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Pembrokeshire, Wales
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Updated: June 13, 2004


The Norman barons who conquered Wales may have been a small group of men, their impact on the Welsh countryside is undeniable. This invading warrior race had already practiced battle techniques against English armies and then brought these tactics to the western part of the island. Edward I was responsible for much of the castle construction in Wales. His plan was to repair and rebuild castles where possible and erect more scientifically designed and more carefully located castles in new sites. Wales was home to the famous "Iron Ring" of defensive castles. These medieval strongholds were so well constructed that even Cromwell's attempts to destroy royal fortresses were ineffective. Gunpowder and artillery were not enough o bring down many Welsh castle walls. Castles were a vital part of Welsh protection, even as late as the 1400s, during the Wars of the Roses. The most impressive and powerful of these medieval strongholds were those built by the Anglo-Norman lords and the castles still keep their names, such as Caerphilly, Cardiff, Chepstow, and Kidwelly.

Pencoed (pronounced "Pen-koyd") . The Castle itself is a fortified Tudor manor house thought to have been built by Sir Thomas Morgan during the first quarter of the 16th Century on the site of a moated Norman castle held in 1270 by Sir Richard de la More and in 1306 by Maurice and Walter de Kemeys. The castle was most likely erected soon after King Henry VII came to the throne. The remains of the outer walls are still intact and can be seen in many of the pictures below. When the castle was built, it is quite possible and likely that the foundations of the aforementioned Norman castle were used in it's construction. The tower still existing at the southwest corner of the courtyard would seem to be of older construction than the other buildings, and is probably one of the towers of the original castle, and the ruined walls and loose stone cluttering the area would seem to add to this theory. The inner portion of the castle is a stone manor house with battlements at the top of the walls. The interior of the castle currently lies in a state of disrepair and is ruined. Nevertheless, the stonework of the castle is beautiful and represents a peaceful period of Welsh affairs. In 1485 the Battle of Bosworth had ended the Wars of the Roses and in general the Welsh had backed the winning side. It then became possible to construct a large family home without the need for feudal architecture such as loopholes and gun ports. The Morgans, a powerful Monmouthshire family settled at Pencoed for some time. These were the Morgans that had descended from Morgan ap Llywelyn in 1330, the man responsible for the creation of the surname "Morgan". On the map, the location of the nearby Penhow Castle may also be seen, showing that the Morgans did indeed interact and intermarry with residents of Penhow. It is no wonder that they did, because of the close proximity between the two castles. Many of the historical names of that area and period are found within a work of poetry from 1661 entitled "Prosopopoeia Tredegar". It may be described as "A personification of a Morgan patriarch of the acclaimed oldest branch of the Morgan family, that of Tredegar in Monmouthshire, South Wales".

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Carew Castle, Pembrokeshire. Little now remains of the earth and timber castle that was built here by the Norman Gerald of Windsor around 1100. The castle in the late 13th and early 14th century was in the hands of Sir Nicholas de Carew, who constructed many of the stone buildings which surround the small, compact inner ward. It is first mentioned in 1212, when for some reason, King John seized it for a short time when passing through Pembroke on his Irish expedition. By this time it is probable that the first stone structure, the Old Tower, had been built to protect the original castle entrance. The castle remained in the hands of the influential Carew family who built, in various phases, the strong medieval castle that stands today. Its history, however, was without major incident until about 1480, when Sir Edmund Carew disposed of it to Rhys ap Thomas. Rhys, basking in the gratitude of King Henry VII for the support he had given him after his landing at Milford Haven, was able to spend significant sums on the castle, and set about converting it into a home worthy of an influential Tudor gentleman. It was he who built the gatehouse which leads from the bailey into the outer ward of the castle. From the small, square gatehouse, there is a fine view of the outside of the inner ward. The early 13th-century 'Old Tower' is abutted on the north by the late 13th-century hall and polygonal, projecting chapel tower; the rounded end of the Elizabethan wing lies beyond on the north corner. To the south lie the early 14th-century gatehouse and the late 13th-century south-east tower. Rhys ap Thomas later heightened some parts and much of the battlemented top is in fact his rather less-than-serious military work. The main gate to the inner ward is surprisingly unsophisticated; only an outer door, five murder holes in the vault above, an inner door with no less than three bar-holes and a portcullis. The magnificent north wing was the last major addition to the castle. It was built by Sir John Perrot, to whom the castle was granted by the crown in 1558 after the downfall of Rhys ap Thomas's descendants. The building necessitated the destruction of the north-east tower and the northern curtain wall. The range consisted of five great rooms, the second floor being occupied by an enormous long gallery over 40m in length. The facade of the building is typically Elizabethan with two rows of great rectangular mullioned and transomed windows and two big oriel windows supported the massive tower-like semi-circular bases, Magnificent though it was, the building was not occupied for long. Sir John was convicted for treason in 1592 and died (of natural causes) in the Tower (of London). Thereafter the castle was let out to tenants, who probably found the great mansion too expensive to maintain, and the castle was abandoned about 1686.

