Castle Rising: National Figures

Castle Rising is a small village five miles to the northeast of King’s Lynn, and the Castle today is a ruin. Yet, despite the village’s size and the castle’s state, historically both have been associated with some very important characters of national importance.

Marriage To A Queen

Castle Rising Castle
Photo © James Rye 2022

In 1066 Rising was just part of a Snettisham estate owned by Stigand, the Archbishop of Canterbury. However, within 100 years it had dramatically risen further up the social scale with its owners being firmly embedded in the Anglo-Norman aristocracy. But how did this happen?

After 1066 William the Conqueror gave the estate to his half-brother Odo, Bishop of Bayeux (the man who commissioned the Bayeux Tapestry). When Odo fell from favour in 1088 the manors of Snettisham and Rising were all given to a certain William de Albini I.

The Albini family originated from St Martin d’Aubigny in Normandy, and William appears to have come to England with William Rufus, the Conqueror’s son. Albini I seems to have backed the winning side in the dispute between Rufus and his elder brother (Robert Curthose). He rises in favour in the royal court becoming the King’s Butler to Henry I (a prestigious court position rather than a menial job). Because there are a number of Albinis called William, William I is sometimes known as William Butler, or William Pincera.

William Butler, the proud owner of Rising, marries Maud Bigod of the Earl of Norfolk’s family. He builds a small wooden castle in the village and dies in 1139. It is his son, William de Albini II, who makes the biggest leap up the social scale.

In 1135 Henry I dies and in 1138 William de Albini II marries the Queen of England, Alice de Louvain, second wife and widow of Henry I, and aunt to the would-be King Stephen. There were clear advantages to being the King’s Butler.

This marriage catapults de Albini II (and by implication, Rising) into the heart of the Anglo-Norman aristocracy. In the same year Albini II removes the wooden structure built by his father and starts to build the Norman Keep that we see today. He also has castles at Buckingham and Arundel. William becomes the Earl of Lincoln, and in 1141 the Earl of Sussex, Arundel, and Chichester.

The period of English History between 1138-53 is known as The Anarchy when there was a civil war between Stephen and Matilda as to who should have the throne. Although de Albini II supports Stephen during The Anarchy, he also plays a part in bringing the civil war to an end in 1153 and gains the respect of the new king Henry II.

100 years after the Conquest, the owners of Rising were very close to the seat of power.

Lies About Another Queen

Skip forward nearly 200 years.

In 1326, Isabella, Queen of England, arrived back from France with a small army, and deposed her husband (Edward II). She ruled through her young son, Edward III, until she herself was deposed in 1330. The two often repeated myths about Isabella are that she was responsible for her husband being killed by having a hot poker inserted into his anus, and that her eventual punishment was to be imprisoned in Castle Rising.

Both of those stories are untrue. It is true that Isabella had just cause to be very angry with her husband (see Castle Rising’s She-Wolf Revisited 1 of 2). It is also true that she arrived back in England on 24 September 1326 with her lover, Roger Mortimer, and seized control of the country (see Castle Rising’s She-Wolf Revisited 2 of 2).

However, although it is possible that Edward II was killed by Isabella and Mortimer, it is unlikely that Isabella would have countenanced cruelty towards the man whom she had some feeling for. And although it was convenient for Isabella and Mortimer for people to think that Edward was dead (it stopped the pope arguing that Isabella should be reconciled to her husband), there is evidence that Edward II was alive until at least 1330 and possibly after that.

After her short period of house arrest at Windsor Castle in 1330 following her downfall, Isabella was soon allowed to go free. Some years later she was restored to her pre-1324 enormous income of £4,500 a year. Isabella’s status dictated that she should be treated with respect, and Edward III’s claim to the French throne was in part, based on his mother’s lineage. He would not want to treat her harshly. She spends a lot of time at Castle Rising because it was one of her favourite castles, but she is clearly not a prisoner.

When in Norfolk the dowager queen spent money on minstrels, huntsmen, grooms, clothes, books, and jewels. The Lynn Chamberlain’s accounts contain references to paying for carts to carry the queen’s luggage, and for sending gifts of bread and wine to the castle. Edward III often writes to her and sends her gifts of wine, boar, and caged birds. In the last months of her life she spent £1,400 on clothes, falcons, and jewels. Edward III and Queen Philippa visit her in the castle in 1342, 1343, 1344, and 1349. The long-suffering mayor of Lynn was commanded to send eight carpenters to prepare the castle for the king’s arrival.

Occasionally, when not on her estates Isabella was clearly welcome at court and received visitors. There is evidence that Edward III may have wanted to use her intelligence and skill to take part in peace negotiations with France on more than one occasion. And Isabella was no stranger to royal celebrations. The accounts for 1344 show that Edward III paid for mulberry-coloured Turkish cloth and taffeta for Queen Philippa (his wife) and for Queen Isabella to go on hunting expeditions with him. In 1358 she appeared at the St George’s Day celebrations at Windsor wearing a dress made of silk, silver, 300 rubies, 1800 pearls and a circlet of gold.

The dowager queen of England died at Hertford Castle on 22 August 1358 and was buried on 27 November at the fashionable Greyfriars church in London. After Isabella’s death the castle at Rising passed into the ownership of her grandson, the Black Prince, hero of the Battles of Crécy (1346) and Poitiers (1356).

During Isabella’s time Castle Rising was a busy place and was definitely not a royal prison.

Rotten MP’s

Before the Reform Act of 1832 there were 56 “Rotten Boroughs” in the English electoral system. A rotten borough was a parliamentary constituency in England which had a very small electorate. Because of this it could easily be used by a patron to get his candidate elected MP. Often the control of the electoral seat just passed from father to son.

And because constituency boundaries had not changed for hundreds of year, places where the population had shrunk often returned a disproportionate number of MP’s, and some newer towns and cities were not represented by a single MP. For example, Dunwich was a coastal village in Suffolk. By 1832 much of it had collapsed into the sea but its 32 voters still returned two MP’s to the House of Commons.

Because of its size, and then despite its size, Castle Rising had returned two MP’s 1558-1832. Castle Rising had once been a market town and seaport, but long before the Reform Act had declined to little more than a village.

The Duke of Norfolk enabled Samuel Pepys (the famous Diarist) to gain the seat here in 1673. At the end of the C17th the Walpole family owned the seat and in 1701 Robert Walpole (the future First Prime Minister) was elected MP. He “represented” the constituency of Castle Rising until 1702. After this Robert Walpole achieved greater legitimacy by becoming the MP for the much larger (and less easily influenced) King’s Lynn, a seat he held until 1742. Rather endearingly he was nicknamed “Bob of Lynn”.

Castle Rising may have been rotten, but at least two nationally important figures were happy to sit in the seat (albeit briefly).

© James Rye 2022

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  • Allen Brown, R. (1978) Castle Rising Castle, English Heritage
  • Castor, H. (2010) She-Wolves, Faber & Faber
  • Jones, D. (2013) The Plantaganets: The Kings Who Made England, William Collins
  • Mortimer, I. (2008) The Perfect King: The Life of Edward III, Vintage Books
  • Mortimer, I. (2010) The Greatest Traitor: The Life of Sir Roger Mortimer, Ruler of England 1327-1330, Vintage Books
  • Warner, K. (2016) Isabella of France: The Rebel Queen, Amberley Publishing
  • Weir, A. (2017) Queens of the Conquest, Vintage Books
  • Yaxley, D. (1995) Robert Walpole: First ‘Prime Minister’, Larks Press


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