Bronllys Castle

The castle was probably not founded until 1143/4 when Cantref Selyf was granted to Walter Clifford, the mesne tenant of the Tosnys at Clifford castle.  The grant was made for the service of 5 knights at Earl Miles of Hereford's castle of Brecon.  Bronllys castle, however, was not mentioned at this time.  In the latter part of 1165 Miles Hereford was killed at the fortress whilst being entertained by Walter Clifford.  In the middle of the night a fire gripped the castle and the lord of Brecon was killed by a stone falling from the principal tower.  Recent excavation has shown that a stone tower of polygonal shape stood upon the motte prior to the current round tower.  Presumably this is the tower that was burned in 1165.  Bronllys castle then seems to have led a fairly quiet life, being the administrative centre of the Clifford's mesne lordship of Cantref Selyf, although the castle was seized by the Crown in 1233 during the Clifford Rebellion.  Cantref Selyf was attacked by Prince Dafydd in 1241 and 1244, but no mention is made of the castle which undoubtedly held.  Like so many other fortresses it was seized by Edward II in 1322 after the Marcher rebellion of 1321.  In 1349 the mesne lordship was annexed by Humphrey Bohun of Brecon and then descended to his heirs the earls of Lancaster.  In 1399 Bronllys castle consequently became royal property on the accession of Henry IV.  The castle was probably still habitable in 1444 when Nicholas Poyntz, esquire, lord of Tretower in right of his Bluet wife, was granted the stewardship of the castle by the Crown together with the lordships of Pencelli and Cantref Selyf and the manors of Llangoed and Alexanderstone.  These offices were later passed on to Sir Roger Vaughan in 1460.  In 1521 the castle was said to be beyond repair and of use only as a prison.  So many castles met a similar fate through neglect.

The castle consists of a large and tall round tower set on a natural outcrop of rock which has then been turfed over to look like an artificial motte.  The tower has a vaulted basement with only 1 loop for light.  The walls of the tower are about 9 feet thick and boast a fine plinth and string course.  Internally are traces of timber reinforcements set within the walls.  The ceiling of the basement is a medieval barrel vault, with concrete reinforcing above.  This replaces an earlier lower ceiling.

The first floor entrance is about 12 feet above the current motte-top and was previously reached by a forebuilding, the slight remnants of which are now enshrouded in vegetation in the garden below.  Buck's print shows that this had been destroyed by 1741.  The entrance door was bolted by a single drawbar, the holes for which still remain.  The walls in the first floor are pierced by two deeply splayed recesses which house windows and access stairs to the upper and lower floors.  As in the basement it can be seen the ceiling of this room has been raised, the earlier corbels being replaced by slightly higher beam holes.  The curving mural stair leads up to the second floor, which like its predecessor boasts two windows, though these are obviously reset.  There is also a raised ceiling level.  This room has a large fireplace that probably replaces an earlier model.  Notice the lamp brackets on each side of the fire.  From this room access was gained to the battlements via another curving mural stair set in a window embrasure.

The third floor almost certainly dates to the same time period as when the keep ceilings were raised.  This room, built on the original castle battlements, which seem to have been removed, has three splayed windows, a fine fireplace and a garderobe set in the thickness of the wall.  Obviously comfort was high on the builders list of requirements from this alteration.  No sensible method of reaching any replacement battlements appears obvious.

This round tower has always been dated to the early part of the thirteenth century based on similarities of supposed architectural styles.  However such dating methods are suspect.  The story of a fire at the castle in 1165 and discovery of an earlier keep under the current tower suggest that this round tower must date to very soon after 1165, unless it is decided, without historical evidence, that the castle lay derelict until the 1220s when such towers are in modern times deemded to have been built.  The mural stair between the first and second floors is also set on an exposed external front of the castle and its position is quite obvious due to the two rectangular loops that light it.  Such would be vulnerable to thirteenth century siege engines.  The evidnece may suggest that the initial tower on the rocky outcrop at Bronllys was built by Walter Clifford soon after his arrival in Cantref Selyf in 1144 and that the second tower which remains today was then built by him after the fire of 1165.  Obviously the tower was subsequently remodelled more than once in the remaining 300 years of its useful life.  The argument for a late 12th century date for the keep seems strengthened by the lack of diagonal tooling found at Tretower keep and the superior accommodation and style within that structure compared to Bronllys.  The round keep at New Buckenham Castle in Norfolk was probably started in the 1140s and there is some evidence that the round towers at Clifford castle may have been begun before this date by the Tosny family.

Bronllys bailey, in which the forebuilding stands, lies east of the keep and shows no traces of ever having been walled.  Nevertheless, a ditch and rampart is apparent.  In this bailey, towards the modern house, is a well and built into the house stables is one end of a wall.  This is probably the last trace of a large hall block which was still very visible in Buck's day.  The rectangular block in Buck's print appears to have had a parapet, certainly to the north and a projecting chimney block(?) in the centre of its east wall.  At the south east end on the second floor there appears to be the remnants of a projecting latrine chamber, perhaps similar to that at Longtown castle, Herefordshire.  All the windows and fitments of the building appeared to have been robbed out, even by 1741.  The remaining fragment today betrays little of its origin.

Beyond the main bailey was a further large enclosure to the east.  The banks and ditches of this still remain, making a large rectangular bailey.  It is to be presumed that both wards were enclosed by palisades.  Probably, as Bronllys was a relatively important castle the wooden defences consisted of towers and gatehouses, some of considerable complexity and similar to those uncovered by excavation at Hen Domen Castle, Montgomery.  In the river beneath the castle are the slight remains of a dam of indeterminate date.


Copyright©2016 Paul Martin Remfry

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