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Kidwelly Castle, Carmathenshire, South Wales. Kidwelly is one of the finest castles in South-West Wales, it remains remarkably intact. Dominating a long disputed region, the strong and splendid castle developed during more than three centuries of Anglo-Norman/Welsh warfare: a chronicle in stone of medieval fortress technology. With its walls within walls fortifications Kidwelly looks today as an outstanding examples of late 13th century castle design. The Half-moon outer towered walls circuit on the Norman earthwork, inside the first stone stronghold with its four round towers, on the right the South Gatehouse. Built by Roger, Bishop of Salisbury, one of Henry I's ministers, it was one of a line of castles built along the coastal road and was begun in the early 12th century, rebuilt by Patrick de Chaworth in the 1250's. Kidwelly was established on the estuary of the river Gwendraeth in 1106 by Roger, bishop of Salisbury, the justiciar of England, within a short time of the Norman conquest, to defend the road to west Wales. Its half moon shape stems from the original 12th century Norman timber castle, of the motte-and-baley type, defended on one side by the river and on the other by a deep crescent shaped ditch. At the end of 13th century one of Edward I's baron's, Henry Earl of Lancaster, raised  within this a rectangular stone stronghold with round corner towers, perhaps echoing castles he had seen on Crusade. Even the chapel, in a protruding tower on the river side of the castle, was designed for defense. Then the South Gatehouse was begun but stood unfinished when Owain Glyndwr's Welsh troops attacked in 1403. Yet Kidwelly's tiny garrison of two dozen archers and townsmen held out behind improvised defenses and later the great gatehouse was completed. This three-storeyed gatehouse, with portcullis, drawbridge, constable's lodgings above and dungeon pit below, attracts particular attention: it was extremely well defended, and indeed was designed so that it could be held independently if the remainder of the castle had fallen to besiegers. The outer half-circuit of towered walls was considerably heightened, making Kidwelly an up-to-date 'concentric' castle. The  last addition to the castle was at the end of the 15th century: a new great hall was built on the west of the outer ward with a connecting kitchen within the inner ward. Another building and bakehouse were added, probably the work of Rhys ap Thomas who was granted the castle by King Henry VII°. In the 17th century the castle played only a secondary part in the Civil war, laying as it did far away from the central area of the struggle.  For the modern tourist is recommended a walk around the exterior of the castle, as its dominating position is best appreciated from outside

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Manorbier Castle, Pembrokeshire, South-West Wales. From its beginnings as a fortified manor house, Manorbier (roughly translated from ancient Welsh to mean "the estate of the Lords") was destined to become an important and famous residence. Now standing within the Pembrokeshire National Park, the old 'castle' was created over a number of years by the De Barri family. When lands were granted to Odo in the last decade of the 11th century, he erected nothing more than a wooden hall on the site, surrounding it with earthworks, but his son began building the stone castle. A great square tower was constructed, together with a fine hall block and, by the end of the 12th century, these buildings were enclosed by two high stone curtain walls with towers, and a strong gatehouse. Manorbier Castle was owned by the De Barri family for over 250 years and its appearance has changed little since their time. Perhaps the most noted member of the family was Gerald who, as Gerald of Wales (a priest and renowned author), became one of the finest Latin writers of the Middle Ages. During the 14th century Manorbier Castle was sold by David De Barri family, and ownership subsequently passed through many Royal hands, although few ever actually lived at the house. By 1670 most of the buildings were derelict, and the Crown eventually sold Manorbier Castle to a local family who retained ownership into the 20th century. But it was a tenant of that time that left Wales with a monument to show off to future generations. Remarkably well preserved, the buildings consist of a 12th century gatehouse, a keep, two 13th century towers, and a vaulted chapel. Although moderate in size, the gatehouse is an impressive defensive structure, topped by an observation tower and still showing part of the workings for the drawbridge and portcullis. The square keep rises to three storeys, with an entrance on the first floor, and the great hall occupying the first floor but extending through two storeys. Even by medieval standards Manobier must have been quite a dark, damp and thoroughly uncomfortable place to live. But it never had to be put to the test as a fortress, even though it prepared for military conflict on a couple of occasions. Possibly through family connections, or good luck, trouble seemed to bypass Manorbier, leaving it totally unscathed by the weapons of war.

