Abergavenny castle was founded on the site of the old Roman fort and vicus of Gobannium probably before the death of William the Conqueror in 1087.  His son, William Rufus (1087-1100) gave the castle to Hamelin Ballon, who may have been the castellan for the fortress under the Conqueror when there was a royal mint here.  The early history of this district under the Normans is obscure but the castle may have formed an early triangle with the castles of Newcastle/Skenfrith, Grosmont and White Castle controlling the highlands inbetween.  Grosmont certainly seems to have been founded by 1071.

Abergavenny passed from the Ballons to Brian Fitz Count who granted the lordship to the earls of Hereford during the Anarchy for the service of three knights in his war against King Stephen.  Grosmont was similarly passed to the service of the earl's son for the service of one knight.  On the extinction of this male line, with the killing of Henry Hereford outside Abergavenny castle on 12 April 1165 by the local Gwentian Prince Seisyll ap Dyfnwal, the castle passed to William Braose Senior (bef.1110-82) of Radnor castle.  In revenge for his murdered uncle, this William invited Prince Seisyll to hear a royal proclamation at Abergavenny castle, and then had him and his family and retainers killed at Christmas 1175.  Consequently King Henry II had William stripped of his Welsh lordships, which then passed to his son, another William Braose (bef.1155-1211) who is often wrongly accused of the illegal executions.  In 1182 the local Gwentian Welsh attempted to gain their vengeance when they killed the sheriff of Hereford and routed William Braose at the battle of Dingestow on 22 May and subsequently stormed White Castle and took Abergavenny castle apart from the keep which they pelted with their arrows fired from their deadly longbows.

In 1208 Abergavenny castle passed to the Crown on the forfeiture of William Braose, but was retaken by his surviving sons in 1215.  In 1230 the castle passed to the Cantilupes on the extinction of the Braose's of Radnor, Brecon and Abergavenny.  In the spring of 1263 when the castle was under royal guardianship a major battle was fought at Abergavenny with Roger Mortimer of Wigmore and royal troops defeating and scattering a 10,000 strong Welsh force from Deheubarth under the command of Rhys Fychan.  George Cantilupe was killed in 1273, possibly campaigning in nearby Brycheiniog, and the castle passed to the Hastings family.  In 1402 the castle was refortified in opposition to the rising of Owain Glyndwr and survived an attack in 1404.

The fortress today consists of the original motte and two or three baileys.  The stone keep has been replaced with a nineteenth century building which now houses the town museum.  A fortified barbican runs up the east side of the mound, while a small bailey lies to the north which contains a fine garderobe turret and semi-octagonal tower.  The hall where the massacre occurred in 1175 can still be seen between this and the fifteenth century gatehouse.  To the south was a large rectangular tower of which little remains.


Copyright©2010 Paul Martin Remfry