Cardiff Castle (Castell Caerdydd)

Cardiff Castle


Location: Castle St., Cardiff  Map

Tel. 029-2087 8100

Open: daily

Closed: Jan 1, Dec 25- 26


Description of Cardiff Castle

Cardiff Castle is a medieval citadel in Cardiff, capital of Wales, in United Kingdom.  Current Cardiff Castle was constructed on a high motte (hill) on the site of the Ancient Roman castra in 1091 by Robert Fitzhamon, lord of Gloucester. It became famous as a prison site for Robert Curthose, duke of Normandy and eldest son of William the Conqueror. His attempt to dethrone Henry I failed and he spent the rest of his life here. The castle was renovated in 1868 during Victorian Era by 3rd Marquess of Bute.



The castle offers a broad cross-section of Welsh military architectural history. The Normans built a motte over the remains of four superimposed forts from Roman times, which was later expanded into a stone castle. In the late Middle Ages, the castle was expanded into a residential property, which was further expanded in the 16th and 18th centuries. Finally, in the late 19th century, the property was converted into an extraordinarily magnificent historicist mansion.


Roman forts

Between 55 and 66, at the same time as the legionary camp at Usk was built, a Roman fort was built at a ford across the River Taff. The camp was a rectangular earthen and wooden fortification, much larger than the current castle. It probably served as a base during the campaigns against the Silurians and was abandoned between 80 and 90. Only a few years later, however, towards the end of the 1st century, a smaller camp with earth and wooden fortifications was built. It was in the middle of the north half of the first camp and was also only used for a short time. A third camp was established at the beginning of the 2nd century. It was largely built on the remains of the second camp, only the north side was offset to the south. This camp, with its earthen and wooden fortifications, probably existed until it was replaced by a new fort with stone fortifications in the 3rd century. This fourth fort was built around 276-285. It was south of the predecessors but was still smaller than the first camp and was in use for about 100 years.


The Norman Castle

In 1081, Wilhelm the Conqueror had a motte with wooden fortifications built within what is probably still the walls of the former Roman camp. The original castle consisted of a wooden fortification on the motte and a bailey, for which part of the remaining Roman fortification was used. He also established a royal mint in the castle, money from which the Welsh prince Rhys ap Tewdwr could pay his annual tribute of £40 to him from 1081. Like the Roman camp, the castle secured the ford across the River Taff and was easily accessible both by land and by sea. In the 1090s it served as a base for Robert Fitzamon's conquest of the Welsh Kingdom of Morgannwg and eventually from 1093 as the focal point and administrative center of the new Norman dominion of Glamorgan. From 1102 a borough developed south of the castle, from which the city of Cardiff developed. Robert Fitzhamon's son-in-law and heir, Robert of Gloucester, replaced the motte's wooden tower with a stone shell keep in the first half of the 12th century. Robert Curthose, brother of King Henry I, was imprisoned in the castle from 1126 until his death in 1134. In 1158, the Welsh chief Ifor Bach broke into the castle at night, unnoticed by the guards, kidnapped the son and successor of Robert of Gloucester, William FitzRobert, his wife and son, and only released them after concessions were made to the Welsh. King Henry II stayed at the castle on his return from Ireland in 1172.


The medieval castle

After the death of William FitzRobert, a Welsh rebellion broke out in Glamorgan, burning the city of Cardiff and was only put down in July 1184. Cardiff therefore fell under royal administration and then by marriage to the king's son John, later King John. After his death, Gilbert de Clare was able to enforce his inheritance claims in 1217. During the minority of his son and heir Richard, the castle was managed on behalf of the king by Peter de Rivallis, against whom Richard Marshal, 3rd Earl of Pembroke rose in 1233. Marshal, along with his Welsh allies, captured Cardiff Castle in October 1233 but was ultimately defeated in 1234. Gilbert de Clare, Richard's son and heir, had the fortifications of the keep extended in the second half of the 13th century and erected the Black Tower at the south entrance of the castle, along with a massive dividing wall between this tower and the keep, creating a spacious bailey originated. To the east, a large mound of earth was thrown up over the Roman wall, creating another outer courtyard.


