the castles of wales part 2
Hundreds of Years of History
Constant Battles Destroy the Castles
Our first stop is Merthyr Tydfil where Morlais Castle a 13th century Castle is located just outside the town on an inclined piece of land, overlooking the Taff Gorge, which in itself is quite beautiful. This Castle has virtually no clearly defined ruins, just mounds of earth and ridges. The Castle was constructed by the famous Gilbert de Clare, the 3rd Earl of Gloucester, built to an exacting standard at land owned by Humphrey de Bohun, as he was the 3rd Earl of Hereford. Sadly both Earls began quarrelling, which inevitably turned to warfare 1290, therefore Edwards 1 travelled from North Wales to put an end to it all. In 1294 Madog ap Llywelyn took control of the Castle, due to the constant warfare of various factions the Castle was never completed. Believed to have a triangular inner ward, which housed a round keep, a D-shaped tower on the North end, and the same at the South end. As for the outer ward there were no towers, except for one D-shaped tower at the South East corner, with a moat circling the whole Castle.
Today the Castle has gone with virtually no remains, however, there is the Morlais Castle 18-hole Golf Course to one side, if in years gone by, man was fighting and had use for the Castle. Today however, man has found other uses, it is now being used for leisure.
Monmouthshire has a huge number of Castles, from the small to the large, timber framed motte and bailey Castles to huge stone structures, in this County there are three main Castles. "Chepstow Castle" being the most famous, yet, not in such good restoration order as the other two, "Monmouth Castle" and "Raglan Castle" both fine examples of 12 to 14th century Castles. Chepstow Castle is believed to be the oldest standing Post-Roman Fort in the UK, overlooking the River Wye, built on the cliff tops to survey all it ruled. Built in 1067 by William the Conqueror, who commissioned the Norman Lord William FitzOsbern, who later, became Earl of Hereford, constructed the Castle in the Welsh Marches. At the Southernmost point on the Welsh-English border, the Castle sits right on the limestone ridge just between the cliffs of the river, and the "Dell"(the name given to the valley). Believed not to be a strong Castle defensively, as the keep was weak, and did not have a concentric design or layout. William the Conqueror commissioned its construction as this site was extremely important strategically, the "River Wye" being a major artery, as regards transportation of goods, and, foodstuff as well as communications, and, it turned out to be invaluable strategically. It has one great tower, that is believed to have been constructed in about 1090, and was more to show strength and importance than anything else. Used mainly from 1067 to 1403 for military action, however, it saw action in the 1600's too, in particular during the "English Civil War". After the English Civil War, towards the end of the 17th century, 1682 onwards it fell into decay, it was not until the 19th and 20th centuries, with the growth of tourism to its door that things looked better. The Castle had a way of earning its keep, and this meant financial benefits to help with maintenance and restoration. Over the last 900 hundred years the Castle has seen numerous owners, custodians and tenants, each with their own ways of doing things. Today cared for by "Cadw" since 1984, also, being Grade 1 listed since 1950, Chepstow Castle is well worth visitng.
Monmouth Castle, situated near the centre of Monmouth the Castle sits on a hill towering above the River Monnow, right behind the shops and main street. Monmouth Castle a Grade 1 listed building, an important border Castle, also, being the birth place of Henry V of England, it suffered damage during the English Civil War, after which it changed hands three times. By 1647 the Castle had suffered damage, decay and even partial collapse, subsequently to be re-built it is believed in 1673. Originally in 1646 Oliver Cromwell took the decision to de-militarise the Castle, then the re-build took place in 1673,commissioned by Henry Somerset the 1st Duke of Beaufort, he turned it into a Castle of fantastic swagger and splendour. Over the centuries the Castle played host to Kings, Lords and Earls, from Henry lll in 1267, to Edward ll who was held prisoner here, to Henry lV in 1387. It even played a part in the Owain Glyndwr rebellion of 1403, though it did not affect the Castle directly. Today the Castle is a shadow of itself in its past life, yet in saying this there are many quarters still remaining in-tact. One quarter is in excellent condition, and still in military use, the Royal Monmouthshire Royal Engineers, and Senior Territorial Army still use a part of the Castle. Also, it is open to the public, and housing the museum for the Royal Monmouthshire Engineers charting their history from 1539 right up to today.
