Caerphilly Castle
The fortress is an imposing medieval stronghold reflected in the waters of its refilled lakes in a low-lying marshy area surrounded by streams and hills.  It was originally constructed between 1268 and 1271 by Earl Gilbert Clare of Gloucester and Hertford (1245-95) and is said to be the largest medieval castle in Wales, as well as one of the most impressive in Europe.  It is built adjacent to the site of a Roman fort and a century after the castle's abandonment, a civil war redoubt was built slightly to the NW.

The current remains were mostly completed by 1290.  During a rebellion in 1316 Llywelyn Bren attacked the castle and damaged the S gatehouse.  He also destroyed the town and the castle mills.  Later the castle passed to Hugh Despenser the Younger (d. 1326), the son-in-law of Earl Gilbert.  He remodelled the great hall to host lavish entertainments, the work being undertaken by William Hurley and Thomas de la Botaille.  Following an invasion, King Edward II and Hugh Despenser fled west and took refuge in Caerphilly castle before fleeing again.  They were subsequently captured in Llantrisant, whilst the castle remained under siege by William Zouche.  After a short siege the castle surrendered on a grant of mercy by the Queen's government.  By the mid 14th century the castle was effectively disused, although it was maintained for another hundred years.  In 1428-9, extensive repairs were carried out including to the main outer gatehouse.  From the reign of Henry VII (1485-1507) the castle fell into ruin and was described by John Leland in 1539 as 'ruinus waulles of a wonderful thiknes with just a single toure kept up for prisoners'.

The castle consists of a great walled central court, 200 feet by 170 with tall round towers at each corner and huge twin-towered gatehouses on the E and W sides. Within is a magnificent rebuilt great hall and other grand apartments.  The doorways have shallow pointed arches, and the original structures have trefoil-headed lancet windows and crossbow slits with small oillets at the base.  Dressings are of Sutton stone and the style of mouldings can be related to the chronological development of the castle.  The only exception is Despenser's great hall where the dressings are of Jurassic limestone from Bristol.

The inner ward is set within a concentric walled platform that rises from the waters of the lakes and the whole covers more than 1,000 feet in any direction. The meres are held back by a massive fortified embankment on the E side that presents an unparalelled 900 feet long array of walls, towers and bastions with no less than three twin towered gatehouses protecting its entrances to N, S and E.  A corn mill is set within this area.  There is a further walled platform on the west side of the castle.

For more detailed descriptions of the castle see Archaeologica Cambrensis and the Trans of the Bristol and Gloucs Arch Soc:

Why not join me at Caerphilly and other British castles this October?  Please see the information on tours at Scholarly Sojourns.


Copyright©2016 Paul Martin Remfry

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