Cardiff Castle

 

IMG_4844Cardiff castle is a fascinating amalgam, part Roman foundations, part 12th century shell keep, part 19th century victorian gothic palace and part WWII bunker. It manages to encompass many of the key eras of British history, at the same time as being linked to some of the most interesting stories and people of the medieval period.

For me, naturally, the medieval section of the castle is the most interesting and the most important. I do, however, have a real soft spot for the Victorian gothic section, because it doesn’t pretend to be authentic medieval and it is just so gloriously over the top.

To begin from the beginning though. There is nothing much left of the Roman origins of Cardiff Castle. There were four roman structures on the site between c.54 and 400 CE, the final one was an 8 acre fort with ten foot thick walls. It was a central point for communication for the area. It was abandoned when the Romans left the area at the end of the 5th century CE.

The site was appropriated by the Normans, when they arrived in the late 11th century, to build the original motte and bailey castle. The castle you can see today dates largely to 1140 and was originally built by Robert of Gloucester, the illegitimate oldest son of Henry I of England, though the gatehouse is a 15th century addition. You can see the castle from several angles below.

IMG_4852IMG_4940

IMG_4994IMG_4881IMG_4869IMG_4874

IMG_5003

This is a classic shell keep, meaning that there would not have been permanent rooms in the interior of the keep. There would have been a collection of timber buildings and the structure would not have been roofed. The holes you can see in the walls are called putlog holes and are where the beams of the timber buildings would have been inserted into the wall.

This particular keep has 12 sides, a moat that is roughly 23 m and 2 m thick walls. The castle has two key claims to fame. Firstly that it was the final prison of Robert Duke of Normandy, also known as Robert Curthoes. He was the oldest son of William the Conqueror and was left Normandy as his inheritance. After various conflicts that are too convoluted to go into here, however, his younger brother Henry I of England captured Robert and took Normandy for himself. Robert spent the last 8 years of his life held in Cardiff castle until he died in 1134.

The other key claim to fame for this castle in the medieval period was the kidnap of its lord. In 1158 Welsh lord Ifor Bach stormed the castle and carried off William Earl of Glamorgan and his family. He was forced to ransom his freedom back.

The castle was also threatened by the Welsh in the 1200s and Gilbert de Clare, who held the castle at that point, had the black tower built in what is now part of the outer wall. It was linked to the keep by a massive wall, the remains of which you can see in the photo below. The wall was demolished by Capability Brown in the early beautification of the castle.

 

IMG_4886

The castle played a role in Owain Glyndwr’s revolt in the 1400s as well. It was severely besieged and almost lost before a relief garrison arrived.

Capability Brown  may have redesigned most the grounds in the 1700s, including filling in the moat, but it wasn’t him who made the castle what it is today. It was a collaboration between William Burges and the 3rd Marquess of Bute in the mid 1800s.

They re-excavated the moat, re-landscaped much of the grounds, uncovered the Roman foundations and built the ridiculously intricate Victorian gothic mansion that you can still see today. The mansion is very much based on medieval design, and a romanticism of the medieval period.

Burges mainly re-modeled exisiting buildings rather than building from scratch, but he did build the 150 foot high clock tower between 1867 and 1875. You can see some of the exterior below.

IMG_4859IMG_4938IMG_4939IMG_5012IMG_5019

It is, however, the interiors which are truly remarkable. The interiors are an amalgam of styles from the beautifully ornate Arab room:

IMG_4913To the library

IMG_4926IMG_5039

IMG_5033To the utterly magnificent banqueting hall which depicts key scenes the life and career of Robert Earl of Gloucester on the walls. Incidentally Robert of Gloucester was the father of William of Glamorgan who was captured from Cardiff in the 1150s.

IMG_4903IMG_4902IMG_4904IMG_4905IMG_4906IMG_4909There are beautiful hidden corners all over the 19th century palace, especially in the windows and the ceilings. Below are just a few examples.

IMG_4895IMG_4896IMG_5031After the 19th century the castle stayed in the hands of the Butes until 1947 when it was given to the city of Cardiff by the 5th Marquess of Bute.

The castle wasn’t severely damaged in World War II, through Cardiff was badly bombed. The outer walls however did serve as air raids shelters, which could hold up to 2000 people. You can see one of the areas used in the photo below.

IMG_4850

The castle stands at the centre of Cardiff, both literally and figuratively. The streets of the city radiate out from it, and it has been key to most parts of Cardiff’s long history. It is a truly fascinating place to visit.

References:

Site visits 2012 and 2015.

Welsh Castles and Historic Places ISBN: 9781850130307

Castles in Wales: A handbook by Gerald Morgan ISBN: 9781847710314.

http://www.cardiffcastle.com/

All the photos are mine.

Advent Calendar of Castles: December 23rd: Caen

caen6caen2caen1caen5caen3caen4

Caen is William the Conqueror’s castle. It dates to c.1060 and would have been a wood and earth construction originally, though the walls were rapidly built in stone. It remains one of the largest medieval enclosures in Europe.