Finally in Monmouthshire is Raglan Castle, probably one of the best preserved Castles that is currently a ruin, a late medieval Castle sitting North of Raglan, the Castle dates from the 15th to 16th centuries. Constructed for the Herberts and Somerset families, a fortified Castle/ Manor house, with a hexagonal keep (The Great Tower) surrounded by lush gardens, with water features, terraces, also incorporating the picturesque parkland. Believed to have been held for Charles 1 at the height of the English Civil War in 1646, ultimately "slighted" and ended up beyond military use. Restoration only took place in part, with the Somerset family declining to make any further restoration works.
In the beginning it is suspected that Raglan was a motte and bailey Castle, with remains discovered of a bailey ditch on site. Subsequently the Bloet family had a manor house on the site, which was surrounded by parkland from the 12th to 13th century. It was Sir William ap Thomas who constructed the Castle, as it is today, a revered politician in the 15th century he invested money he had earned from politics into Raglan Castle. Sir William ap Thomas purchased the property in 1432 for the sum of 1000 marks(£666), which in those days was a princely sum. Construction began almost immediately establishing its basic form of what stands today, although, most has been covered, in one way or another. It was in 1460 that huge amounts of money was spent on remodelling Raglan constructing a much larger building, being much grandeur. Some aspects of Raglan, especially the Polygonal Towers share a stark resemblance to those at Caernarfon Castle in North Wales, these resemblances also indicates the Roman influences in Wales at the time. Throughout the following centuries Raglan Castle was improved, extended, and as Sir William ap Thomas is son came to inherit the property, he went on to spend more of his huge wealth on Raglan. By this time Sir William's son was calling himself William Herbert, and his vast fortune which he had amassed from the Gascon Wine trade, and, like his father, he too, was an excellent politician. Throughout the 15th century he created splendour, not only on the Castle itself, the grounds had elaborate fish ponds and orchards, all linked to the surrounding park, (Home Park) and (Red Deer Park).
After William Herbert's execution for being a Yorkist supporter, the Castle changed hands frequently William's daughter Elizabeth Somerset along with her husband Sir Charles Somerset moved into the Castle in late 15th century, a new family line to care for the Castle. The following centuries saw constant changes, not only in the custodians of the Castle, but with various factions fighting, from the Royalists to the Nationalists, the English Civil war, to the Welsh uprising, all taking its toll on Raglan. Raglan Castle a superb example of medieval life, with 16th and 17th century knot gardens, the Italianate sculptures, even the bowling green on the upper terrace has survived, if only barely. The only sadness, the Parkland that once surrounded the Castle has gone, they are now farmland. Today the Castle is a popular tourist attraction with plenty to see and learn.
Castles of Stature
Moving further South lies the town of Neath and situated right in the centre is Neath Castle, located right in the centre of town amidst the shops and amenities. With no structured history Neath Castle is a slight lost soul if you like, being in design some form of early fortified Garrison, or fortified border control. A bold entrance with two towers, no inner or outer wards, and, one small keep, Neath Castle is believed to have suffered substantial damage during Owain Glyndwr's rebellion up to 1403. Sadly afterwards, due to his lack of importance no restoration works were carried out, today it is possible to visit, but it can be restrictive.
Newport has three Castles and none of them are a Castle of any significance, Caerleon Castle a 11th to 13th century Castle, constructed on an ancient Roman Fortress Isca-Augusta, also being an Iron Age Hill Fort. Evidence shows that some sort of Fortress, or a Headquarters building to be there somewhere around the 6th century, maybe a Norman-type motte and bailey type Castle was constructed there, or just on the edge of the Roman Fortress. And, it played a small role during the Welsh rebellion of 1402, and the run-up to Owain Glyndwr's actual claim to the leadership of Wales. Today there is only the remains of the Roman Amphitheatre to be seen.
