Caerphilly Castle (Castell Caerffili)


Location: Caerphilly, Wales  Map

Open: 1st April to 31st October 2008 9am- 5pm daily

1st November 2008 to 31st March 2009
9:30am- 4pm Monday to Saturday, 11am- 4pm Sunday


Description of Caerphilly Castle

Caerphilly Castle Layout

Caerphilly Castle (Welsh: Castell Caerffili) is a ruined castle in Wales. The ruin, classified as a Grade I listed monument and protected as a Scheduled Monument, is considered to be the second largest castle in Great Britain after Windsor Castle, covering an area of 1.2 ha. The grounds of the castle and the surrounding water area cover over 12 ha. The castle, which is surrounded by man-made bodies of water, is the first castle in Great Britain to be designed and built as a fully concentric castle with two curtain walls. At the time of its construction it was a revolutionary masterpiece of military architecture and served as a model for King Edward I's castles in North Wales.



The castle is situated in the transition area between the lowlands on the coast of south-east Wales and the highlands of mid-Wales. It was built north of Caerphilly Mountain in a basin surrounded by hills and mountains and crossed by two streams. The two eastbound streams form the Porset Brook, a tributary of the Rhymney River. The castle was strategically located on the road from Cardiff to the Senghynnedd hills, with a pass to the east providing easy access to Newport, while another mountain pass led into the valley of the River Taff to the west. Today the castle is in the middle of the industrial city of Caerphilly.



Bulwark by Gilbert de Clare in the 13th century

In contrast to the south-east Welsh lowlands, which had already been conquered by the Normans towards the end of the 11th century, the northern hill country of Glamorgan remained under Welsh rule until the 13th century. Richard de Clare, Earl of Gloucester and Lord of Glamorgan had begun building Morgraig Castle in 1246 on the border of Welsh Senghenydd to protect his Lordship of Cardiff. During the conflict of the English barons under Simon de Montfort with King Henry III. Llywelyn ap Gruffydd, the Welsh prince of Gwynedd, had extended his powers to south-east Wales and conquered Brecon in 1262. On October 29, 1265 Henry III. however, claims to Brecon passed to Gilbert de Clare, young son and heir to Richard de Clare, who also became Lord of Glamorgan in November 1266. To ward off the expansionist efforts of Llywelyn ap Gruffydd, de Clare occupied Gwynllŵg in 1266, the territory of the Welsh lord Maredudd ap Gruffudd. In January 1267 he occupied the south of Senghenydd, captured its Welsh lord Gruffydd ap Rhys and imprisoned him in his Irish castle of Kilkenny. To secure his conquests, de Clare built the small Castell Coch north of Cardiff. In September 1267, Llywelyn ap Gruffydd was recognized as Prince of Wales by the King of England at the Treaty of Montgomery. While he had no claim to Glamorgan under the treaty, as Prince of Wales he also considered himself protector of the Welsh lords in Glamorgan, whose territories de Clare had just occupied. Llywelyn therefore appealed to the king in the autumn of 1267, complaining about the capture of his liege Gruffudd ap Rhys by de Clare. The king referred the complaint to the royal court on January 1, 1268, and in March 1268 Crown Prince Edward was to mediate. However, disputes in Glamorgan escalated into open fighting and on 11 April 1268 de Clare began building Caerphilly Castle.

In 1269 Crown Prince Edward negotiated again with Llywelyn in Montgomery and recognized Llywelyn's claims as head of the Welsh Lords of Glamorgan. De Clare, however, refused to acknowledge this. Since the crown prince had set out on his crusade to Palestine in August 1270, the king proposed that the dispute between Llywelyn and de Clare be settled by Parliament, which was to meet in October 1270. However, the situation continued to deteriorate and in October 1270 Llywelyn invaded Glamorgan with his army and on 13 October captured and destroyed Caerphilly Castle, which was under construction. Nevertheless, the king wanted to continue to resolve the conflict through negotiations. On April 11, 1271, a commission headed by Bishops Godfrey Giffard of Worcester and Roger de Meuland of Coventry and Lichfield heard Llywelyn's complaint. However, de Clare resumed construction of Caerphilly Castle in June 1271, and progress was made so rapidly that the castle withstood another attack by Llywelyn in October. Llywelyn began a new siege of the castle, but the king rescheduled negotiations for February 1272 and placed the castle under royal administration, whereupon Llywelyn made a truce on 2 November 1271, lifting the siege and surrendering the castle to the bishops. In February 1272, however, de Clare had the castle occupied by his troops, who surprised the bishops' garrison. The king was no longer able to assert himself against his most powerful vassal until his death in October 1272. Since the heir to the throne was still in Palestine, de Clare took over the regency in England together with two other nobles. Llywelyn also became involved in conflicts in mid Wales, allowing de Clare to complete the building of Caerphilly Castle.