Inside the huge enclosing walls would have stood a ducal palace , some private houses and a parish church. It was Henry I of England who most likely built the towers on the walls in the early 12th century, though they were added to by the French in the 13th century.

In the 11th century the castle would have been entered the castle from the Northside, using a drawbridge over the defensive ditch, which never had water in it. The entrance would have been a tower gate, similar to that which you can see in Richmond castle in England.  Additionally in the 12th century there would have been an imposing keep within the walls. Built in c. 1120 by Henry I of England it is believed to have stood at nearly 30 meters high. Sadly it was largely lost during the French revolution.

One of the most fascinating survivals from the early medieval period within the castle walls is the 12th century exchequer hall. It was built again by Henry I. In the 12th century the hall would have most likely had two stories, with the ground floor being used for kitchens and the like and the upper floor being used as the ceremonial space. The building was heavily restored in the 1960s, but some Norman elements do remain.

Normandy fell to the French in 1204 and Phillip II of France added a curtain wall to Henry I’s keep along with four round towers and a dry moat. He also constructed the massive Porte des Champs gate as a replacement for the Norman tower gate in the castle’s ramparts as well as adding two new towers to the ramparts.

The English held Caen during the 15th century hundred years war and they refortified much of the ramparts adding a barbican to one of the gates. However by the end of the conflict gunpowder was beginning to render the still impressive walls useless and despite attempts to shore them up against canon fire the use of the castle began to diminish. By the French Revolution only one barracks building housing a regiment of disabled soldiers remained. Much demolition of the castle occurred during the French Revolution in retaliation for the imprisonment there of two MPs. While they didn’t destroy the Norman keep completely it was significantly damaged and it was ultimately dynamited to make way for a gunpowder store in the 19th century. By the end of the 19th century Caen castle was home to the Lefebvre barracks  and it was occupied by the Germans in WWII which led to further destruction as it was also bombed. The castle was opened to the public after WWII and now houses the Museum of Normandy and the Museum of Fine Arts.

References:

Site visit 2015

Caen castle: 9782815100854

http://www.normanconnections.com/en/norman-sites/caen-castle/

The photos are all mine.

 

Medieval Quotes Advent Calendar 8th of December

Henry of Huntingdon on the marriage of Henry I to Adela (Also known as Adeliza) of Louvain in 1120.

“At Christmas, King Henry was at Brampton with Theobold, count of Blois, and after this, at Windsor, he married Adela, daughter of the duke of Louvain, because of her beauty. After the king had been at Berkeley for Easter, he wore his crown in London at Whitsun, with his new queen. Then in the summer, as he went with his army to Wales, the Welsh humbly came to meet him, and agreed to everything that the majesty of his pleasure desired. But on Christmas Eve, an extraordinary wind demolished not only houses but stone towers. I have spoken in elegiacs of the beauty of the said queen.

o queen on the English, Adela, the very muse who prepares to call to mind your graces is frozen in wonder. What to you, most beautiful one, is a crown. What to you are jewels? A jewel grows pale on you, and a crown does not shine. Put adornment aside, for nature provides you with adornment, and a fortunate beauty can not be improved. Beware ornaments, for you take no light from them; they shine brightly through your light. I was not ashamed to give my modest praise to great qualities, so be not ashamed, I pray, to be my lady.”

From: Henry of Huntingdon. The History of the English Speaking People. ISBN: 9780199554805

Advent Calendar of Medieval Quotes 4th of December

A description from Roger of Hoveden of the demise of The White Ship in 1120.

“To his son and all his retinue he [Henry I] had given a ship, a better one than which there did not seem to be in all the fleet, but as the event proved, there was not one more unfortunate ; for while his father preceded him, the son followed somewhat more tardily, but with a still more unhappy result. For the ship, when not far from land, while in full sail, was driven upon the rocks which are called Chaterase, and being wrecked, the king’s son, with all who were with him, perished on the sixth day before the calends of December, being the fifth day of the week, at nightfall, near Barbeflet. In the morning, the king’s treasures which were on board the ship, were found on the sands, but none of the bodies of those lost.There perished with the king’s son, his illegitimate brother, earl Eichard, together with the king’s daughter, the wife of Rotrou ; Richard, earl of Chester, with his wife, the king’s niece, and sister of earl Tedbald, the king’s nephew. There also perished Othoel, the governor of the king’s son, Geoffrey Riddell, Robert Maldint, William Bigot, and many other men of rank ; also several noble women with no small number of the king’s children ; besides one hundred and forty soldiers, with fifty sailors and three pilots. A certain butcher was the only person who made his escape, by clinging to a plank of the wrecked vessel. The king having had a fair voyage, on reaching England, thought that his son had entered some other port ; but on the third day he was afflicted with the sad tidings of his death, and at first, from the suddenness of the calamity, fainted away, as though a person of weak mind; but afterwards,concealing his grief, in contempt of fortune he resumed his kingly spirits. For this son being the only one left him by lawful wedlock, he had named him heir to the kingdom in succession to himself.”

From: The Annals of Roger of Hoveden Volume I pgs 213-214

https://archive.org/details/annalsofrogerde01hove