However, with the construction of its new castle, Caerphilly, just 10 km to the north, Cardiff Castle lost its military importance. After the conquest of Wales, King Edward I stayed at the castle during his tour of Wales from 15th to 16th December 1284. In February 1316, a royal army under the command of John Giffard massed at the castle and crushed the Llywelyn Bren rebellion in March. In 1317 the castle was inherited by Hugh le Despenser, favorite of King Edward II. Against his increasing power, the Marcher Lords rose in May 1321, and their combined, overwhelming army took Cardiff Castle on 9 May during the so-called Despenser War. However, the rebellion failed in 1322 and Cardiff fell back to Despenser. Despenser and Edward II entered the castle on October 26, 1326, fleeing from Roger Mortimer and Queen Isabella, where they tried to raise an army against their adversaries. On October 28th they escaped to Caerphilly Castle and were finally captured on November 16th. After a few changes of ownership, Cardiff Castle finally came back into the hands of Despenser's descendants. The last Baron Despenser, Thomas le Despenser, was executed for rebellion in 1400. After his death, his widow Constance of York gave birth to his daughter and heiress Isabel at Cardiff Castle in July 1400. Cardiff Castle remained in their possession until Constance's death in 1416. From August 1403 the castle was besieged during the rebellion by Owain Glyndŵr and only liberated in October by a relief army under the Earl of Devon. In another attack, the rebels probably conquered the castle in 1404 and were able to hold it until 1406. Through the second marriage of Constance's daughter Isabel, the castle fell to Richard Beauchamp, 13th Earl of Warwick in 1423, who had the Octagon Tower built between 1429 and 1439, as well as a new comfortable residential building on the west side of the castle. In the outer bailey, the rectangular Shire Hall and residences for the knights of the castle garrison were built in the 15th century. The castle was inherited by Richard of Gloucester, later King Richard III, in 1474. From 1477 to 1485 his henchman James Tyrell, accused of murdering Richard's nephew in the Tower, was Constable of the Castle and Sheriff of Glamorgan.


From the castle to the palace

In the early 16th century the castle fell to Charles Somerset, later Earl of Worcester. 1551 King Edward VI. the castle then passed to William Herbert, who was made Baron Herbert of Cardiff and shortly thereafter Earl of Pembroke. Under his son, Henry Herbert, 2nd Earl of Pembroke, the western residential buildings were expanded and enlarged, which is commemorated by the Herbert Tower. The 4th Earl of Pembroke was a supporter of Parliament during the English Civil War, but early in the fighting in 1642 the castle was occupied by Royalist troops led by Anthony Mansel. King Charles I stayed in the castle twice in July and August 1645. However, on September 17, 1645, the royal commander of the castle, Richard Bassett, had to surrender the castle to the troops of Parliament. In February 1646 the castle was besieged by supporters of the king under Edward Carne. A small Parliamentary fleet under Vice-Admiral John Crowther supplied the garrison with supplies before a relief force under Major-General Rowland Laugharne forced the besiegers to surrender and finally defeated them north of Cardiff. After that, the castle continued to be a base for parliamentary troops. Unlike many other Welsh castles, it was not razed after the end of the Civil War, but was badly damaged by the fighting. The Herbert family had preferred Wilton House in Wiltshire as their home since the late 16th century. In 1679, under the 7th Earl of Pembroke, the Catholic monks John Lloyd and Philip Evans were imprisoned in the Black Tower and eventually executed as traitors.


Renovation and expansion in the late 18th century

By marriage in 1766 the castle fell to John Stuart, later 1st Marquess of Bute. He began to renovate the castle, which had been neglected and partly in ruins since the late 16th century. The Keep's gate tower, the bailey wall and part of the bailey development were demolished, and the entire bailey was redesigned to plans by Lancelot Brown, who also laid out the adjacent Bute Park. According to designs by Henry Holland, the Marquess had the west wing redesigned and expanded with a neo-Gothic extension to the south. However, after the sudden death of his son in 1794, Stuart stopped the work. His grandson and heir, John Crichton-Stuart, 2nd Marquess of Bute had Robert Smirke complete the extension of the west wing by 1818, but undertook no further extensions. While the 4th Marquess of Bute was a minor, his mother Sophia Bute, the widow of the 3rd Marquess, often lived in the castle until her death in 1859.


The Victorian Mansion

When John Patrick Crichton-Stuart, 3rd Marquess of Bute commissioned the architect William Burges to examine the condition of the castle, a close collaboration between the client and the architect began, during which the residential buildings on the west side, the Western Apartments, converted into a neo-Gothic fairytale castle from 1873. The work was carried out by leading artists and craftsmen of the time. Burges had the residential buildings extensively redesigned. Holland's castle-like east facade has been partially retained, but the interiors have been completely remodeled. The late medieval towers were rebuilt and raised, and the building was extended with an extension to the south. By the time Burge died in 1881, the expansion was largely complete and eventually continued by Burge's assistant, William Frame.


