Advent Calendar of Castles: December 17th: Pembroke Castle

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Pembroke is the first Marcher castle on my list. While it is arguable whether Pembroke actually stands in the Marches it was certainly owned and built by the men who were or became Marcher lords, including one of my favourites William Marshal. As this is a castle I have written extensively about before, I thought I’d provide a link to my previous post rather than a new potted history.

https://historicalragbag.com/2015/11/15/pembroke-castle/

The photos are all mine.

Llywelyn The Great

Today, the 11th of April, is the anniversary of the death of one of the most important Welsh Princes. I am not going to be writing about him in detail. I have written about his wife before and that can be found here.

Llywelyn succeeded in almost uniting much of Wales and in holding off the English. Sadly his dream of a united and independent Wales was not to last. Wales was largely conquered by the English under the reign of Edward I, little more than 40 years after Llywelyn’s death.

He died on the 11th of April in 1240 and was buried beneath the high altar of Aberconwy Abbey, but about forty years later Edward I wanted the land the abbey stood on to build Conwy Castle. So the monks moved the coffin containing Llywelyn’s body by river to the newly built abbey at Maenan. During the dissolution of the monasteries the coffin was moved for safe keeping to St Grwst’s church where it was forgotten about and was found covered with rubbish some 200 years later. It was then moved to the chapel in Llanrwst parish church. No one knows what happened to Llywelyn’s body.

You can see Llywelyn’s coffin below. When I saw it in 2012 it was located in a chapel out the back of the church and was quite difficult to find. There were no directions to it at all and nothing except a small sign propped up inside to distinguish it from the other random monuments in the room.

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Many castles you see today in Wales were in fact built by the English. Castles such as Pembroke, Manorbier, Cilgerran and Carew.  There are, however, Welsh built castles and Llywelyn was responsible for part of several of them. Such as:

Criccieth 2CricciethCriccieth Castle

 

Dolbardarn 2DolbardarnDolbadarn Castle

DolwythenDolwythn 2Dolwyddelan Castle

Llywelyn  truly made a mark on Welsh soil and was a great Prince who deserves to be remembered.

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Statue of Llywelyn in Conwy, which is much smaller than it appears and much smaller than it should be.

References

http://www.englishmonarchs.co.uk/llywelyn_the_great.htm

The photos are all my own.

Incidentally I discovered Llywelyn many years ago in Sharon Kay Penman’s fabulous book Here Be Dragons.  As this blog is largely non fiction I don’t usually recommend historical fiction. I am making an exception in this case. Here Be Dragons is a truly wonderful book and everyone should read it.

Name the Castle

So you think you know castles?

See how many of the twenty castles below you can identify.

The rules are simple. You get one photo of a Castle and then you have to name it. The answer is below the photo.  All the castles are in the UK, Ireland or France. The photos are all mine.

1.

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Pembroke Castle Wales

2.

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Manorbier Castle Wales

3.

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Carew Castle Wales

4.

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Cilgerran Castle Wales

5.

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Monmouth Castle Wales

6.

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Lincoln Castle England

7.

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Conwy Castle Wales

8.

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Peveril Castle England

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Castle Rising England

10.

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Doune Castle Scotland

11.

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Foundations of the Louvre France

12.

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Foix  Castle France

13.

angers

Angers Castle France

14.

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Richmond Castle England

15.

kilkenny

Kilkenny Castle Ireland

16.

ferns castle irland

Ferns Castle Ireland

17.

Chepstow Castle Wales

Chepstow Castle Wales

18.

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Trim Castle Ireland

19.

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Caen Castle France

20.

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Dublin Castle Ireland

So how did you do?

1-5 Look you had a go, but on the upside it’s an excuse to study more castles!

6-10 Getting there, good job, you know your keeps.

11-15: Excellent. Spectacular. You know a hell of a lot about specific castles, this might be a little obsessive.

16-20: Incredible. Amazing. Are you sure you didn’t write the quiz?

Want to see how you did compared to everyone else?

Pembroke Castle

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Pembroke Castle in South West Wales is one of the most impressive castles on Welsh soil. I hesitate to say Welsh castle, because it wasn’t built by the Welsh. The building of Pembroke Castle was begun by Arnulph de Montgomery in c. 1093 as a key part of the Norman subjugation of this portion of Wales.

This first castle was nothing like the imposing fortress we see today jutting out into the Cleddau Estuary.

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Gerald of Wales, albeit writing in the late 1100s, described Pembroke as originally being “a slender fortress of stakes and turf.” But it was in an immensely strategic position and as such soon became an important fortress.

