undertaken at the end of last century showed that the site of Carew
castle has been fortified since Roman times. This enclosure,
possibly about 130'x190', seems the regular size of a Roman fortlet, or
a Welsh llys.
In the Norman era the
site seems to have been occupied by Gerald Windsor (d.1126+), who held
Pembroke castle against the Welsh during the great siege of 1094.
Gerald was also lord of Cilgerran. Despite this the
of the castle is blank until 1210 when King John confiscated the house
of Carew (Domum suam de
as William Carew, the great grandson of Gerald Windsor, had gone to
Ireland to help the Braose rebellion. It was on 21 May 1212,
Faulkes Breaute, the royal baillif of Glamorgan and founder of Builth Wells castle,
was ordered to return the house to William Carew. This order
indication of what Carew castle may have looked like at the time,
although the implication is that it was not heavily fortified.
William Carew seems to have died before 1213. It is
grandson, Nicholas Carew (d.1297), who is credited, yet again without
substantive evidence, with turning 'the
house' into a castle.
The Carew family seem to have sold Carew castle shortly before the
battle of Bosworth in 1485 and the new owner, Rhys ap Thomas (d.1525),
a partisan of Henry VII (d.1509), began to convert the fortress into a
palace. In 1507 he held a great tournament there, 'the most
magnificent entertainment in the history Wales'. Rhys'
ap Gruffydd (d.1531),
was one of the many executed by Henry VIII (d.1547). The
then seized the castle before it was granted in 1558 to Sir John
Perrot, the son of Thomas Perrot and Mary Berkeley. It was
claimed by John's grandson, Robert Naunton, who had never met him, that
he was the illegitimate son of Henry VIII (d.1547). There
appears no substance at all to the claim. John built the
great Elizabethan range on the north side of the castle. The
castle was much used and abused in the Civil War, but survived 3
sieges, still being inhabited by George Carew in 1686, though it seems
to have soon fallen into decay.
The oldest part of the castle is the old gatetower built with small
pieces of coursed rubble. This is similar to the gatetowers
at Hay on Wye, Llanstephan and Manorbier.
Its basement is barrel vaulted and above that are two
storeys. When the gate arch was blocked in the thirteenth
century a loop was set centrally
in the blocking wall. To the south a latrine turret was added
service the upper rooms. When the tower was raised in height
oriel window was added into the upper floor. The tower still
not rise as high as the 2 surrounding curtains, while their junctions
shows that much rebuilding and alteration has gone on here.
As this was a
gatetower, presumably there was once more to the castle, namely a
'house' that was in existence by 1210.
When the 'Edwardian castle' was built in the thirteenth century the
gatehouse was blocked and its foreward wall used as part of the east
curtain of the new east range. The new work used larger
rubble blocks and had long
crossbow loops. Of this only the east front survives
externally, for the W&N fronts have been encased by later work.
Possibly this range is all there ever was and this may have
of 'the house' of 1210. It consists of a block of domestic
quarters running north from the old gatetower. The NE corner
this is at right angles and this may well have been the lakeside end of
the castle, it terminating
in a rectangular tower. Whatever the case, this section has
been much altered. West of this
is the great undercroft which runs down to end against the old
gatetower. SE of the gatetower was a gate which was later
converted into an internal gatetower.
SE of the new entrance was a D
shaped tower of a vaguely Welsh design which appears unaligned with the
east front it should have defended. This was three storeys
high and was defended by numerous crossbow loops. It has a
fine plinth and a peculiar flat projection to the east. The
rear of this projection led out onto the outer ward wallwalk, though
the rounded doorway has now been partially blocked and the outer wall
reduced to half its original height.
The junction of the tower battlements over this are
mismatched and some modification has obviously gone on here.
This has led
to the claim that the north backing wall is a
later addition. However there is no indication of this in the
external masonry lower down. A low wall ran from here to the
chapel tower covering this side of the east range. There is a
break in this wall opposite the new gateway.
East of the old gatetower is a boldly projecting
polygonal chapel tower which abuts the NE rectangular tower on its
north side and is meshed into a chamfering off of the corner on the
south side. This contains a spiral stair.
The chapel tower has a pronounced plinth which is lacking on the rest
of the front and appears to be a later addition. Certainly
its battlements do not align with those of the adjoining curtains and
the curtain parapet was at least 6' higher than that of the projecting
chapel tower. This whole east range is most unusual
and difficult to decipher.
At the same time as this was built, an outer ward may have been added
which only the NE wall still survives. Obviously this side
always had been the entrance.
Unfortunately the next phase of the castle is not connected to the
earlier remains. This consists largely of the west side of
castle and two great round towers with massive Goodrich style spur
buttresses. These also appear at Newport castle some 25 miles
north and Cardigan keep some 30 miles away. The north tower
positioned at a most awkward angle and there seems to be no logical
this. Entrance to both towers was gained via a 3 storey great
set between the two. Apparently as part of the same
hole in the wall gateway south of the old gatetower was converted into
a proper internal gatehouse. However, the backing to the old
gatetower and undercroft appears to be more early sixteenth century.
Around the same time as the great hall was built in the
thirteenth century, a narrow outer curtain was added to the S&E
sides of the outer ward.
In the inner ward the curtain which joined the west tower to the south
has lost its eastern half. The great hall, with its normal
plinth to the south, could well predate the west tower with its fine
spur buttresses. It certainly predates the plinthless section
of south curtain which terminates against the heavily ruined supposedly
sixteenth century turret. It would seem that the outer
gatehouse was added beyond the thirteenth century outer
curtain, partially filling the great rock cut ditch, probably by Rhys
ap Thomas (d.1525).
On the north side of the site, the gap between the two castle phases is
joined by Sir John Perrot's impressive Elizabethan range.
It appears likely that the original castle thirteenth century
wall still exists in part in the SW portion of the inner wall of
Perrot's work against the great hall. If this is correct, all
of Perrot's work is therefore outside the original castle.
This description and measly history of the castle of course leaves the
perenial problem of when were these various phases of masonry built?
As ever there is no easy answer, but some comments can be
The gatetower as a design seems early and so could be
twelfth century. Polygonal towers like the chapel tower are
to be late thirteenth century. Justification for this is
given by quoting the equally undated chapel tower at Kidwelly, or Denbigh's
second phase castle. None of these sites have secure dating,
although Denbigh's polygonal towers are almost certainly post 1282.
What is forgotten in this is that polygonal towers at Dyserth
Clwyd date to the period 1241 to 1246 and there is no way of telling
whether these were an early or a late style. The same is true
the great spur buttresses. Possibly the most securely dated
similar feature at the towers at Goodrich
castle which seem to date from the 1260s to the 1280s.
Marten's tower at Chepstow
is somewhat later, but there is uncertainty over those at Cardigan keep
and Newport nearby. In short it might make more sense for the Carews
have built their 'Edwardian' castle before the overthrow of independent Wales in
the 1280s, rather than afterwards.
There is also the problem of the south tower. This has the
appearance of a south facing mural tower, not a corner tower.
Perhaps originally this is what is was on the vulnerable southern
front and that originally the outer ward was part of a main ward which
was divided into two by the east range in the thirteenth century.
Whatever the case, Carew castle still has many mysteries to solve.
Why not join me at Carew and other Lost Welsh Castles next Spring?
Please see the information on tours at Scholarly
Paul Martin Remfry