Kidwelly castle was founded in the Welsh commote of Cedweli
probably in the late eleventh century - William Rufus
was noted as
fighting in the commote of Cedweli in 1095. The 2018 discovery of
a Roman road running south from Carmarthen to Kidwelly would suggest
that the castle may overlie an older Roman fort. Certainly the
fortress was standing when a charter was made on 19 July 1114 (though
possibly as early as 1107
or as late as 1115). By this instrument Bishop Roger of
Salisbury, William London of Ogmore and Oystermouth as well as
Edward the constable of Kidwelly castle, with others were present in
Kidwelly castle hall (in
domo castelli) and made a grant of lands in Kidwelly, Penbray
and Pennalth, to Sherborne priory, with the consent of King Henry I, Queen Matilda (d.1118)
and their sons. According
to the well-known fibber Giraldus Cambrensis, in March 1136 Maurice
London (d.1162) as lord of Kidwelly and the constable of the bishop,
fought a battle beneath Kidwelly castle walls, allegedly killing Princess
Gwenllian of Deheubarth and her son Morgan. Unfortunately for
Giraldus, Maurice could not have been lord of Kidwelly at this time for
the castle belonged to the bishop of Salisbury, which is why the
bishop's constable is in Giraldus' tale. Further, neither
Morgan or his alleged brother Maelgwn are otherwise known to history.
The implication is that Gerald was fibbing again.
Whatever the case, Bishop Roger lost his castles in late June
1139 and it is to be presumed that at some point King Stephen gave Kidwelly to Maurice London. Certainly he was
holding the fortress by his death in 1162.
Maurice was succeeded by his son, William London (d.1204) and he
probably lost Kidwelly castle to the Lord Rhys ap Gruffydd (d.1197)
when he rebelled against King Richard I in 1189. Certainly in
1190, one version of the Welsh
Annales note that Rhys 'worked on the castle in Cedweli' (castellum operatus est in
Kedewelly). The later Welsh Chronciles state that he built (adeilawd) the
castle. Most likely this suggests that the prince was
garrisoning the castle against the Londons. The fortress was
then recaptured and fortified against Rhys by its lord, William London (d.1204).
Certainly William received much money from the government of
Richard I to hold his fortress, viz. 20 marks (£13 6s 8d) in 1193 and the same
amount again in 1194.
In November 1215, Prince Llywelyn ab Iorwerth led a victorious army
through Deheubarth and Rhys Gryg (d.1234) seized Kidwelly, which he
held until August 1220 when Prince Llywelyn forced him to return it to
the heiress Hawise London (d.1274), the granddaughter of William (d.1204).
The castle was heavily attacked and burned in 1231, but seems
to have held, although in 1233 it was (still?) described as ruinous after a
heavy siege. Kidwelly meantime passed to Hawise's 4
husbands in turn, the last being Patrick Chaworth (d.1258) who was
killed by the Welsh in battle the same year as Prince Llywelyn ap
Gruffydd's warband burned the houses of Kidwelly right up to the castle
wall. Despite this, the castle remained in Chaworth hands and in 1280
the men of Kidwelly were granted taxes to build a town wall around
their settlement. Later the castle was fortified against
Owain Glyndwr (d.1415+). The gatehouse was expanded during this time.
The first castle consisted of a much rebuilt stone outer wall in a
semi-circular shape, set against the River Gwendraeth. This
had 3 backless D shaped towers to the western circular side and a
single D shaped tower at the north end of the west wall.
There was also a small twin towered gatehouse to the north
and a massive outer gatehouse to the south. This still
totally dominates the site. All of this work is currently
thought to be fourteenth century, although previously it was held that
this wall was built upon a twelfth century predecessor.
Certainly the main gatehouse bears some comparison with that
of nearby Carmarthen
castle which is thought to be early thirteenth century.
The twin rounded side of the east side is also rather
reminiscent of Powis castle
gatehouse, which is also generally attributed to the thirteenth century
and is definitely of Welsh provenance. Further, the outer gatehouse towers
taper as they rise - another unusual feature.
Within this outer enceinte was a rectangular inner ward with a 70' high
tower at each corner. Strangely all four of these towers are
of unique design. The 2 to the east are slightly smaller
than the western 2 and are set at odd angles to the enceinte as if
not quite a part of it. In some ways this is similar to the 2 round towers at Laugharne, which are traditionally dated to the early thirteenth century. The south-east tower at Kidwelly is also offset slightly
to the west, possibly to allow more room for the unique polygonal
chapel tower which abuts it and plunges alarmingly over half way down
the riverside scarp. The tower has powerful spur buttresses
and even a garderobe chute to the south-east.
Centrally in the south wall of the inner ward is a small internal
gatetower. The north-west tower is an unusual heart shape, while
the south-west tower is unusually battered from top to bottom.
curtains between the 4 towers are unusually low. Parts of the
town walls including a large rectangular gatetower remain.
not join me at other Lost Welsh Castles next Spring?
Please see the information on tours at Scholarly
Paul Martin Remfry