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Caldicot Castle lies southwest of the River Wye, which has been a natural boundary of strategic significance from the Iron Age through the Norman period. Caldicot stands on a fortified site of great antiquity, two miles from the sea and on the route of the Roman road Via Julia, in a valley surrounded by marshlands. Even though the foundations date as far back as Norman times, the keep was probably built by the powerful de Bohun family after they inherited the lordship in 1221. It was one of nine new castles that Edward I (1277-1283), the first English king to take effective control of Wales built to consolidate his power. Caldicot was renovated as a royal residence during the late 14th century for Thomas of Woodstock, King Edward III's youngest son, and his child bride Alianore de Bohun. Thomas, whose nephew was King Richard II, was in opposition to Richard's alliance with France. On a trip to London, the King, after riding with Thomas galloped away leaving him to be ambushed by the king's men. He was placed under arrest, shipped to Calais, France and imprisoned. Either to buy time or perhaps due to torture, Thomas gave a confession and shortly afterwards was overpowered by four stewards and strangled. Thus the "noble" King Richard betrayed his own uncle. Caldicot Castle was built on a site that had long been recognized for its strategic value. In fact, the Romans actively made use of the area in the early centuries AD, when Caldicot stood on the Via Julia roadway to Caerwent, the Roman town of Venta Silurum (ruins visible) just to the north. Caldicot's placement near the Bristol Channel allowed observation of the comings and goings of ship traffic and eased transport of supplies to the site. Its useful location was recognized by the Normans as early as 1086, and they built a motte with two baileys and a deep surrounding ditch to control this portion of south Wales. Now one of the most impressive structures at Caldicot, the still resplendently green motte was crowned by a round stone keep, probably constructed around 1221 after Humphrey de Bohun, the "Good Earl" of Hereford, inherited the lordship of Caldicot. The de Bohuns kept control of the castle as hereditary constables until 1373, when it became the property of the Crown. With its nine foot thick walls made of local gritstone, the four storied keep was a formidable structure which would have withstood virtually any assault. Interestingly, the bottommost floor was embedded in the motte, and the main entry point into the great keep was reached by a set of steps climbing the hillside of the mound.

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Llansteffan Castle, Carmathenshire, South Wales. Llansteffan is an impressive, dramatically sited stronghold crowning a hilltop overlooking the estuary of the River Tywi. Long before its construction an Iron Age hill fort of the 6th century B.C. occupied the site, its double ditch can still be seen on the west of the castle. The first Norman castle was created between the prehistoric defences: an earth bank surmounted by a timber palisade. This happened in the first years of the 12th century, but the castle was first mentioned in 1146 when it was captured by Lord Rhys and his brothers, princes of Deheubarth. The Norman recaptured Llansteffan after a first failed attempt, Rhys came again in 1189 but was unable to hold on the castle. In 1189 Llansteffan was in hand of William the Camville that started the transformation of the castle into a powerful stone fortress. The first step was the walling of the early Norman ring work but today only little part of this work survives on the north-west walls of the upper ward, the section facing the outer bailey was demolished. At the time the outer ward was encircled by timber defences. The castle fell again in Welsh hands when Llywelyn the Great conquered Deheubarth in 1215. William Marshal started the campaign of reconquest in 1223 and, after its victory, Geoffrey de Camville regained Llansteffan and strengthened the upper ward with the addition of the still-prominent square gatehouse [with two storeys above the gate passage] and a round mural tower - only its foundations are today visible.Llasteffan was still far to acquire its present form, it happened only in the second half of the 13th century after another Welsh victory, Coed Llathen - 1257, and a third recovery in Norman hands. William de Camville II started the reconstruction of Llansteffan, then ended by his son Geoffrey. The timber defences of the lower ward were replaced with a stone curtain, reinforced by two U-shaped three-storeys towers [the West Tower, now ruinous, and the North Tower, today almost intact: this contained comfortable accommodation and at the junction with the curtain is endowed with two turrets, one housing latrines and the other the spiral stair] with a Great Gatehouse between them, the vulnerable west side of the upper ward was heightened and strengthened to carry a wider wall-walk. The south front of the curtain, overlooking the crag, is tower-free but the south-east angle is projected outside to create a sort of bastion. The masterpiece of Llansteffan was the twin towered Great Outer Gatehouse. It resembles the Inner East Gatehouse ar Caerphilly [1270] and predate the King Edward I's Great Gatehouses of North Wales castles. Guard chambers flank the main entrance passage, which had murder holes in the vaults an portcullis at each end. In 1495 [by Jasper Tudor Earl of Pembroke, the only later Lord to occupy the castle] both ends of the passage have been walled up and a new entrance was built alongside to eliminate the inconvenience caused by portcullis winding gear in the above hall, that fully occupied the upper floor, and to provide extra accommodation. Two round stair turrets are at the inner corners of the keep-gatehouse.