Newport Castle itself is nowadays a ruin, and a Grade ll* listed building, located in Newport, in-between Newport Bridge and the Railway Bridge on the River Usk. Located in the City centre, the Central Tower and its Water-gate dock beneath is impressive, with two octagonal towers on the flanks and spur-buttresses. It is believed by many that the Castle was built in 1327, while others claim it to be built nearer 1386, and construction overseen by the then owner Hugh de Audley 1st Earl of Gloucester. Today there is only one part of the Castle remaining, the East Wall flanking the River Usk.
Pembrokeshire has a number of Castles, from complete ruins to upstanding majestic buildings, in commanding positions, in the past to oversee and protect, these are the top three.
"Carew Castle" named after the Civil Parish where it stands, and, the Carew family (which owns the Castle to this day), whom took their name from the parish too. Built around 1270 by the family, constructed by Nicholas de Carew, stone built from Cotswold stone, or the correct term ( Carboniferous Limestone). In the early years it was a Norman stronghold, later on Tudor features were added, inner ward and outer ward is present, with the outer ward walls, and the outer defensive walls built to a height of 50 feet (15 metres), which in those days were hard to scale. Situated on the tidal estuary in Milford Haven, on the Carew inlets, the early Castle after extensive excavations has un-earthed a defensive Iron Age Fort. Being a Norman Castle, very early on, built by Gerald de Windsor in about 1100, this was the first stone keep to be built on site. It was when the Carew family purchased the site that major works was carried out, with its huge size becoming a major factor. Sadly during the black death outbreak around early 15th century, the Carew family fell on hard times, mortgaging the Castle heavily, subsequently they lost possession. The family had to wait until 1607 to re-purchase the Castle, and further alterations and restoration were carried out. As with all Castles, Carew suffered during the English Civil War and Welsh rebellion. During the 16th century a Tidal Mill was constructed by using the sea water from the estuary, the Tidal Mill today was completely restored in early 19th century with the Mill Wheels carrying the date of 1801. Today the Carew family still own the Castle, however, in 1984 a decision was made by the family to lease the Castle to Pembrokeshire Coast and National Park, and cadw investing heavily to restore the Castle, in the hope of keeping what is left intact.
Haverfordwest Castle, situated town centre in Haverfordwest itself, positioned in an ideal position to defend the town and surrounding area, and, believed to have been built on the site of an Iron Age Fort. Constructed during Norman times around 1120, right on the end of an isolated ridge, for centuries an English stronghold. Many historians believe the architecture to be nearer 1290 of what remains of the Castle today, having a large curtain protective outer wall, with a rectangular inner ward. The Castle was originally a stone constructed Keep with a small bailey fort, constructed by Gilbert de Clare, who at the time was Earl of Pembrokeshire. Throughout the following centuries the Castle had a chequered history with endless conflicts sustaining catastrophic damage along the way, with the English Civil war, the Welsh war for independence to get Owain Glyndwr on the Welsh throne.
Llywelyn ap Iorwerth the Prince of Gwynedd burnt down the town and Castle, following this the Castle got restored and rebuilt to nearly double its size. In the beginning the Castle was built from timber and stone, the new construction was all stone and mortar, which made it extremely strong at the time. Throughout the following centuries the Castle, you could say was in turmoil, from being under attack to receiving Royal visitors. Between 1135 and 1136 it came under attack from Gruffydd ap Rhys Prince of Deheubarth, and, by 1173 Henry ll of England visited the Castle on his way back from Ireland. However, by the 1600's the Castle had become unsafe, and dilapidated, and got re-fortified during the English Civil War, but that was still not enough. In 1648 one of the inner ward's walls collapsed with the Castle being deemed unsafe. In July 1648 Oliver Cromwell ordered that the Castle be demolished . Even with the threat of imprisonment the people of Haverfordwest refused to demolish it. Considered a ruin today with much of the inner and outer ward walls gone, however, there is still much to see. Today the Castle is looked after by Pembrokeshire Coast National Park Authority, and is open to the public, and well worth a visit.
