Brampton Bryan castle was probably founded by Richard Barre, a sub-tenant of the Mortimers of Wigmore castle in the late eleventh century. The fortress probably subsequently passed to the family of Unspac who then took the surname Brampton from their new fortress. Brampton Bryan is in fact a corruption of the name Brampton Barre which was used to distinguish this Brampton from the many others with abound in England. By the thirteenth century the Bramptons had risen considerably in status and this was reflected when John Brampton married Matilda Braose, the widow of Prince Gruffydd ap Rhys of Deheubarth. Their son, Brian Brampton, was a veritable old warhorse, finally being ordered home by Edward I from the muster at Worcester as too old to go into battle against Llywelyn ap Gruffydd in 1277. By this time Brian had been campaigning for at least sixty years and must have been in his 80s! Indeed he appears to have been fatally ill in the November of 1262, only a Welsh uprising in Maelienydd raising him from what appeared to be his deathbed for another fifteen years of campaigning which included the battles of Abergavenny, Clun and Evesham.
Brian's grandson, probably died unsuccessfully defending Cefnllys castle from the Welsh during the uprising of 1294. He was succeeded by his two infant daughters, the elder of whom, Margaret, took the castle and mesne-barony to the Harley family. One of the quirks of fate is that the initial Harley collection, which later went on to form the basis of the British library in London, was stored within Brampton Bryan castle. In 1644 the castle was twice attacked and finally forced to surrender after its walls had 'been battered level with the ground' and the library destroyed. The castellan, the redoubtable Lady Brilliana Harley, had earlier died at her post 'of a bad cold'. By their surrender the garrison secured their lives, rather than meeting the horrible fate of the defenders of nearby Hopton castle some little while before. In the aftermath of the siege the castle was rebuilt as a ruin on a new site, a late seventeenth century mansion replacing the earlier fortress and including some of its fabric within its sturdy walls.
The ruins today consist of a twin-towered barbican backing onto a rectangular gatehouse. Behind this is a hall block hiding intricate secrets. Lying next to the castle in the rebuilt church are the wooden roof which appears to have come from the castle hall so extensively damaged in 1644 and the tomb effigy of the Lady Margaret Harley, nee Brampton.
Brampton Bryan Castle, 1066 to 1309, and the Civil War, 1642 to 1646 (ISBN 1-899376-33-X)  is available for £9.95 and can be ordered through the PayPal basket below.
Why not join me at other Lost Welsh Castles next Spring? Please see the information on tours at Scholarly Sojourns.
Paul Martin Remfry