In 1121, exactly 900 years ago this year, the medieval city of Norwich hosted the country’s most important man for the holiday season.
In December, King Henry I, the youngest son of William the Conqueror, and his new wife Adeliza entered the city of Norwich to spend Christmas celebrations in its newly completed castle.
The month was spent enjoying sumptuous feasting, music, dancing and spending a lot of money!
Read more: “How Disney’s Pocahontas Should Have Ended With The Norfolk Farmer She Married”
Norwich Castle at Christmas
The castle was richly painted. When the king visited, he brought sumptuous furniture and rich wall hangings. The contrast with the ordinary houses of the time would have been enormous.
The castle complex housed both soldiers and officials and had to meet their needs. The animals were therefore grazed in the northeast courtyard. There were also stables, kitchens, warehouses, a bakery and a brewery on site. It all turned into a manic rush during the Christmas of 1121.
The richest and most powerful landowners in the country celebrated that year with the King of Norwich, including William deWarenne, Earl of Surrey, who was one of the richest men in the country and owned a castle, a priory and an estate at Castle Acre near Swaffham.
The Bigod family who dominated the East Anglian political scene in the 11th and 12th centuries were also present. Roger Bigod had been one of William the Conqueror’s knights and had built castles in Framlingham and Bungay. During this feast, his son Hugh Bigod was the king’s steward.
Important guests are said to have approached the upper storey of the keep through the solemn entrance to what we now call the Bigod tower. Only a privileged few would have been allowed beyond the Great Hall into the King’s Chamber beyond.
A Christmas of mourning
Despite the feasts and celebrations, the Christmas festivities were clouded by tragedy.
Only the previous year, the son and heir of Henry I had tragically drowned in the English Channel after the sinking of the White Boat in 1120. This monumental tragedy had left the king not only in sorrow but also with the future of his royal line in a difficult situation. He only had one daughter, Mathilde.
His new wife, Adeliza from Leuven, whom he took with him to Norwich for Christmas, was supposed to cure problems through the birth of a son, but their marriage was childless. This problem resulted in a civil war known as the The anarchy after his death in 1135.
The Christmas season in Norwich in 1121 was the hope of a new beginning before everything got out of hand.
Read more: “5 of the best places in Norfolk for a festive afternoon tea”
To celebrate the anniversary of this event, Norwich Castle is hosting several events in December.
- Until January 5 (except December 23), Norwich Castle is illuminated with a special display every 6-10 p.m.
- Christmas Crown Trail with local businesses takes you around the city to relive this medieval Christmas story. It’s running until January 5
- From December 20-23 and December 27-30, Norwich Castle hosts “The King’s Story” through a performance with actors that will recreate what Christmas was like in 1121.
Visit their website for more information on these events and to book tickets.
Alternatively, you can Subscribe to our daily newsletter for headlines straight to your inbox.