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Cardiff Castle, Glamorgan, South WalesCardiff became  the main administrative center of the region. The Lords who had  the command on the castle brought  many changes to it since the years 1121-47. The keep in stone encircled from the full water ditch that we see today was built at this time. The stone curtain walls and the main door of access to the fencing, dominated from the Black Tower, are works of Gilbert de Clare, that in the 1270 operated  a great strengthening of the structures , like to Caerphilly and Coch, in sight of the Welsh rebellion guided from Llywelyn ap Gruffud. In the 1306 the castle passed to Hugh the Despenser, that continued  to control  the region for the King until the year 1321. In the 1404, during the rebellion of the natives  guided from Owain Glyndwr,  the city of Cardiff  was given to flames and the castle endured serious damages. In the 1414 the castle's owners became  the Beauchamps, an other local noble family. They erected the residential area of the castle, the " palace ",  along the west curtain walls. The stronghold changed still various owners until when, in the XVI century, with the climb to the throne of England of the Welsh dynasty of the Tudor, goes directly under  the crown control. In the 1550 William Herbert, brother of King Henry VIII's last wife,  obtained the control of the fortification. During the civil war the castle was besieged by the parliamentary forces (1645). Although this the castle did not endure serious damages, but its   maintenance became for the Herbert family untenable, and in 1776 yield it to the marquises of Bute.

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Cilgerran Castle, Ceredigion-Pembrokeshire, South-West Wales. The earliest stronghold here was probably founded in 1108 by the Norman adventurer Gerald of Windsor, but was taken and retaken several times during the next century. Between 1223 and c.1240, therefore, the Anglo-Norman sons of William the Marshall raised a mighty half circuit of fortifications to defend its vulnerable southern approach. These are dominated by two great round towers, a popular feature of castles in war-torn 13th century Wales, built to defend the castle's vulnerable side. These towers are special, a triumph of the fortress-builder's art. Their outward facing walls are much thicker than those within and, while their inner faces have windows, their frowning outer faces are broken only by arrow slits. Marshal's efforts bore little fruit, for the castle was apparently derelict within 50 years. Its fortunes revived in 1377 when Edward III ordered repairs to counter a threatened French invasion, and it was in the wars again during Owain Glyndwr uprising in the early 1400s.

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Denbigh Castle, Denbighshire. Originally the stronghold of Dafydd ap Gruffydd, the brother of Llywelyn, Prince of Wales. In 1282 it fell to the English, the town and much of the surrounding country was given to Henry de Lacy, Earl of Lincoln. Edward I ordered the Earl to build a castle and enclose the town. It passed through many hands and in 1468, while it was being held by the Yorkists, the castle and town were besieged and burnt by the Earl of Pembroke. During the Civil War the castle was garrisoned and was one of the last to surrender to the Parliamentarians. After the Restoration of 1660 it was left to decay. The castle site was originally the stronghold of Dafydd ap Gruffydd, the brother of Llywelyn, Prince of Wales. In 1282 the fortress fell to the English and the town and much of the surrounding country was given to Henry de Lacy, Earl of Lincoln. Edward I ordered the Earl to build a castle and enclose the town and work started in 1283.  The outer walls of the castle were continuations of the town wall and are considerably thinner than the two inner walls.  The castle is dominated by a remarkable triple-towered gatehouse.  The front has an arched door decorated by a chequered pattern of  stonework. When the Earl's only son was drowned in the castle well, he lost interest in the castle and died shortly afterwards in 1311. The castle passed through many hands and at one time was owned by Hugh le Despenser, favourite of Edward II.   It was then used by Roger Mortimer, lover of Queen Isabella and architect of Edward II's downfall.  Many years later it was the headquarters of 'Hotspur' Henry Percy. During the Wars of the Roses the castle changed hands many times.  In 1468 while it was being held by the Yorkists the castle and town were besieged and burnt by the King's half brother Jasper Tudor, Earl of Pembroke.  The destruction was so great that the town was rebuilt at its present site. During the Civil War the castle was garrisoned for King Charles, who stayed there for three days in 1645.  Denbigh was one of the last to surrender to the Parliamentarians in 1646.  After the Restoration of 1660 the castle was left to decay until the middle of the 19th century when considerable repairs were made.  

