Powis castle (Trallwg
was founded on its current site in 1111 by King Cadwgan ap Bleddyn of
Powys, the most powerful Welsh ruler of his day and husband to a daughter of Picot Say of Clun.
power brought many rivals and that year Cadwgan was slain there while
'not wishing to harm anyone'. That the current mansion was the site occupied
not the nearby motte is ascertained from the siege of Powis castle (Trallwg Llywelyn)
waged by the archbishop of Canterbury against Gwenwynwyn in 1196.
According to the Welsh Chronicles the archbishop:
laid siege to it
with diverse engines and siege contrivances, at last by wondrous
ingenuity they won the castle by sending sappers to dig under it and to
make hidden passages underground.
This sounds like an attack upon a castle upon a
rock and not
as is so often claimed an assault through Welshpool lake against the
water defences of Welshpool motte.
Gwenwynwyn retook his castle before the year was out and the fortress
remained the chief stronghold of the princes of Powys for the
thirteenth century, although it occasionally fell to the princes of
Gwynedd. Thus in 1216 Llywelyn ab Iorwerth warred against
Gwenwynwyn and drove him in flight to Cheshire taking all of his
possessions for his own. Llywelyn then proceeded to deal with
Powis castle as his personal property, parcelling it out to his sons as he felt fit.
In 1241 Gruffydd ap Gwenwynwyn regained his castle and held
until 1274 despite an abortive attack by Llywelyn ap Gruffydd in 1257.
In November 1274, Prince Llywelyn sent messengers to Gruffydd
Gwenwynwyn to the castle of Welshpool (kastell y Trallwg).
After a show of defiance by Gruffydd which included raising
banner from the great tower (in maiori turre) and clearing houses from
the castle environs the prince came with his army and 'burned the
castle and destroyed it to the ground'. In 1276 with the help
Roger Mortimer of Wigmore and Earl Henry Lacy of Lincoln (d.1311), Gruffydd regained his lands, and
no doubt repaired Powis castle with Gruffydd demanding compensation from
the prince for la Pole
The castle remained inhabited after the Middle Ages and was extensively
and repeatedly remodelled after 1587, when it was acquired by Sir
Edward Herbert. In the midst of all this the castle was
and taken in a siege during 1644 and not returned to the Herberts until
The castle consisted of 3 wards, an outer one to the east and west and an
one with is now the east ward. A further, original east ward, towards
town, was swept away by landscape gardening in the seventeenth
century. Recent study of the site has concluded that the
rectangular keep thought to lie at the south-east corner of the ward is
merely a part of the enceinte and not even the oldest masonry of the
castle. Instead the 'blister' on the south side of the
would appear to be the remnants of a shell keep some 70' across.
This would make it the smallest one in the UK, but, as was
by the surveyors, this size is a minimum estimate.
The current rectangular gatehouse to the east of the inner ward might be the original entrance to the
postulated shell keep,
but it has been massively rebuilt and has 2
unusual rounded turrets at its eastern angles. The thickness
of the north-east angle of the curtain would suggest that this is also
second phase work, like the south-east corner. This block ran
westwards to join up with the great west twin towered gatehouse and seems to have
housed the great hall. These first 2 phases, the shell keep
and the rectangular curtains to the east, seem to have been made with
quarried stone. The twin towered gatehouse,
however, appears to be made with rubble from collapsed buildings.
In style it appears to be of the turretless variety which is
the most common in the thirteenth century. At Powis the gatehouse stands to its full height, the original
battlements being fossilised in their Georgian replacements.
Peculiarly the gate passageway is not straight,
presumably this was done so that the new gatehouse joined to an
internal building or courtyard. The layout of this is now lost under
later building. At the east end of the south inner ward wall a few modified
loops can also be seen, one possibly marking the position of a
To the west of the great gatehouse is the only surviving remant of the outer ward.
This consists of 175' of 10' thick curtain wall with a central D
shaped tower, similar to those at Castell Dinas Bran, Denbigh town
walls and Dolforwyn. At the north-west corner is a small round stair
turret. The rest of the ward has been swept away.
not join me at other Lost Welsh Castles next Spring?
Please see the information on tours at Scholarly
Paul Martin Remfry