Pembroke Castle, a linear Castle by construction, dating mostly 12th and 13th century, some of the Castle was built in 1093 by Roger Montgomery, who fortified the peninsula due to the Norman invasion of Wales. Situated on the banks of the River Cleddau, it was once the original seat of the Earl of Pembroke. In the 12th century William Marshall was given the Castle by Richard l, he immediately started re-constructing the Castle, re-building it out of stone and mortar, and these are the majority of the remains that are standing today. From the original Norman motte and bailey Castle with earthen ramparts and timber palisade, William Marshall totally re-modelled the Castle, building a solid impressive stone structure. The Castle had an inner ward and an outer ward with a large curtain wall centrally, at Pembroke the height of the walls were up to 75 feet high (23 metres), which in those days was an excellent defensive height. Although it consisted of a great keep, it is still regarded by many to be a linear fortification, similar to other Castles in the principality, Caernarfon and Conwy. Its history has seen varied uses, as with all Castles Pembroke was no exception, with battles being fought here for supremacy, to marriages. In August 1189, Isabel, de Clare's granddaughter married William Marshall, whom, was married and got the Castle and a title as the Earl of Pembroke, all arranged by Richard l, all in the Castle grounds. Also, at Pembroke the future King Henry Vll of England was born on the 24 January 1457, and he would become a monarch that would establish power and stability back into the English monarchy. In the 1600's and 1700's the Castle fell into disrepair, and even here like Haverfordwest, mid 1600's Oliver Cromwell ordered that Pembroke Castle be demolished, and here just like Haverfordwest the townsfolk rejected the order and the Castle was left standing. In 1880 in ruins, a three year reconstruction and restoration plan was undertaken, but, nothing further was done. It took until 1928 before any significant reconstruction or renovations would take place, General Sir Ivor Philipps acquired the Castle, then, he started extensive reconstruction and renovations to include restorations works. All this was carried out jointly by the Philipps family and Pembroke Town Council, and in 1951 the Castle received a Grade 1 listed building status. Today it is the largest privately owned Castle in the Country, and is open to the public yearly, well worth a look.
Still Impressive Today
Visited by Royalty
Powys is the largest county in Wales, and has the largest number of Castles, by quite a margin, yet, it is not the County with the best Castles, Powis Castle is the single Castle well worth visiting. A 12th century medieval fortress or fortified manor house, Powis Castle is stunning to look at inside and out. Situated near Welshpool it is best known for its stunning gardens, formal terraces, deerpark and parkland, also, for Princess Victoria later becoming Queen Victoria, visiting in 1832. Powis Castle is one of only a handful of Castles to be built by the Welsh, the dynasty of Welsh Princes, who constructed the Castle in the 12th century, and Owain ap Gruffydd ap Gwenwynwyn, the last Prince of Wales who resided at the Castle. It was not until 1579 that Owain ap Gruffydd sold the Lordship and Castle to Sir Edward Herbert, second son of Sir William Herbert 1st Earl of Pembroke. The Castle suffered no major damage and has always been well maintained, and throughout the next centuries upgrades and restorations were done at regular intervals. In 1665 for example, major works were carried out in creating the state bedroom, and further works were carried out during 1670's and 1680's probably by the same man that created the fantastic gardens. The Castle has played a pivotal role through the centuries, not as much through warfare, but, in more formal occasions such as Royal visits, and huge gala dinners. The state bedroom is simply breathtaking, with balustrade rails off the bed alcove, elaborate fabric wallpaper made from Indian dupe-on silk, and French crystal chandeliers on the ceiling, and gold egg and dart ceiling coves. The gardens are staggeringly beautiful, and is considered a true baroque style garden. Today the Castle and grounds were bequeathed to the National Trust in 1952, after the death of Lord Powis, the house and gardens are open daily throughout the year.
