Llawaden castle does not have a clear history.  Its position on the frontier between the Welsh and the Flemings might suggest it dates to early in the reign of Henry I when he moved many homeless Flemings to Dyfed.  Alternatively it is claimed as the castle of Bishop Bernard of St Davids (1115-48).  The castle was operational in 1174/5 when Giraldus Cambrensis excommunicated Sheriff William Karquit of Pembroke in his own castle of Pembroke for taking the oxen of Pembroke priory.  The next day the sheriff came to Bishop David Fitz Gerald's castle of Llawhaden (Lanwadein) to be absolved after being beaten by rods.  This suggests that Giraldus was residing there at the time and that this was already a clerical castle - Gerald's uncle was bishop of St Davids at the time.  In 1188 Giraldus passed the castle again on his great trek around Wales. 

Early in 1192 Prince Rhys ap Gruffydd (d.1197) of Deheubarth ‘captured Llawhaden castle by force'.  He then gave the castle to his son, Hywel Saes (d.1204), who obviously fortified it, for the next year the Flemings and Normans of Pembroke, ‘attacked the castle of Llawhaden which was within Hywel's power, but they could not take it and so returned home in disgrace' although they did kill Tewdwr ap Pret, a reputed son of Rhys ap Gruffydd, in the town.  After this the Welsh Annales state:

The same Hywel and Maelgwn ap Rhys (d.1230) destroyed Llawhaden castle; because they had heard that the Flemings and the French of Pembroke were coming with a huge and well equipped body of men; with their approach the Welsh were struck dumb with amazement and soon divided themselves into three parts.  One of these parts entered the half ruined town, the second truly approached the church, not to make prayers, but rather to beg for refuge, the third rather than having confidence in either the church or the town, made for the protection of the woods where they were attacked by the French in the manner of wolves.  Nearly sixty of these Welshmen were killed by the sword near Rutuant.

Another chronicle states:

Hywel Saes took Wiston (Gwis) castle by cunning.  The same Hywel feeling that this citadel was by no means safe unless he dispersed some of those who held their lands of it, consulted with his brother, that is Maelgwn, and they united their armies and destroyed Llawhaden (Lanhuwadein) castle.  When the Flemings discovered this they assembled that day to restore the castle; at this unexpected attack the men of the aforementioned brothers turned in flight with not a little slaughter.  But after only a little while the Welsh grouped in one body at the said castle and decided to level it to the ground.

With this the history of the castle fades into obscurity.  It is uncertain when the castle was rebuilt, but it was possibly not until Llywelyn ab Iorwerth's forces had been driven from the district after his death in April 1240.  Indeed, it may have been that the district remained under Welsh control for another 20 years, for on 9 August 1259 ‘many Welshmen were killed at Llawhaden (Lanhuadeyn/Lawaden).  It was therefore possibly only after Llywelyn ap Gruffydd's forces had been decisively driven from South Wales in 1276/77 that Llawhaden castle was rebuilt.  Certainly Bishop Thomas Bek (1280-93) created the borough of Llawhaden, building a hospital there in 1287.  So it is possible that the castle lay derelict for almost 90 years.  However, the euphemism used by the medieval chronicles of ‘levelling a castle to the ground', often meant no more than firing the wooden parts and leaving the bulk of the masonry standing.

Work was undertaken on the castle during the episcopate of Adam Houghton (1362-89) and in 1383 Constable John Fawle was named as master of the castle works, which by this definition were obviously ongoing.  The castle became a prison in the fifteenth century and was no longer used as an episcopal residence.  It was fortified against Glyndwr in 1402, but allowed to decay after the Reformation.  During this Bishop William Barlow (1536-48) partially dismantled the castle, while Bishop Richard Millbourne was given licence in 1616 to demolish the fortress, though it appears he never did.  Instead the castle was left to decay.  In 1740 the Buck brothers engraved it with the gatehouse parapets intact and the windows of the great hall surviving.

The first castle would appear to have been a ringwork about 180' in diameter with a ditch 65' wide and 25' deep.  It may well have been bow shaped with the flat end towards the north-east.  Certainly the shape of the moat suggests this, but the ringwork itself has been much altered by the later masonry hall block overlying this side.

Of the early castle only a fragment of curtain wall and the foundations of two towers recovered by excavation remain.  The curtain fragment is butted against by the western fourteenth century gatetower and overlain by the slightly earlier mess hall with its massive south-west wall.  The curtain probably joined with the round west tower which is partially built into by the mess hall.  This tower is some 32' in diameter with walls 10' thick.  As such it is similar in size and position to the ‘keep' at Llanstephan.
 This may place it amongst the small round tower keeps that can be found in the Marches and elsewhere.  At the northern corner of the original ward are the foundations of a solid round turret some 18' across.  Such turrets are rare in British castles, but other examples can be found at Degannwy and Pembridge.  This is the extent of the surviving pieces of original masonry.  Traditionally these are dated to the early thirteenth century on the grounds that all such structures were built then.  The history of the site would rather suggest they are the remains of the pre 1193 castle.

The next phase of the castle would appear to be the building of the peculiar rectangular structure now behind the eastern gatetower and projecting from the later curtain wall.  Possibly this was some form of gatetower of the original castle, or possibly the work of Bishop Bek
(1280-93).  The next major build seems to be the massively built hall block on the north-east side of the enclosure.  This pushes aggressively down into the ditch, unlike the other fourteenth century work.  Possibly this was the work of Bishop Bek - if he undertook any work here.  The south and east fronts are covered by a new curtain with two differing octagonal towers projecting boldly from the curtain.  They and the internal buildings are reckoned to be the work of Bishop Houghton in the 1380s.  The skewed twin towered gatehouse is thought to have been added during the Glyndwr disturbances when a garrison was placed in the castle in 1402.  The fragmentary bakehouse to the west may be even later.

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


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