Loss of importance after the conquest of Wales

Construction of the castle was completed by 1280, but the castle played no part in Edward I's wars against Llyweln in 1277 and 1282 in south-east Wales. After the death of Llywelyn in 1282 and the capture of Gwynedd in 1283, the castle lost its importance. During the Welsh Rebellion of 1294, the settlement of Caerphilly was burned by the rebels led by Morgan ap Maredudd, but the castle withstood the attacks. The castle was not attacked during the revolt that followed the death of Gilbert de Clare, 7th Earl of Gloucester in 1314, but during the rebellion of Llywelyn Bren the castle was the rebels' first target. On January 28, 1316, they surprisingly attacked the castle and were able to capture Constable William de Berkerolles, who was holding court outside the castle, with several of his followers. However, the weak English garrison managed to fend off the attackers and hold the main castle. Llywelyn Bren then began a siege of the castle, but in March a royal army arriving from Cardiff relieved the castle and Llywelyn Bren surrendered on 18 March.


Fortress by Hugh le Despenser

In 1317 Glamorgan fell to Hugh le Despenser, who had married Eleanor de Clare, a sister of Gilbert de Clare, who died in 1314. Despenser's ruthless rule and his influence on King Edward II led to a joint revolt by the Welsh people and the English Marcher Lords in May 1321, known as the Despenser War, during which the castle was captured. The revolt forced Despenser into exile, but after the rebel defeat at the Battle of Boroughbridge in 1322, he was able to regain his position. The castle was restored by Despenser, who also had the palace expanded by 1326.

However, in September 1326, Queen Isabella and her favorite Roger Mortimer landed in England to overthrow Edward II. The king took refuge with Despenser in Wales, where they briefly took refuge at Caerphilly Castle in late October. They garrisoned a strong force in the castle, leaving part of the crown treasury and Despenser's young son Hugh in the care of John Felton before fleeing further west. On November 16 they were captured and Despenser was executed on November 26, while Edward was forced to abdicate in January 1327. The victorious rebels besieged the castle from December 1326, but it was not until March 1327 that Felton surrendered the castle to William la Zouche, commander of the besiegers, after not only he and the garrison, but also Despenser's young son, had been assured of pardon. In June 1328, la Zouche gave the castle to Roger Mortimer. Glamorgan was returned to Despenser's widow, Eleanor de Clare, on April 22, 1328. However, she was kidnapped by la Zouche in early 1329. The couple married shortly thereafter without obtaining the royal consent required for crown vassals, and la Zouche claimed Glamorgan for himself. He besieged Caerphilly Castle from February to April 1329 before being defeated and captured. Glamorgan fell back under royal administration. La Zouche and his wife Eleanor were released on payment of a heavy fine, but after the fall of Roger Mortimer, the king gave them Glamorgan on January 20, 1331. After the death of Eleanor, Glamorgan and the castle fell to the young Hugh le Despenser, who had also been released from prison in 1331. His descendant Thomas le Despenser was executed in Bristol in 1400 for rebellion against Henry IV, his widow Constance of York, a daughter of Edmund of Langley, 1st Duke of York was allowed to keep Glamorgan and the castle. In the late 1400s, Owain Glyndŵr's rebellion broke out. Glamorgan was heavily contested between 1403 and 1405, but there is no record of whether the castle was besieged or taken by the rebels. Constance and Thomas Despenser's daughter, Isabel, married Richard de Beauchamp, 13th Earl of Warwick. The Earl of Warwick had the castle repaired again in 1428-1429.