Further expansion and transfer to the state

After preserved masonry from Roman times was discovered in 1889 under the medieval earth wall in the east, the remains of the Roman walls were uncovered between 1891 and 1923 and rebuilt again. After the death of the 3rd Marquess in 1900, his son and heir, the 4th Marquess continued the work. Henry Sesom-Hiley succeeded William Frame as the lead architect in 1905 before the south and west gates of the walls were built under John P. Grant from 1920 and 1921. Construction work was completed in 1927 with the erection of a new entrance hall to the Western Apartments. Until the 1930s, the mansion served as the home of the Bute family. In 1947, after the nationalization of coal mining, the 5th Marquess of Bute handed over the expensively maintained castle to the city of Cardiff for the symbolic purchase price of 1 pound. The castle first served as the National College of Music and Drama before being open to the public as a museum in 1974. As well as the Keep and State Rooms of the Mansion, there are WWII era air raid shelters and the Cardiff Castle Museum of the Welsh Soldier, a museum dedicated to the history of the 1st Queen's Dragoon Guards and the Royal Welsh. On September 4, 2014, during the NATO Summit in Newport, the celebratory banquet was held with over 60 heads of state and government in the dining room of Cardiff Castle.



Outer walls

The castle and palace are within the walled grounds of the fourth Roman fort. The current walls of the castle follow the walls of the fourth Roman fort, enclosing an area of 185 by 200 m and 3.7 hectares. The Roman masonry is clearly visible, especially on the south side, and the north and east walls were restored from 1889. The residential buildings on the west side and the medieval ring wall on the western half of the south side were built on the Roman foundations. The Roman wall was up to 3 m thick and up to 5.2 m high and was probably protected by 18 five-sided towers projecting from the wall front, of which those on the west and north walls have been restored. The north gate with two flanking towers was rebuilt in the 19th century based on Roman models.

The main entrance to the castle is the southern gate framed by two towers, the western tower of which is the medieval Black Tower. It was restored in the 19th century. The southern wall bordering the tower was reconstructed from 1873 in the style of a medieval ring wall with a wooden battlement with a slate roof and loopholes. Burges designed another part of the wall as an Animal Wall with numerous imaginative animal sculptures.


Norman moth

The Norman motte is in the north-west quarter of the former Roman camp. It consists of a large, steep castle mound surrounded by a moat reconstructed in the 19th century. A bridge built around 1590 leads over the moat, and a stone staircase leads to the castle hill, which is bordered on both sides by the ruins of a mighty enclosing wall. The octagonal Shell Keep at the summit is of smooth, light-colored masonry topped by a battlement. The projecting gate tower originally dates from the 14th century, after being destroyed it was rebuilt at the beginning of the 20th century. In the Middle Ages, residential buildings were attached to the inside of the walls, but almost no remains of them have survived.



The wide courtyard is divided into two irregular halves by a low, formerly mighty dividing wall. Formerly it was covered with numerous buildings, of which only the foundations have been preserved. Only small remains of the buildings of the Roman camps were found, they were probably mostly made of wood and half-timbering.

Western Apartments
On the west side is the magnificent manor house, the oldest parts of which date back to the 15th century and have been renovated and expanded several times. During the restoration and expansion in the 19th and 20th centuries, Burges and his successors took the medieval substance into account according to the standards of the time. The remains of the medieval buildings were partly uncovered by excavations and carefully restored, while the new buildings stand out clearly from the medieval building fabric.

The tallest of the five differently designed towers of the manor house is the 40 m high clock tower at the south-west corner, which was completed in 1875 but has no historical predecessors. The other towers are the 15th-century Beauchamp Tower with its elaborate roof structure, and the Herbert, Guest and Bute Towers. While the southern part of the manor house dates from the second half of the 19th century, the northern part, with its castle-like but regular Neo-Gothic facade, dates from the late 18th century.


Interior design

Of the state rooms in the mansion, 17 rooms were designed by Burges in different styles. The decoration of the rooms with carvings, marble, murals and furniture is extremely imaginative and elaborate in the style of historicism, including

the Winter Smoking Room in the clock tower with a magnificent ribbed vault,
the Summer Smoking Room with a painted dome,
the large dining room with a wooden vault,
the Arab Room used as a lounge in an oriental style with a gilded vaulted ceiling designed according to a Moorish model,
the library with wooden shelves, which, however, have marble shelves for better temperature control,
the Chaucer Room with stained glass depicting the Canterbury Tales,
the Lord Bute's Bedroom with mirrored ceiling and elaborately paneled walls,
on the top floor, the atrium-like Roof Garden with painted walls and a fountain.


The castle as a film location

Cardiff Castle has served as a filming location on several occasions, including episodes of Doctor Who, Sherlock, Torchwood and The Sarah Jane Adventures.