This is the only riverine fortress of the three castles of Skenfrith, Grosmont and White Castle, now known as the Trilateral.  Like the other 2 castles, Skenfrith is remarkably well-preserved, standing mostly to wallwalk height.  Unfortunately there is no early reference as to the foundation of this fortress, though a castle certainly existed here by 1160 when it came into the king's hands with Grosmont and White Castle.  In 1187 the engineer Ralph Grosmont was instructed by King Henry II to rebuild the castle in stone.  The eastern wall and possibly the north-east tower of the castle, built in a totally different style from the rest of the fortress, was constructed by Ralph.  However, this work proved abortive and Henry II cancelled the building work in 1188 as unnecessary.  In 1193, Sheriff William Braose pushed the unfinished castle into rapid service by placing a palisade around the other three sides of the ditch.  A prison was later built within the stockade.

From 1200 Skenfrith castle has largely the same history as Grosmont castle.  In 1219 Hubert Burgh (d.1243), the defender of Chinon in 1204-5 and Dover in 1216 began to build the other 3 sides of the unfinished castle enceinte in stone.  His work is characterized by the fine and high batter on the north, south and west sides.  Yet, before a year was out, this castle was devastated by heavy flooding in the Monnow valley.  Hubert therefore filled the interior of the first castle with river gravel and built a new castle on top of the first one!  The hall of this first castle still remains, having been buried in gravel from 1220 until the 1950s excavations.  This hall is remarkably well-preserved with the jambs of doors and windows in as good a condition as when they were first cut nearly 800 years ago.  Even the original iron door hinges and window bars have survived from this era.  In 1239 the castle was seized by King Henry III, who in 1244 placed a lead roof on top of the king's tower or central keep.  This round tower in the middle of the castle was the last part of the fortress constructed by Hubert Burgh, and is not, as is often stated, built on the old castle motte.  The recent excavations conclusively proved that this tower was built on top of the thirteenth century gravel used to infill the first castle of 1219.  Another dating feature of this tower can be found in the collapsed stairway built into a buttress in its western wall.  This is not a standard spiral stair, but a series of semi-circular stairways.  Although much damaged it can be seen to have been similar to the stairs that still exist in the gatehouse of White Castle.  This work, with its unusual stairs, is also thought to have been undertaken by Earl Hubert Burgh.
 A list of other round tower keeps can be found in the description of Llanstephan castle and a general list of round keeps is found under Dundrum. 

The fortress was once surrounded by a 20' deep paved moat which fed a mill to the south.  Today the castle stands mostly to wall walk height and is in much the same state as it was in 1538 when the antiquarian Leland noted that Skenfrith castle ‘yet standith'.  Other round keeps in the vicinity stand at Pembridge, Tretower, Longtown and Bronllys.  The round keep at Monmouth has been demolished.

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


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