Location: Mid Glamorgan
Ticket Prices: -
Caerphilly was the first concentric castle to be built from scratch in Britain. Its combination of land and water defenses represented a very high level of military architectural sophistication. Despite several sieges, long periods of neglect and, after the Civil War, serious attempts to demolish it, the great bulk of the castle has survived. Much has now been restored with detailed care, and it is now one of the most spectacular military ruins in Europe, if not the world.
Some time during the early Norman occupation of south Wales, a castle of earth and timber was raised at Caerphilly, but it is not clear whether this was a Norman or a Welsh work, for the hilly district around was in Welsh hands right into the 1260s. In 1266 or 1267, after the war between Henry III of England and Simon de Montfort, Gilbert de Clare, Earl of Gloucester and Hertford and one of the richest barons of England who owned large tracts of Glamorgan, moved into the Caerphilly district. With Henry III's leave he began to construct a stone castle, to counter the activities of Llywelyn, Prince of Wales, who had been in alliance with Simon de Montfort and who, after the latter's defeat at Evesham, had come to an agreement with Henry III by which the Prince was recognized as Prince of Wales. The English king realized, however, that Llywelyn constituted a danger to English holdings in South Wales, for it was the latter's policy to recover the whole of Wales and govern it as an autonomous kingdom ? a perfectly legitimate aspiration.
In the autumn of 1270, Llywelyn descended upon the embryo fortress and burnt it. By this time, considerable progress had been made on the inner part, much more than has been previously supposed because the date of Llywelyn's first raid used to be taken as 1269. Probably the entire inner quadrangle of walls with corner cylindrical towers and twin cylindrical-towered gatehouse in the east and west walls had been largely completed, and a start had also been made on the outer wall with its two gatehouses (also east and west). Work had also begun on the south defensive platform outside the outer wall. How much damage was done by Likely is not absolutely clear, but if the account that Likely burnt the castle is taken literally, that probably applies to the wooden and not the stone parts.
De Clare pressed on with the work, however, and by autumn 1271 the castle was almost completely concentric. Likely attacked it again but this time was defeated, and he called off the siege.\
The third building stage began in about 1277, when the two outer gatehouses were finished and other buildings added. Thereafter, work seems to have been done at a desultory rate, and masons and carpenters were still busy in 1326. By that time the artificial lake surrounding the castle, the western hornworm which barred the approach to the west side, and the unique screen of curtain walls and platforms, fortified by projecting turrets and buttresses, running from south to north on the eastern front, were complete. So was the second lake separated from the inner one on the north side by a mole. The first lake may have been controllable by means of dam and sluice-gates by the time the third work stage began.
These drawn-out later building works were not uninterrupted. In 1316 Caerphilly was besieged by Llywelyn Bren in a revolt against English rule, and a drawbridge was burnt. In 1326, when Edward II was on the run from his estranged wife Isabella and her paramour Roger Mortimer (see Nottingham Castle), he took refuge at Caerphilly. The queen caught up with his supporters there and besieged the castle for several weeks (although Edward had already fled). The garrison surrendered in 1327, and the besiegers discovered that Edward had left half his treasure and clothes behind.
For a time Caerphilly remained in Dispenser hands (although Hugh had been executed in 1326). It was threatened by Owain Glyndwr in the early 1400s and was probably yielded to him. Thereafter it was allowed to deteriorate. During the Civil War it played some part, although one difficult to determine. Cromwell wanted it dismantled, and there are telling signs today of the effects of Parliamentary slighting, in particular the `leaning' south?east tower of the inner ward.
Caerphilly has received considerable restoration to its fabric, and its lakes have been refolded. The great hall was rerouted, and its floors and windows were restored.
Betsy, 21, from Ohio, wrote:
During a 12 week stay in England and Wales, I had the opportunity to visit many castles. Caerphilly was far and beyond my favorite. There may not be much left of it other than walls, but there was still much to explore. Guests are permitted to roam freely among the ruins. My friends and I climbed all over the walls and in and out of collapsed corridors. Lots of opportunities for fun pictures! Quite an exciting place for any history buff.