Oystermouth castle is set towards the SE extremity of the Gower. In the Middle Ages the lordship of Gower did not consist solely of this peninsula, but had a deep hinterland spreading northwards into the highlands of Glamorgan towards Brycheiniog.  To the west this hinterland was bordered by Carnwyllion, itself a fragment of the commote of Cedweli; to the north by Cantref Bychan and Cantref Mawr; and to the east by the sub-lordship of Neath.  Commanding the estuary of the main river, the Tawe, lay the caput of the lordship, Swansea.  As with so many castles the references to Oystermouth in the Middle Ages are not legion. It will therefore be necessary to study the lordship of Gower and its lords in their entirety and from this history gain a more rounded picture of the development of this visually pleasing 'castle'.

The Gower peninsula in which Oystermouth castle stands was possibly overrun by the Earl Henry Beaumont of Warwick (d.1119) at about the same time as King William I overran Glamorgan and St Davids in his campaign of 1081.  If any castle was built in the province at this time it would probably have been Swansea.  Whatever the case Norman rule of the cantref seems to have been disrupted during the great Welsh rebellion of 1093-99. King Henry I in trying to stabilise South Wales granted Gower and the bulk of Deheubarth to Prince Hywel ap Goronwy of Rhwng Gwy a Hafren in 1102. In 1106 Hywel was killed and Gower was re-occupied by Earl Henry of Warwick. It was probably around this time that Oystermouth was granted to William London (d.bef.1128), the mesne lord of Ogmore in Glamorgan. William built a castle at Oystermouth in this period only to have it destroyed by Prince Gruffydd ap Rhys of Deheubarth in 1116.  It is interesting to see that the Welsh chronicle describes William as ‘abandoning his castle, cattle and men' and fleeing towards England.  Possibly, after the burning of Swansea, William took ship to his land of Ogmore just across the bay, therefore ‘abandoning’ his men and property.  However, it should be noted that standard practise was not for a lord to get bottled up in a besieged castle, but to leave a strong garrison in place while he went off to raise a relief army.  The Welsh chronicle often overplayed Welsh military prowess and scorned Norman efforts.  Such literary works of a lesser power engaged in warfare against a stronger power have done nothing less since the days of Judea.

What is certain is that William returned and rebuilt his castle.  It was probably his son Maurice London (d.1162) who had to face the next Welsh crisis when Hywel ap Maredudd of Brycheiniog overwhelmed the defences of Gower once more in January 1136. In 1141 Maurice upgraded his father’s foundation of Ewenny near Ogmore into a priory before being laid to rest there under a fine tomb around 1162.

Maurice’s grandsons, William (d.1212) and Thomas (d.1215), were instrumental in holding the power of Prince Llywelyn ab Iorwerth at bay during the reign of King John (1199-1216). It is perhaps fitting that no more is heard of Thomas, the last London lord of Oystermouth, after the Welsh stormed the Gower peninsula in 1215 and sacked Oystermouth castle.  No mention, however, is made of his death.  With the death of the last male London and the overrunning of Gower, Oystermouth was given by Prince Llywelyn to Rhys Gryg of Deheubarth.  In 1220 Llywelyn ousted Rhys and granted Gower to John Braose (d.1232), the son of William Braose Junior, starved to death by King John.  It would seem likely that John rebuilt Oystermouth as well as Swansea castle.  The castle then passed down the Braose family until it passed to the Mowbrays and then back to the earls of Warwick in the mid fourteenth century.

The castle consists of a great keep and hall block of the twelfth century set upon an earlier ringwork of which only half was apparently defended in stone. In the thirteenth century a great twin towered gatehouse was added, of which the two towers have subsequently been demolished giving Oystermouth its unique and picturesque frontage.  If the towers had survived they would have put Oystermouth in the class of twin towered gatehouse that exist elsewhere in Wales at Caerphilly, Carmarthen, Chepstow, Criccieth, Degannwy, Dinas Bran, Llawhaden, Neath, Powis, Rhuddlan, Tinboeth and White Castle.  In England examples survive at Beeston, Bungay, Clifford, Dover, Longtown, Pembridge, St Briavels, the Tower of London and Whittington.  In Scotland they can be found at Kildrummy and Urquhart and finally elsewhere in Ireland at Carrickfergus, Castle Roche, Limerick and Roscommon.  

The keep was raised in height in the fourteenth century with a chapel being placed on top.  The interior of the castle is still crowed with many halls, solars, barracks and apartments.  The castle was restored in the Victorian era by the earl of Cawdor who also refurbished Castell Carreg Cennen.  In both castles a few ‘interesting’ additions were made

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Copyright©1994-2004 Paul Martin Remfry