The fortress was founded in 1093 when Roger Montgomery (d.1094) invaded Dyfed.  The castle then passed to his youngest son, Anselm and was subsequently isolated by the resurgent Welsh in 1094.  The storyteller Giraldus Cambrensis records that his grandfather, Gerald Windsor, defended the castle in 1098 until his supplies were all but exhausted.  He then had the last of the food cut up and thrown over the palisade into the castle ditch in full sight of the enemy.  They, thinking the castle impregnable and the garrison so well stocked as being able to throw away so much food, withdrew from their siege.  The story is nice, but it was a common story told by European soldiers and as a Giraldus story, should probably not be given as much credence as it has.  The Welsh war ended the next year, but King William II was killed in 1100.  This lead to more political instability.  In 1102 Anselm Montgomery chose exile rather than live under the rule of King Henry I and so withdrew from Pembroke castle to Ireland and then France.  The castle was subsequently passed to a knight called Sear and in 1105 to Gerald Windsor, as constable of the Crown.  The borough and castle then remained royal with Henry I granting Pembroke a charter of privileges in 1130.  In 1154 Henry II confirmed 'to my burgesses of Pembroke all their liberties, immunities and free customs as freely as they had them in the time of King Henry, my grandfather'.

In 1138 King Stephen made Gilbert Clare earl of Pembroke, having apparently already granted him the castle.  On the death of Gilbert's son, Richard, in 1176 the castle came again to the Crown during the minority of the heiress.  This ended in 1189 when Richard I granted the castle to William Marshall with the hand of the heiress in marriage.  As Earl William Marshall of Pembroke (d.1219) he is alleged to have built Pembroke keep on the solid old illogic of because he was a big man he must have built big castles.  

As a backwater the castle did not see much action during the Middle Ages, although it did control the port from which armies irregularly set off for Ireland.  Probably as a sign of favour to the Earl Marshall,
King John granted another charter to Pembroke Borough, confirming that made by his father in 1154.  He also granted Pembroke castle mill to the Knights Templars.  The Earls Marshall died out in 1245 and the castle and earldom passed to William Valence and after the Valences died out, their heirs.

In 1389 the castle reverted to the Crown when John Hastings, the then heir of the Marshalls, died.  In 1452 Henry VI gave the castle to Jasper Tudor and Jasper's nephew, the future Henry VII was born there in 1457.  The castle supported parliament in the civil war, but was battered into surrender after a 7 month siege by parliament in 1648 after supporting the king in the second civil war.  The fortress was then demolished and left a quarry for stone until 1928 when parts of it were refurbished.  This, the largest privately owned castle in Wales, was used in several films, The Lion in Winter, Jabberwocky, Prince Caspian, Richard II and Me Before You.

Pembroke castle consists of one large main ward, divided into an outer and inner bailey.  It is set on a high rocky ridge between two tidal inlets.  Within the inner ward stands the great round keep, its 4 storeys being over 72' high.  It is topped with an original stone domed roof. 
The keep is 52' in diameter with walls up to 15' thick.  There are a few keeps this size in Wales, viz. Degannwy at 50' and Hawarden at 70' diameter with walls 15' thick.  Pembroke can also be readily compared to two Irish sites, Nenagh, 52' diameter by 15' thick walls and Hook Lighthouse.  In England round towers over 50' in diameter exist at Barnstaple 65', Berkhamsted 58', Buckenham 65', Chartley 59', Conisborough 66', Miserden 60' and Plympton at 50'.  In France larger round keeps exist at Freteval, .  Some of these have a greater diameter than shell keeps, the difference between the two essentially being that a shell keep is open to the elements, while a tower is roofed.

Just SE of the keep is the line of the mostly destroyed curtain dividing the two wards.  Of this the Prison Tower to the east is the main survivor with the attached Norman and adjoined north hall.  Beneath this and accessed via a spiral stair was a great cavern where supplies could be brought in to the fortress by sea.  Towards the point of the spur was a large rectangular boss of masonry.  Whether this supported a winch, a catapult, or most likely a tower, is unknown.  To the south was a D shaped gatetower known as the horseshoe gate.  This is similar to the gate at Caldicot.

The main
fortress defences were in the larger outer ward.  From the NE these consisted of St Ann's and the Mill bastion and then 5 round towers of various sizes with a much damaged twin towered gatehouse to the south, which has been skewed to allow easier access.  Of the towers the Monkton bastion to the west is best preserved, the rest being heavily rebuilt.  Posterns can still be seen to E&W, commanded by adjoining towers.

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