Clun castle stands on the diminutive River Clun in the Marches of Shropshire. The castle was probably built by Robert ‘Picot' Say on land previously owned by Edric Silvaticus. The land had been devastated during Edric’s stand against William the Conqueror. Robert was then settled at Clun by Earl Roger Montgomery of Shropshire (d.1094) as a strong man to protect the frontier. As such it is possible he founded the castle outside the earlier town of Clun which lay on the other side of the river, clustered beneath the ancient Saxon church.  Picot Say was last mentioned witnessing the foundation of Shrewsbury abbey in 1094. By 1109 King Cadwgan ap Bleddyn of Powys (d.1111), had married Picot’s daughter whose name has unfortunately been lost. In this year Cadwgan was disgraced and was forced by King Henry I to live in exile from his Welsh lands.  Possibly he lived in the border vill that had once belonged to his father-in-law. It is therefore feasible that Cadwgan found himself living at Clun castle.  In 1111 Cadwgan returned to Powys and was killed at Welshpool where he was building Powis castle.  Was Powis castle his reaction to having lived in or even visited Clun castle? Whatever the case, Cadwgan was survived by many children, one of whom was called Henry and was the grandson of Picot Say. He was last mentioned in the Welsh chronicles during 1116 when he received a portion of his father’s kingdom on the death of his elder brother, Owain ap Cadwgan, who was killed by Gerald Windsor of Pembroke and Cilgerran that year.

Before 1131 a certain Henry Say, lord of Clun, who may or may not have been the same person as the son of Cadwgan, had granted some of his lordship to Shrewsbury abbey. This Henry is said on no good authority to be the son of Picot. It is just as possible that he was Henry ap Cadwgan, grandson of Picot and prince of Powys as taking a grandfather's surname was relatively common in the twelfth century. Whatever the case, this Henry would appear to have married an unnamed bastard daughter of King Henry I and Sibyl Corbet before 1125.  The result was at least one son, a man called Helias Say, who fought against his brother-in-law, Earl Robert of Gloucester, and his ally Miles Gloucester, during the Anarchy.

The genealogy of the Say family is notoriously difficult, but charter evidence suggests that Helias Say of Clun, during the Anarchy, had at least two sons and a daughter. Helias was dead by 1165 when his land of Clun was held by Geoffrey Vere who had married Helias' daughter, Isabella (d.1199).  She had previously been wife to William Fitz Alan of Oswestry (d.1160).  Helias may also have left 2 sons, Hugh Say (d.1190), who inherited Richards Castle in 1186 from his brother in law, Osbern Fitz Hugh, and Brian Say (d.1175+), who witnessed a charter with his father, Helias, for the Mortimers of Wigmore when he was in Normandy in 1162.

However, it was to Isabella, the daughter of Helias, that Clun barony passed until her death in 1199.  After this it passed to the descendants of her first husband, William Fitz Alan of Oswestry (d.1160).  Hugh Say (d.1190) witnessed 2 charters with Helias and Brian Say for the Mortimers in May 1162.  Brian Say must have been illegitimate or from a second marriage as he was the first of the witnesses of his widowed sister Isabella's grant of her church of Clun to Wenlock priory.  Probably the next year William Boterel (1175-99), the new husband of Isabella Say, confirmed the grant with the same witnesses.  It seems likely from the above that the Say fee as held by Helias, the grandson or great-grandson of the Domesday Picot, had disintegrated. So too had the barony of Burford and the 2 disintegrations may be linked.

With the death of William Boterel in 1199 Clun castle reverted to the lordship of William Fitz Alan of Oswestry and he probably remodelled the fortress along the lines of Chateau Gaillard in Normandy before his death in 1210. The castle was seized by John Fitz Alan from the custody of King John in 1215. In 1233 the castle was garrisoned by the household troops of King Henry III as the loyalty of John Fitz Alan was ‘suspect’. Late that year the royal garrison successfully withstood a Welsh onslaught led by Prince Llywelyn ab Iorwerth, although the attackers did succeed in reducing the town to ashes. The castle was returned to John Fitz Alan in 1234.  On John's death in 1241 the castle passed to his son, another John Fitz Alan. This John married Isabel Aubigny of Buckenham castle and on the death of her brother Earl Hugh Aubigny of Arundel, became de facto earl of Arundel. This John died in 1267 and was succeeded by another John Fitz Alan who died young in 1272 leaving Clun castle in the hands of his father-in-law, Roger Mortimer of Wigmore. On Roger’s death in 1282 his widow, Matilda Braose, expelled the castellan and ridiculed the sheriff of Shropshire from the castle’s battlements - much to the amusement of King Edward I who ordered the sheriff to cease molesting her!

In the fifteenth century the castle was transformed into a hunting lodge by the earls of Arundel who had a horse stud here. They were probably responsible for the great keep which towers down the side of the apparently natural mound to the north.  In the wars of Owain Glyndwr the earl of Arundel again fortified Clun castle and the castle saw some service against the rebels.  The castle was in ruins by the time of the Civil War of 1642 and never saw action.

The castle today consist of the earl of Arundel’s great seventy foot high tower on the side of the castle mound. The mound top also supports the remains of two ‘Chateau Gaillard’ style solid turrets and the foundations of a great gatehouse, a round tower and numerous service buildings.  At the height of the mound, overlooking the old castle well, are the collapsed ruin of what may have been a rectangular keep about 30' square, possibly constructed by Picot Say back in the eleventh century.  Other rectangular tower keeps under 40' exist in Wales at Carndochan (35' square), Dinas Emrys (36'x27'), Dolwyddelan I (25' square), Hyssington (27' square) and White Castle (35' square): and in England at Bridgnorth (39'x35'), Clitheroe (35' square), Farnham (37' square), Goodrich (29' square), Moreton Corbet (38'x33'), Peak (21'x19') and Wattlesborough (30' square).

The outer ward to the south had a gatehouse and a curtain wall, but now only foundations remain. Beyond this was a further ward now housing a bowling green. A fortified borough lay to the east and the church and Saxon village across the river to the south.

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Copyright©1994-2007 Paul Martin Remfry