Eye Castle is still dominated by its large motte which is now topped by the ruins of a nineteenth century folly. The outline of the bailey can still be traced and there are also some masonry remains of the curtain wall, turret and Great Hall.
Kerrison's Folly. The motte is dominated by the ruins of nineteenth century folly built upon the foundations of the earlier keep.
The Bailey. Little remains of the original castle although portions of the outer curtain wall and part of one building have survived.
Eye Castle originally occupied a small island surrounded by marshlands. Built by the Malet family, it later passed into Crown ownership and was attacked by High Bigod, Earl of Norfolk during the 1173/4 rebellion against Henry II. A substantial folly was constructed on top of the motte in the nineteenth century.
The entrance to the site is via Castle Hill off Castle Street. Car parking in the immediate vicinity is difficult so it is recommended to use the main car park (details below).
Prior to the Norman Conquest the honour of Eye was owned by Edric of Laxfield but he was dispossessed by the invaders with his former lands being granted to William Malet circa-1068. He was one of the companions of William the Conqueror who had fought at the Battle of Hastings and described himself as being half-Norman, half-English. It was he who built the castle in the form of an earth and timber motte-and-bailey structure on a naturally defensible position on an island surrounded by marshland.
William Malet was killed during the rebellion of Hereward the Wake in 1071 and thereafter the castle passed to Robert Malet. It was probably he who established a market at Eye. This created tensions with the Bishop of Thetford whose whose market at Hoxne suffered in light of this competition. Of note Eye was one of only two castles recorded in the Domesday Book (1086) as an economic asset (the other was Chepstow due to its toll crossing over the River Wye).
Robert, who was also Lord of Graville in Normandy, was exiled in the early twelfth century most probably due to failing to manage his competing loyalties to both Henry I of England and Robert Curthose, Duke of Normandy. Although he was allowed to keep his English estates, Malet subsequently fought against Henry I at Battle of Tinchebrai (1106) and was killed during the action. Eye was then seized by Henry I and in 1113 it was granted to Stephen of Blois who retained it until he became King in 1135.
Stephen's reign was marred by a protracted civil war known as the Anarchy - a dispute over the English succession. During this period Stephen granted Eye Castle to one of his key supporters and military commanders, William of Ypres. He retained it throughout the war but, when Henry II took the throne and sought to re-establish Royal power by requiring magnates to handover their key castles to the King, was forced to cede control of Eye in 1157. The death of William two years later meant Eye Castle became a permanent Royal property with its maintenance records logged in the Pipe Rolls. Surviving records show regular upgrades were made to the castle between 1163 and 1168 although they confirm the outer defences were still only timber at this time.
Eye Castle was attacked in 1173 during the rebellion of Henry II's sons. Earlier in the reign the King had antagonised Hugh Bigod, Earl of Norfolk who had also been required to hand over his main fortresses just as William of Ypres had done. This created a lasting enmity between the Earl and King with the former enthusiastically joining the 1173/4 rebellion led by Henry's sons. Eye Castle, which had been fully stocked in preparation for a siege, withstood the attack but was nevertheless repaired and upgraded in 1175.
The castle continued to be well maintained until the end of the twelfth century and was still a significant fortification in 1265 when it was attacked during the Second Barons War. At some point the curtain wall was rebuilt in stone but by the fourteenth century the site had declined in importance. It did however continue in use until 1603 as the regional gaol. Furthermore a windmill was erected on the summit of the motte in 1561-2 by Nicholas Cutler on behalf of Lord Cornwallis.
A workhouse was built in the abandoned castle's bailey in the eighteenth century. This was upgraded in 1794 and a school was added in 1830. In 1844 Sir Edward Kerrison demolished the windmill and built a new house on top of the motte as a private residence for his batman who had saved his life during the Battle of Waterloo (1815). This new house, known as Kerrison's Folly, took the form of a shell Keep and is the prominent structure visible today. It fell into ruins during the twentieth century and partially collapsed during a storm in 1960.
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