Llantrisant is in the County of Rhondda and Cynon Taf, which is adjacent to Glamorgan, situated on the shores of the River Ely and Afon Clun. Not being of strategic importance their hasn't been a Castle of huge importance here, in the 6th century it is believed a settlement existed here, it took until 1246 for it to be seized, and, for Richard de Clare to build a small Castle, named Llantrisant Castle. However, Llantrisant received a Royal Charter in 1346, when the archers of the town helped Edward, the Black Prince, defeat the French Army in the Battle of Crecy. After this victory the Llantrisant Longbow men became famous, as their longboe design became the missile launching weapon of choice, and the English Crown used it during the Middle Ages warfares with great success. As for the Castle, it had a very short life as a Castle, with no major remains visible today, apart from one half circular wall of the keep, and the 13th century windmill, named locally "Billy Wynt" ("Billy Wind") in English.
Grandeur and Splendour
History to Provoke our Fascination
Swansea the name for the County and the City, there are Castles but none have military importance, apart from one, that being Swansea Castle itself. Swansea Castle was constructed as a fortified military base, however, it turn out to be a low key affair, never reaching its full potential, although it came under attack at times. Initially constructed by Henry de Beaumont in 1106, this being the Caput and the Lordship of Gower in Swansea. Built as an oval enclosure or a sub-rectangular, constructed on the North, South and West was a larger oval shaped outer bailey, with the inner bailey containing a motte. The first attack on the Castle came in 1116 by the Welsh, with no success, with further attacks happening in the century in the century. It was 1217 when the Castle fell, but the English regained it three years later in 1220, in partnership between Llywelyn ap Iorwerth and Henrylll of England. The following centuries up to the 14th and 15th century the Castle was being upgraded, with the inner bailey walls being constructed out of stone, and one tower added. In the 13th century further enhancements were made, with the outer bailey being walled in stone. Today, the only remains are the large outer bailey, or the "new Castle", as it was referred to on occasions. In the 15th century it lost all its military importance, by today after consolidating what remains of the Garderobe Tower Wall and outer bailey, the Castle can be viewed from the street along side.
Situated in Chirk, near Wrexham is Chirk Castle (Castell y Waen in Welsh), when we were travelling to horse shows in years gone by, about thirty years ago, if going to the midlands we would travel along the A5 trunk road. This would take us through Chirk itself, where we would see the Castle in all its glory, with its splendour, sweeping driveapproach, and the fantastic Castle gates, it always looked spectacular.
Roger Mortimer de Chirk constructed the Castlein 1295, being the uncle of Roger Mortimer 1st Earl of March, guarding the entrance to Ceiriog Valley. Built as a fortress being part of King Edwards l, long chain of fortresses in North Wales, again, it never materialised as being a Castle of Military importance. In 1595 Thomas Myddelton purchased the Chirk Castle paying £5000 for it (about-£11.5 million in today's money) which both then and now, is a fortune. Thomas Scott-Ellis 8th Baron-Howard de Walden lived in the Castle during the 1930's, and later on in the 20th century, the Myddelton family lived at Chirk Castle, residing there up until 2004. Today the Castle is owned by The National Trust, and, is open to the public from February through to October. There is plenty to see here, all the Towers and Dungeons, the State Rooms, also, the gardens with all the flowers and herbaceous borders, and, all surrounded by the 18th century Parkland.
The Castles of Wales, I have always been fascinated with history, and since I have started this article I have visited some of these Castles, to get my research correct, and also, out of interest. The hardest thing I have found, is keeping it short and to the point, hope I have managed it, otherwise my apologise. I have thoroughly enjoyed every minute of the process, and, while researching my fascination has grown even more, the construction, the size and architecture, to think they are nearly a thousand years old. Here is hoping they will survive another thousand years, and for our children, and our children's children to enjoy for years to come.