The site has been populated for several thousand years, first as a Roman fort on the Roman road that led from London to Norwich, then as a Norman castle. The original Norman keep was built around 1090 by Robert de Montmoie, however the current building is the result of numerous additions and alterations over hundreds of years. This includes work by Edward I in 1300; major alterations during his son, Edward II’s occupation of the castle; and more additions by Henry VIII in 1541. It has also served as residence for Countesses Anne Boleyn and Katherine Howard – both queens consorts to King Henry VIII.
Norwich Castle is one of the most complex medieval structures in England. The castle stands at a height of 50 meters and covers four acres. There are 33 different towers distributed among its various lines of defence, including three Roman-style aqueducts. It also features two great halls, built by Henry III in 1248, which were later divided by a wall in 1413. Henry VIII converted the castle chapel into a great hall for his newly created (1541) bishopric and collegiate church and did much to rebuild other parts of the castle. One of its interesting features is that there is no moat; rather, the outer walls were surrounded by vast ditches filled with water from the aqueducts. In its long history, Norwich Castle has been a Roman fort and Norman motte-and-bailey castle; a Royalist stronghold; an artillery fortress; and it was once even used as a debtor’s prison.
Founded in 1096 by William II, construction on Norwich Castle began in 1100 under the supervision of Bishop Ranulf Flambard. This early castle consisted of a massive stone keep, or tower, which William II used both as a fortress and residence; it was one of the earliest examples in England of such a building. Later, Henry I added the large hall that lay beyond the keep; this hall later became known as the Norman Hall because it was built during the Norman period. Henry III (1227–1272) further expanded Norwich Castle, adding a new tower along with three fortified walls that lay at right angles to one another to form an inner and outer bailey.
The castle became home to two of England’s queens: Anne Boleyn, who in 1533 became the second wife of Henry VIII, and Katherine Howard, who in 1540 married Henry’s son, the boy-king Edward. Both queens were convicted of adultery within these walls; Anne Boleyn was subsequently beheaded on Tower Hill, while Katherine Howard was brought to the block at her castle.
Although it is not known exactly when the castle fell into disrepair, documents from the early 17th century describe it as a ruin. Today, only a few massive masonry walls and a massive gateway remain in place.
There are currently ongoing renovations to the castle, which have been ongoing since the 1950s. The work includes conservation of existing exhibits, but also construction of new facilities.