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.  The curtains between the 4 towers are unusually low.  Parts of the town walls including a large rectangular gatetower remain.

Why not join me at other Lost Welsh Castles next Spring?  Please see the information on tours at Scholarly Sojourns.


Copyright©2017 Paul Martin Remfry