Pembroke was besieged by the Welsh is 1094 and in 1096, but both times it was held by the Normans led by Gerald de Windsor who was the custodian of the castle for Arnulph de Montgomery.  However by 1102 Arnulph had been implicated in a revolt against Henry I and was forced to flee and Pembroke castle and the lands around it were escheated to the crown. By 1105 Gerald de Windsor was custodian again, this time in the name of the crown, and he married the Welsh princess Nest. Nest is one of the most fascinating women of the period and much has been written about her. But in brief she was the daughter of the Welsh Prince Rhys ap Tewdwr, thus an important marriage prize as Rhys’ former kingdom made up much of what was now the lands of Pembroke. Nest was most likely the mistress of Henry I before she married Gerald and probably bore him illegitimate offspring. She was said to have been a great beauty and would have been very young, in her teens, when she was the king’s mistress. She was then married off to Gerald at least partly to lend credence to Gerald’s position as a royal officer and person in charge of Pembroke. She was then abducted, there is debate over whether it was willing or not, from  either Cilgerran Castle or Carew Castle both of which Gerald had begun to build

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Cilgerran Castle

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Carew Castle

She was abducted by Owen son of Cadwgan, another Welsh Prince. Owen came into Nest and Gerald’s chamber and Gerald hid or escaped, depending on which version you read, down the privy shoot and Owen abducted Nest, two of Nest’s children and possibly some castle treasure.  After much unrest Nest was eventually returned to Gerald and Owen ultimately died in rebellion against Gerald. Nest married again after Gerald died in the 1120s and had children from that marriage as well. Nest ended up with some important descendants including Gerald of Wales, who was descended from her and Gerald de Windsor. Gerald of Wales is one of the more prolific writers of the late 1100s and is responsible for works on both the people of Ireland and the people of Wales. He was born at the nearby Manorbier Castle.

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Manorbier Castle

Leaving Nest aside. After Gerald de Windsor died the castle remained in crown hands until the reign of King Stephen. The Earldom of Pembroke was officially created in 1138 and the de Clare family were the beneficiaries of its creation with Gilbert de Clare appointed as the ruler of the territory. There was also a small town growing up around the castle and we know that it had liberties and freedoms from fairly early on because there is a surviving charter from Henry II which discusses them. It reads, in one translation.

“Henry by the Grace of God, King of England, Duke of Normandy and Aquitaine and Count of Anjou to the Archbishops, Bishops, Abbots, Earls of Justices, Barons and Sheriffs, and to all his faithful people of all England, Wales, Ireland, Normandy, Brittany, Anjou, Poitou, Gascony, and to all his men, whether dwelling on this side or beyond the seas greetings. Know that I have given and granted, and by this my present Charter, have confirmed in my burgesses of Pembroke all their liberties, immunities and free customs as freely and fully as they had them in the time of King Henry, my grandfather.”

Gilbert de Clare died in 1148 and was succeeded by his son Richard de Clare, known as Strongbow. I’ve written more about Strongbow and especially the role he played in the Norman conquest of Ireland earlier and it can be found here.  Strongbow died in 1176 and King Henry II retained all his lands and the wardship of his daughter Isabel de Clare. Isabel became the heir to all of Strongbow’s lands including Pembroke when her brother Gilbert died as a minor in 1185. Isabel married William Marshal at the behest of Richard I in 1189 thus making Marshal one of the most powerful men in the country as Isabel held other lands in England, Ireland and France as well as those in Wales. Marshal wasn’t actually invested with the title of Earl of Pembroke until 1199 when King John came to the throne.  Marshal had the iconic Great Keep at Pembroke Castle built.
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Great Keep Pembroke Castle

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Inside the Great Keep of Pembroke Castle.

The Great Keep was built in c. 1200 in a time when square keeps were much more common. It stands at 75 feet high with walls approximately 20 feet thick at its base.  When William Marshal died the castle was inherited by his son William Marshal II. Marshal had five sons each of whom died childless. So when the last Marshal son, Anselm, died in 1145 all of Marshal’s extensive lands were divided up amongst the descendants of his five daughters. Pembroke Castle went to his daughter Joan’s descendants, she was married to Warine de Munchery. It was their son in law William de Valance who retook some of the surrounding lands that had been lost to the Welsh over the years. De Valance died in 1296 and the Earldom of Pembroke and thus the castle entered into a fairly quiet period. Until the death of Earl John Hastings in 1389 when the castle returned to the hands of the King in this case Richard II. Henry IV declared his son John to be Earl of Pembroke in c.1399 and later the castle bounced back and forth between sides in the War of the Roses. Its greatest claim to fame in this period is that Henry Tudor, later Henry VII was born there in 1456. 

IMG_5427You can see the tower he was most likely born in on the far right of the photo.

The physical buildings that can now be seen in Pembroke are products of various stages of its history. I’m not going discuss all of them, but I will mention a few.

The oldest part is the Norman Hall which was built probably under the rule of Richard Strongbow c. 1150-1170 when the defences would still have been made of timber.

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Norman Hall.

For me the most fascinating part of Pembroke Castle, apart from the Great Keep, was actually not built by any of the castle’s inhabitants. Wogan’s Cavern beneath the Norman Hall is a naturally occurring cavern. There have been tools dating back to the middle stone age found in it along with Roman coins. This suggests that the Cavern has been used for shelter for thousands of years. When the castle was built the cavern was used for storage and the entrance was protected as part of the defensive plan. It is one of the most surprising things I’ve ever seen in a castle. Largely because of its sheer immensity.

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Wogan’s Cavern

Pembroke Castle is very much a stronghold. It has played a part in most important eras of British History and is in and of itself a dramatic and imposing castle. I went there originally because of its connection to William Marshal. But I went back because it is a spectacular castle, a testament to the strength of its builders. It commands the Cleddau Estuary and you can see why it has been so formidable for so many years.

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References.

Pembroke for King and Country: Phil Carradice. ISBN: 09521092

and

http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2007/dec/21/britishidentity.uk

and

Two visits to Pembroke Castle.

All the photos are my own.