Decay of the castle and restoration in the 20th century

During the Wars of the Roses the castle played no part, and after 1486 it fell to Jasper Tudor, who however did not use the castle. John Leland found the castle abandoned in 1539 except for a tower used as a prison. In 1583 the castle was leased to the Lewis family, who used some of the stone to build their Van Mansion, 1 km to the east. During the Civil War the castle was not occupied, instead an earthwork redoubt was built north-west of the castle, but whether the earthwork was built by the Royalists or the Parliamentary troops and whether it was contested is unclear. After the Civil War, the castle was razed in 1649 by demolition of the corner towers and the outer front of the eastern gatehouse, and the lakes were drained by partial destruction of the levees. In the 18th century numerous houses and huts had been built against the walls and dams. In 1776 the ruins fell to the Earl of Bute. The 3rd Marquess of Bute had the post-medieval houses demolished from 1870 and began restoring the living room. In contrast to Castell Coch or Cardiff Castle, however, he did not have the castle rebuilt in the historicizing style, but limited himself to security measures. His son, the 4th Marquess of Bute had the castle restored from 1928 onwards. Among other things, the corner towers destroyed in the civil war and the eastern gatehouse were rebuilt until the outbreak of the Second World War in 1939 stopped work. In 1950 the 5th Marquess of Bute gave the ruins to the state. In the 1950s, the two lakes were dammed again. Today the ruins are managed by Cadw and can be visited.


Layout of the castle

Building site

The castle was not built on older predecessors, but was designed by an unknown master builder as a completely new facility. Although the castle was built in several phases, the uniform construction plan was retained due to the short construction period. In choosing the site, Gilbert de Clare was probably influenced by his experiences at the siege of Kenilworth Castle in 1266, whose vast expanses of water made the use of siege engines difficult. De Clare dammed the two streams that flow through the plain north of Caerphilly Mountain to form two lakes.


Lakes and farms

The two lakes surround the main castle in the north and in the south and were almost insurmountable for attackers. The dams that dam the two streams and over which the access roads lead are masterpieces of medieval engineering. The older southern causeway is a massive stone-faced earthen causeway, the southern end being protected by a rectangular gatehouse with drawbridge and two other towers. In the middle of the dam are the ruins of a watermill. The narrower northern causeway has a high perimeter wall to the east and is secured by three gatehouses. Due to the damp subsoil, however, these are damaged by subsidence. The outer northern gatehouse was particularly heavily fortified. On the east side, the two dams were protected by a moat. On the west side of the castle is an artificial 3-acre island called the Hornwork. The island is surrounded by a low stone perimeter wall, the north-west side being protected by two semi-circular projections flanking the drawbridge and entrance.

Northwest of the castle, opposite Hornwork, is the now tree-covered 17th-century redoubt, on the site of a small Roman-era auxiliary fort.



The access routes over the dams lead to the main entrance on the east side of the main bailey. The rectangular core castle is surrounded by a double curtain wall. The double ring of walls is derived from the castles at Dover and Château Gaillard in France, as well as from Byzantine fortresses and the Crusader castles of Palestine. Due to the concentric structure, the defenders could flexibly switch between the individual parts of the castle. The towers and gatehouses, which were equipped with numerous loopholes and cast holes, could be defended separately.

The outer ring of walls consists of a low crenellated wall with large semi-circular bastions at the corners and gatehouses flanked by towers on the east and west sides. Between the outer and inner side there are some buildings on the south side. In the south-east corner are the remains of a rectangular building that served as a provision store, along with storerooms and garrison lodgings. A small gate in the southern wall led directly to the southern lake. A short distance behind the outer wall rises the much stronger and taller inner wall, with powerful round corner towers and two large gatehouses to the east and west. Another tower, the semicircular two-storey kitchen tower, is in the middle of the southern wall. The main gatehouse to the east is the tallest structure in the castle and doubled as a keep. It consists of two powerful semi-circular towers restored under the 4th Marquess of Bute in the 19th century. The austere building is sparsely furnished and has only a few small windows. The constable's apartment was probably on the second floor. Inside the building there is now an exhibition about the history and architecture of the castle.

Access to the west is also via a first gatehouse protected by two semi-circular towers, behind which rises the three-storey inner gatehouse, protected by two more semi-circular towers, smaller than its eastern counterpart. Inside the gatehouse were living quarters in addition to the guard rooms. The four corner towers of the inner ring of walls are in varying condition. The North West Tower contains an exhibition on the history of Welsh castles. On the other hand, little remains of the north-east tower. The 15 m high south-east tower, preserved as a ruin, is inclined outwards by 10 degrees. Whether this inclination was caused by undermining or blasting during the civil war in the 17th century or by the damp subsoil is not exactly clear.

On the southern side of the inner courtyard was the palace and the chambers of the lords of the castle. The ground-level hall was remodeled and lavishly furnished under de Despenser after 1322. Towards the end of the 19th century it was restored under the 3rd Marquess of Bute. To the east of the hall lay a pantry and the sideboard, perhaps the chapel above. To the west of the hall were the living quarters of the lords of the castle.