This fortress was the centre of the Fitz Herbert Barony of Talgarth founded in 1208. Consequently it was probably constructed in the years 1208 to 1215, after which it fell into the hands of the Braose family on their rebellion against King John (d.1216). The castle was returned to the Fitz Herberts in 1217 and was later sacked by Prince Llywelyn ab Iorwerth and Earl Richard Marshall in the October of 1233. Repaired soon afterwards it was apparently taken by Prince Llywelyn ap Gruffydd late in 1262 and was only retaken by September 1273 when Reginald (d.1286) the son of Peter fitz Herbert (d.1235) was rebuked for his castle taking activities in Brecknock.
The castle, like so many other Marcher fortresses, was seized by Edward II after the abortive uprisings of 1321-2 and given to the Dispensers until their overthrow late in 1326. The castle by this time was nearly ruinous and an inquisition by jury of 23 January 1337 held at the castle found numerous defects which suggests that the fortress had never recovered from the attentions of Prince Llywelyn ap Gruffydd (d.1282), even if the archaeological evidence does suggest that the castle defences were improved at this time. The photograph shows the remains of what was probably the Nursery Tower. Note the deeply splayed crossbow loop.
The castle ruins consist of a 6' thick curtain wall with a mostly destroyed strongly projecting plinth. Such a plinth was probably necessary considering the wet nature of the site, occupying as it does the springs that form the head of the River Llynfi. As ever the castle is built of the poor local stone, which has not bode well for its survival. A singular towering piece of curtain wall still stands to wallwalk height, a portion of which can still be made out at the wall's summit. Adorning the site are the increasingly buried foundations of towers and buildings together with four strongly battered buttresses which stand proudly above the collapsed remains of the once mighty curtain that they formerly helped to support.
The castle appears to have been commenced by ditching a rectangular platform formed from a small knoll and filling the ditch with water by means of a dam to the north of the site. Assuming that the jurors made a tour of the castle starting at the keep it would appear that this five storey tower lay, reasonably isolated, at the north-west end of the castle. This rectangular structure, 55'x25', was entered via a large building to the east which may have been the larder or one of the chambers mentioned by the jurors. Today nothing remains of this long narrow tower apart from confused foundation buried under turf and masses of vegetation.
South of the 'keep' a round tower has been added to the multi chamfered SW corner of the enceinte. This shows two deeply splayed arrow slits commanding the curtain wall to east and west and added a vague degree of flanking to the angle, the exposed west wall presumably being covered by the keep. Possibly this was the Nursery Tower as it is attached to the now disappeared outer walls. It is feasible that this tower was added in the mid 1250s when similar work was being undertaken at nearby White Castle in Gwent, although it is always possible that this was the work of Prince Llywelyn in the 1260s or even Reginald Fitz Peter (d.1286) when he regained the castle in the 1270s.
At the east corner of the castle enceinte was another long rectangular tower, this one being smaller than the keep and apparently contiguous with the curtain wall, although the rear wall appears to be a later addition or rebuild. This was presumably the Turbeville Tower. Taken together this shows that the original castle of Peter Fitz Herbert (d.1235) seems to have consisted of a rectangular enceinte with a great rectangular tower keep in the north-west corner. This was paralleled by the somewhat similar rectangular Turbeville Tower in the SE corner. Only later were the Picard and Nurse's towers constructed to add more flanking fire to the castle's somewhat limited defences.
Centrally in the east wall, north of the Turbeville Tower, was a boldly projecting circular tower which had been added to the enceinte. This may be identifiable with the four storey Picard Tower. The degree of projection of this tower is unusual, and it should be noted that a similar degree of projection is found at Wilton castle in Herefordshire, and that this is generally, and wrongly, assumed to be fifteenth century. North of what may have been the Picard Tower, at the angle, was the peculiar gatehouse which in design is more reminiscent of an inturned prehistoric gateway than a thirteenth century castle. On its western flank was a large square building, which might just also have been the keep. If this was so then the tower names suggested above should all be moved one step clockwise. The kitchens would seem to have been immediately west of this tower where ovens still exist. There is also a straight stair which ran down to the basement of one of these structures. Possibly this was the wine cellar. Again the excavations have proven that the interior of the castle is choked with collapsed masonry and humus to a level of at least 10' and much of the castle is still standing to first floor level, buried in its own debris.
The castle well seems to have been close by the south curtain, east of what may have been the hall. The free standing rectangular building close to the west curtain may have been the knight's chamber. The outer walls ran southwards from the gateway round to the suggested semi-circular Nurse's Tower enclosing the south-eastern half of the castle. Possibly this was an attempt to make the archaic plan of this castle more concentric in design. The fortress, although dating from the early thirteenth century, is far from being a Beaumaris or even a Montgomery.
Extracted from Castles of Breconshire, currently out of stock. A new Kindle version should be out on Amazon by the end of 2020.
Paul Martin Remfry