
Edward was been recorded as visiting his mother at Rising on at least four occasions. After the death of Isabella in 1358, Castle Rising passed to Edward of Woodstock (also known as the Black Prince). His father, Edward III had decreed in 1337 that after the death of Isabella that Castle Rising would become part of the Duchy of Cornwall. Building works were conducted during this period, and during Edward’s ownership of the castle it seems to have been maintained in good order.
Edward died in 1376, and Castle Rising returned to the control of the crown. After being returned to the control of the crown, ownership of the castle was passed between several different nobles under King Richard II. After Richard was deposed of the English throne in 1399, Castle Rising was restored to the ownership of the Duchy of Cornwall.
Castle Rising would continue to belong to the Duchy of Cornwall in the 15th and 16th centuries. During this period the castle became more of a retreat for hunting. Minor repairs were made to the castle during but the general condition of the castle declined steadily, with a report in 1482 remarking that the buildings at Castle Rising were no longer watertight. New building work did occur between 1503 and 1506, though by 1542-1543 the castle was said to be in a ruinous condition, with roof of the keep having collapsed. Some repair works were undertaken at this time and changes were made to the function of some of the rooms of the keep.
In 1544, Castle Rising was bequeathed to Thomas Howard, Duke of Norfolk by Henry VIII . Castle Rising continues to be owned by the Howard family to this day.
Castle Rising is open to the public.