Manorbier is an unusual castle in so far as it developed more as a house than a fortress. It may have begun life in the late eleventh century when it was held by the family of Barry from the earldom of Pembroke for probably 5 knight's fees, though by 1349 these had been reduced to 4 and a quarter.  It is thought that the castle was probably founded by Odo Barry (d.1129), possibly as knights of the barony of Pembroke, judging by the form of the castle's tenure in 1384.  Giraldus Cambrensis (1146-1223) is the first person to mention the castle as where he was born.  He described it as a wondrous place, though when the Welsh princes of Deheubarth attacked it around 1151 he could remember looking out across the valley at the church on the opposite hill and thinking that that was the real place of refuge.  This seems to be the only military action at the castle in its early phases and that was abortive.
The castle must have been of a similar extent as it is now when war finally came to Manorbier after the destruction of the Welsh principalities.  The castle was first seized by Roger Mortimer (d.1330) in 1327 on the grounds that its owner, David Barry (d.1362+), was in league with Rhys ap Gruffydd (d.1356) a pro-Edward II rebel and traitor.  Mortimer subsequently passed the castle over to David's uncle, Richard Barry (d.1334+).  This caused a great deal of ill-will, but the castle eventually passed to Richard's son in law, Owain ab Owain (d.1359).  On his death David (d.1362+) got his lordship back after a period of exile on his Irish estates.  This exile had begun as early as 4 August 1332 by which time he had been imprisoned for various felonies in Ireland.

The dispute over Manorbier meant that much information on the castle was recorded.  The inquest on the initial attack on the castle in 1327 was heard on 20 July 1331, after the fall of Roger Mortimer (d.1330).  This recorded the complaint of David Barry:

that certain persons besieged his castle at Maynerbir, Pembs, broke the doors and walls, carried away his goods there and at Pennaly and assaulted his servants... murdered Edmund Barry, the said David's servant.

In the subsequent inquisitions it came out that the dispute concerned the rights of the earl of Pembroke in the lordship and that Mortimer was only acting as custodian during the minority of Lawrence Hastings (1320-48).  Further, the attack had been carried out by Manorbier's neighbours of Carew, in particular Master William Carew (d.1359) and Thomas Carew (d.1331) and that they were aided by Owain ab Owain (d.1359), the future lord of Manorbier.

David Barry was still lord of the castle in 1362, when he held it from John Windsor (d.bef.1384), who must have been a descendant of the Gerald Windsor (d.bef.1126) who had held Pembroke castle back in the twelfth century.  In 1384 it was held solely by William Windsor (d.1384), John's brother and apparent heir.  William was also the husband of Alice Perers (d.1400), the infamous alleged mistress of King Edward III (1327-77).  After over 500 years of existence the castle was finally properly besieged in 1645 when it was already over 600 years old.  It was then seized by the parliamentarians and slighted. 

The castle today is still tolerably intact and consists of a sub-rectangular masonry enclosure, about 200' by 150', with a projecting rectangular gatetower to the east.  Much of the projection was built after the surrounding curtain walls and the early Romanesque hole in the wall gateway which can still be seen with its portcullis groove, fossilised in the west end of the passageway.  There is another portcullis at the east end of the gate passageway which also retains a Romanesque style.  Another purpose of extending the gate passageway was to add a drawbridge across the ditch to the east.  At the south-east corner of the gatetower, rising from a rectangular guardroom below and accessed from the wallwalk, is a circular stair turret which rises to a garret commanding the whole castle.

The enceinte curtains form an irregular hexagon that has round towers to the 2 vulnerable east angles.  The 3 storey south tower is fully rounded, while its north twin was open backed and not as boldly projecting.  Both have mural stairways curving up inside the walls, although the north tower is only of 2 storeys. 

North of the gatetower is 'the old tower', a rectangular structure, some 25'x20', possibly dating back to the eleventh century.  This thin walled structure has lost its north and east faces, but was clearly once of 2 storeys and seems to have had a newer third storey settled on top at a later date.  This can be seen by the internal moulding string courses and the change of masonry above these with their several pointed relieving arches.  Entrance was originally at first floor level to the west through a Romanesque doorway.  A possibly sixteenth century doorway now allows ground floor entry, while the bonding between the old tower and the gateway is non-existent, just like the join with the north-east curtain and the old tower.  If this is a keep it is one of the smallest in the country, with 30' towers being more common.  Interestingly the nearest in size, Dolwyddelan I (25' square) and Goodrich (29' square) are also probably the oldest.  O
ther rectangular tower keeps under 40' exist in Wales at Carndochan (35' square), Powis (36½'x30') and White castle (35' square): and in England at Bridgnorth (39'x35'), Clitheroe (35' square), Clun (30' square), Farnham (37' square), Hyssington (27' square), Moreton Corbet (38'x33'), Peak (21'x19') and Wattlesborough (30' square).

The curtain between the old tower and the north-eastern one has been raised in height twice.  The original curtain was about 12' above the rampart top, rather similar to that at Llanstephan.  At Manorbier this was subsequently doubled in height and the old battlements converted into a peculiar arched shooting gallery.  Then this curtain was raised again with the old battlements being fossilised in another 6' of masonry.  Internally buttresses behind the arches of the 'shooting gallery' were also raised in height and peculiarly corbelled out.  Possibly this once carried a wooden wallwalk.  If so the curtain must have been equipped with at least another 6' of battlements which are now missing.  The curtain south of the gatetower leading to the south-east tower looks different, in so far as there appears to have been an original curtain of some 20' which was then raised another 6' fossilising the old battlements and making a totally enclosed shooting gallery of the old wallwalk.

Both the north and south curtain walls have been similarly raised to the east curtain.  At the north-west angle of the ward is a corbelled out semi-circular turret.  The north wall ends at a right angled junction to the west and there is then a gap until the south wall is reached.  This is filled by the hall block.  The masonry of this seems similar to that of the old rectangular tower placed close to the entrance gatetower.  Probably this was originally within the old enceinte, although there is now no trace of the original curtain, except for a short fragment heading west from the old south wall.  The hall block and square tower probably date from around 1100.  The connection wall of the hall block to the south curtain is large and ends with a projecting rectangular turret, called the spur tower.  This gives some flanking along the south front.  At the western end of the north-west curtain are 3 loops and a well which probably served an internal building along this wall.  Other residential buildings survive behind the south curtain.  There was an outer ward to the north-east.

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


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