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Orford Castle is a castle in Suffolk England, located 20 kilometres northeast of Ipswich. It was built between 1165 and 1173 by Henry II of England to consolidate royal power in the region. The well-preserved keep still stands among the earth covered remains of the outer fortifications.
Prior to the building of the Castle, the area was dominated by the Bigod Family who held the hereditary title of Earl of Norfolk and owned Framlingham Castle. Hugh Bigod, 1st Earl of Norfolk was one of a group of dissenting barons during the reign of King Stephen and King Henry wanted to keep a close eye on him.
Construction work at Orford Castle began in 1165 according to plans still held at the Public Records Office in London. The marshes nearby were drained turning the village of Orford into a sheltered port. The castle cost 1413 pounds to build contrasted with royal revenue of 10,000 pounds a year. The design of the castle was unique. The 90 foot high central tower was circular in cross-section with three rectangular towers built into the structure. This was surrounded by a curtain wall with flanking towers and a fortified gatehouse. These outerworks were quarried for building material in the post-medieval period. Only the tower remains but it is one of the best preserved examples of Plantagenet castle architecture. The castle also featured a suite for use by the king on completion in 1173.
In 1177, Henry's oldest child Henry the Young King rebelled over control of lands allotted to him. The 1st Earl of Norfolk supported the rebellion leading to Orford Castle becoming heavily garrisoned. Upon the collapse of the rebellion, Henry ordered the confiscation of Framlingham Castle.
Orford Castle was not as important after Henry's death in 1189. The castle was captured by Prince Louis of France who invaded England in 1216 at the invitation of the English barons who were disillusioned by King John.
In 1280 under the rule of Edward I Orford Castle was granted out and eventually sold. This marked the beginning of the end of Orford Castle as the estuary of the River Alde silted up and trade declined, reducing the importance of the castle as the centre of local government.
Orford was a borough from 1579 to 1886 with parliamentary representation between 1483 and its abolition under the Reform Act 1832. There was also an Earldom of Orford, the most notable of whom was Sir Robert Walpole, the first Prime Minister of England.
In 1930, Sir Arthur Churchman presented the remains of the castle to the Orford Town Trust and it passed to the guardianship of the British Government in 1962. The keep of the castle is the only part of the structure remaining intact with the remains of the earthworks being visible. It is maintained by English Heritage who run regular tours of the building. Orford Castle is regarded as one of the best preserved castles of the period remaining.
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