Hugh inherited large estates in East Anglia on the death of his brother William in 1120, and enjoyed the favour of Henry I. At first a supporter of Stephen during this king's struggle with the empress Matilda, Hugh was rewarded with the earldom of Norfolk before 1141. After having fought for the king at the battle of Lincoln the earl deserted him, assumed a position of armed neutrality during the general anarchy, and then assisted Henry II in his efforts to obtain the throne. This king confirmed him in the possession of his earldom; but becoming restless under the rule of law initiated by Henry, he participated in the revolt of 1173, which so far as England was concerned centred round his possessions. Though defeated and compelled to surrender his castles, Bigod kept his lands and his earldom, and lived at peace with Henry II until his death, which probably took place in Palestine.
Bigod's son Roger (d. 1221), who succeeded to the earldom of Norfolk, was confirmed in his earldom and other honours by Richard I, after he had fallen under the displeasure of Henry II. He took part in the negotiations for the release of Richard from prison, and after the king's return to England became justiciar. The earl was one of the leaders of the baronial party which obtained John's assent to Magna Carta, and his name appears among the signatories to this document. Roger was succeeded as 3rd earl by his son, Hugh, who died in 1225, leaving a son, Roger (d. 1270), who became 4th earl of Norfolk. Through his mother, Matilda, a daughter of William Marshal, earl of Pembroke, Roger obtained the office of marshal of England in 1246. He was prominent among the barons who wrested the control of the government fr^m the hands of Henryand assisted Simon de Montfort. The earl married Isabella, daughter of William the Lion, king of Scotland, but left no sons. Hugh, the 3rd earl, left a younger son, Hugh (d. 1266), who was chief justiciar of England from 1258 to 1260, and who fought for Henry III at the battle of Lewes. The latter's son, Roger, succeeded his uncle Roger as 5th earl of Norfolk in 1270. This earl is the hero of a famous altercation with Edward I in 1297, which arose out of the king's command that Bigod should serve against the king of France in Gascony, while he went to Flanders. The earl asserted that by the tenure of his lands he was only compelled to serve across the seas in the company of the king himself, whereupon Edward said, "By God, earl, you shall either go or hang, " to which Bigod replied, "By the same oath, О king, I will neither go nor hang. " The earl gained his point, and after Edward had left for France he and Humphrey Bohun, earl of Hereford, prevented the collection of an aid for the war and forced Edward to confirm the charters in this year and again in 1301. Stubbs says Bigod and Bohun "are but degenerate sons of mighty fathers; greater in their opportunities than in their patriotism. " The earl died without issue in December 1306, when his title became extinct, and his estates reverted to the crown. The Bigods held the hereditary office of steward (dapifer) of the royal household, and their chief castle was at Framlingham in Suffolk.