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 elventh 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 four and a
quarter. It is thought that the castle was probably founded
in alliance or under the orders of Gerald Windsor, the 1090s constable of Pembroke, judging by the form
of the castle's tenure in 1384. Indeed these barons were the
two grandfathers of Giraldus
Cambrensis (1146-1223) who is the first person to mention the castle he
was born at. He described it as a wonderous 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.
castle must have been of a similar extent as it is now when war finally
came to Manorbier after the sessesation of Anglo-Welsh hostility.
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 which had begun as early as 4
August 1332 by which time he had been imprisoned for various felonies
The dispute over Manorbier meant that much information on the castle
was recorded. The inquest on the inital 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:
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
In the subsequent
inquisitions it came out that the dispute bordered around 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
Carew, in particular Master William and Thomas Carew and that they were
aided by Owain ab Owain, 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), a descendant of the Gerald Windsor
(d.bef.1126) who had held Pembroke
castle back in the
eleventh century. In 1384 it was held solely by William
Windsor, his brother and 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 SE 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 controlling the whole
The enceinte curtains form
an irregular hexagon that has round towers to the two
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 N&E 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 serveral 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-existant, just like the
join with the NE 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 Goodirch (29' square) are also probably
the oldest. Other 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'), Clithero (35' square), Clun (30' square), Farnham (37'
square), Hyssington (27' square), Moreton Corbet
(38'x33'), Peveril (21'x19') and Wattlesborough
The curtain between the old tower and the NE one has been raised in height
twice. The original curtain was about 12' above the rampart top.
This was subsequently doubled in height and the old battlements
converted into a peculiar arched shooting gallery. Then this 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 SE 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 N&S walls have been similarly raised to the east curtain. At the NW 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 NW 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 NE.
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Paul Martin Remfry