The Foundation of Builth Wells Castles

The earthwork at Caer Beris seems to represent the first castle in the cantref of Buellt, probably built by Philip Braose (d.bef.1138) in 1093. In 1098-1102 the archbishop of Canterbury instructed Philip to return to the bishop of St David's those lands he had wrongfully occupied. This almost certainly refers to his encroachments in Buellt. The castle then seems to have remained in quiet occupation by the Braose family for almost a century. During this time it seems likely, judging from the pit and rubble seen on the motte-top, that the castle was refortified in stone. In 1168 the Lord Rhys ap Gruffydd of Deheubarth (d.1197) invaded Brycheiniog and destroyed the castle belonging to William Braose (d.1182). From this time forth it was out of Braose hands, although the cantref was later restored to William's Welsh grandsons, Rhys Ieunac (d.1222) and Owain ap Gruffydd (d.1236). However Caer Beris castle seems never to have recovered and the cantref was henceforth ruled by Meurig ab Addaf of Buellt and, after he was treacherously slain in his sleep in 1170, by his cousin by Maredudd Bengoch. The power behind these two descendants of Elystan Glodrydd was almost certainly the Lord Rhys. The position of Buellt seems to have been formalised when William Braose Senior (d.1211) granted the province to the Lord Rhys' son Gruffydd ap Rhys (d.1201) with the hand of his daughter Matilda some time before 1189. The province was then inherited by the two sons of Gruffydd, Rhys Ieuanc and Owain ap Gruffydd on their father's death in 1201.

An abortive foundation of the current Builth Wells castle was probably made in 1208 by the sheriff of Gloucester. On this occasion his forces were defeated and he was repulsed by William Braose Senior's grandsons, Rhys Ieuanc and Owain ap Gruffydd, together with Iorwerth ab Einion Clud of Aberedw, back down the River Wye. The sheriff returned in 1210 and completed his aborted foundation of a new castle in Buellt. The castle was later seized from King John by the Braose brothers in the early summer of 1215. The king sent men to aid in the castle's further fortification in 1219, but the castle was besieged by Prince Llywelyn ab Iorwerth (d.1240) in September 1223, until relieved soon after by royal troops. In 1229 the castle was given to Prince Llywelyn by William Braose and it was destroyed by its new princely owner soon afterwards 'so that not one stone stood one upon the other'. On the death of Prince Llywelyn the castle site was retaken by John Monmouth in the summer of 1240 who then began its rebuilding. The castle was repeatedly attacked between December 1256 and its fall on 17 July 1260 when it was again thoroughly demolished. Seventeen years later King Edward I ordered it rebuilt as a 'great tower' on the motte, with 'a stone wall with six turrets surrounding the said castle (tower meant?), a 'drawbridge with two large turrets' and stone walls enclosing the inner and outer baileys. Between 1277 and 1282 a considerable sum was spent on building this fortress, to wit £1,666 9s 5¼d. However that sum is £167 10s 6¼d less than the revenue that can be shown to have been sent to the castle. This explains the audit demanded by the barons of the Exchequer concerning the castle.

Whilst the wrangling over the missing money went on the more mundane jobs of guarding the castle while it was built and afterwards were undertaken by a variety of soldiers. In 1277, nine mounted serjeants and forty foot soldiers protected the site, though after the surrender of Prince Llywelyn this figure was dropped to four horsemen and ten infantry. 

In the winter of 1294 the besieged garrison consisted of three heavy and three light horsemen, twenty crossbowmen and forty archers. The force which came to relieve them, ten knights, twenty heavy and forty light horse made 5 sallies through the attacking force to keep communications with the garrison open. This meant that Builth Wells castle avoided the fate of Cefnllys and Morlais castles to north and south respectively. After this Builth Wells castle tended to become a muster point, with troops gathering here for foreign service in 1319, 1321, 1334 and 1385. By 1402 it had become part of the command of Lord Richard Grey of Codnor and he held it throughout the Glyndwr war. In the Elizabethan era the castle seems to have been dismantled after a particularly bad fire which destroyed much of the town. The white house beneath the castle is said to have been built from its ruins, as indeed much of the town of Builth Wells seems to be. Little now remains of this once major castle except for its earthworks.

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Copyright©1994-2007 Paul Martin Remfry