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Rhuddlan Castle, Denbighshire. Fortifications here can be traced back to the 8th century.  In 1073 a Norman motte and bailey was built.  When Llywelyn ap Gruffydd, Prince of Wales, tried to defy Edward I, Edward marched into Wales and moved to Rhuddlan. The castle was his headquarters during the Welsh campaigns. In the 15th century the town was ravaged during a revolt but otherwise the castle had a peaceful existence as a centre of Welsh administration. In the Civil War the castle surrendered to the Parliamentarians and then decayed. Situated at a strategic point on the lowest crossable point of the River Clwyd, fortifications at Rhuddlan can be traced back to the 8th century. In 1073 a Norman motte and bailey rose over the ruins of an old Welsh fort.  It was founded by Robert of Rhuddlan, deputy of the Earl of Chester.  Remnants of the motte and bailey can be seen to the south of the present castle. The fortification was still wooden and changed hands many times during border skirmishes.  During the reign of Henry III, Llywelyn ap Gruffydd, Prince of Wales, finally united all the princes of the north under him and began to enlist baronial support in Wales.  However, when he tried to defy the new king, Edward I, a new era began for Rhuddlan Castle. In 1277 Edward marched into Wales and having started building Flint Castle he moved to Rhuddlan.  Llywelyn surrendered and submitted to the King's uncompromising peace terms at Rhuddlan.  Edward immediately set about building a castle.  In charge of the design and construction was the King's master builder, James of St. George.  The castle was concentric, although now most of the outer polygonal walls have disappeared.  The inner walls were diamond-shaped with two double-towered gatehouses set at diagonally opposed corners and single round towers on the other two corners.  The castle was ringed by a moat. The town was defended by earthworks and timber built between 1280 and 1282.  Edward wanted the castle to have access to the sea and so a new channel was dug that was straighter and deeper than the existing river.  The huge project took three years to complete and today the river still follows the new course. Rhuddlan Castle was the Edward I's headquarters during both Welsh campaigns.    In 1282 the main defences were complete when Llywelyn's brother Dafydd, with the Prince's support, headed a new Welsh uprising.  The Welsh attacked Rhuddlan but with no success and by the end of the year Llywelyn had been killed and Dafydd captured and executed at Shrewsbury. In the 15th century the town was ravaged during Owain Glydwr's revolt but apart from that episode the castle had a peaceful existence as a centre of Welsh administration until the Civil War.  The castle was garrisoned for the Charles I but in 1646 surrendered to the Parliamentarians.  In 1648 the castle was slighted by order of Parliament. 

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Criccieth Castle, Gwynedd. The castle overlooks Tremadog Bay near Criccieth. Built by Llywelyn the Great and extended by his grandson, Llywelyn the Last.Later, after a fire it was abandoned. Now a ruin, it is still impressive, the thick walls showing its strength. The original castle, including the solid twin-towered gatehouse, was built by Llywelyn the Great.  His grandson Llywelyn the Last added more walls and a rectangular tower.  The castle was captured by Edward I after Llywelyn the Last's defeat.  Edward ordered the construction of more walls and a strong tower capable of taking the weight of a siege engine on its roof.  In 1404 the castle was taken by Owain Glyndwr, the last Welsh  leader to rebel against the English crown.  Not long afterwards the castle was so badly damaged by a fire that it was abandoned. 

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Tretower Castle, Powys. Built by a Norman knight named Picard, it was taken by the Welsh in 1233 but became English when the uprising was crushed.  Seized again during an uprising in 1322, it was back in English hands in 1403. In the 14th century a manor house had been added and in the 15th century the Vaughan's rebuilt this with Tretower Court becoming the lord's residence. It was the residence of the Vaughan family until 1783.
History. The first fortification on the site was built by a Norman knight named Picard.  A motte was raised which, unusually, was faced with stone as it was constructed.  The stone continued above the motte to form a polygonal shell.The castle was taken by the Welsh in 1233 but was returned to English ownership when the uprising was crushed.  After this time a bailey was added.  There were no earthworks but a stone wall with three towers, two which enclosed the gate.  A keep was also constructed in the middle of the polygonal shell of the motte. The castle was seized again during a Welsh uprising in 1322 but was back in English hands in 1403 when it was listed as a defensible fortification for Henry IV.  A year later the owner Sir James Berkeley successfully withstood an attack by Owain Glyndwr.  Not long afterwards the castle passed to Sir Roger Vaughan. In the 14th century a manor house had been added to the castle but in the 15th century the Vaughan's rebuilt this.  Tretower Court replaced the castle as the lord's residence and became one of the best examples of a fortified manor house in Wales.  The Court remained the residence of the Vaughan family until 1783.  

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