Caerphilly Castle History
Caerphilly Castle in Glamorgan, South Wales, is arguably
the most impressive non-royal castle in Wales, and stands comparison with even the mightiest of
the castles built by Edward I after 1276.
It was built from 1268 by Red Gilbert de Clare, Earl of Gloucester, in an
effort to assert his claim to the disputed territory of upland Glamorgan.
A quick tour of Caerphilly reveals how much had changed
since the 12th century, when keeps or great towers were fashionable. When castles were laid out
from scratch in the 13th century, master masons and their patrons preferred an 'enclosure'
model, which allowed them greater freedom to experiment with new designs.
The hall, the chapel, the kitchens and stables were now arranged around a
courtyard, and all this was surrounded, or 'enclosed', by a circuit of high walls. A very early
example of this type of castle was built at Framlingham in Suffolk from 1190.
Enclosed and safe
The walls of an enclosure castle were punctuated with strong towers. These
stood taller than the walls themselves in order to allow flanking fire in all directions
against attackers. Throughout the 13th century, there was a distinct preference for round
towers rather than square ones.
It seems clear that 13th-century masons and military experts thought that
this made the towers stronger. For example, the 13th-century masons who repaired the shattered
12th-century keep ofRochester Castle clearly weren't in the least bit interested in making it
look pretty again - they simply wanted it to be stronger, and so they replaced the collapsed
square tower with a round one.
Another very important development in the 13th century was the gatehouse,
which grew in size until it started to resemble a keep. From the start of the century, the
gatehouse was formed by building two round towers either side of the entrance. A larger
gatehouse meant there was room for accommodation above the entrance, which was often used by
the constable of the castle.
Caerphilly Castle also exemplifies the idea of
'concentricity', or having several lines of defence around the castle. The centre of the castle
is protected by two complete loops of walls, one inside the other. The most striking element of
Caerphilly's defences, however, are the great artificial lakes which surround it. The deep
water of the moat made undermining impossible, and the wide expanses of water either side of
the castle denied would-be attackers a place to put their trebuchets (catapults).
As well as being a fascinating castle in its own right, Caerphilly was one
of the main flashpoints for the war which led to the conquest of Wales. Its building from 1268
was seen as a provocation against Welsh leader Llywelyn ap Gruffudd, and a challenge to his
newly acquired title as prince of Wales.
Llywelyn twice attacked the castle while it was being built, but failed to
gain possession in 1272. Instead, he tried complaining to Edward I, and miscalculated badly by
trying to force the king into action. Edward's devastating response was to invade and conquer
Wales. With the threat from Llywelyn removed, Caerphilly Castle was used less as a fortress and
more as a centre for control and administration of the de Clare estates in the Glamorgan
The Red Earl died in 1295 and the estates passed to his son, also called
Gilbert. Gilbert was killed at the battle of Bannockburn in 1314, ending the de Clare male
In 1317, the de Clare inheritance was partitioned between Earl Gilbert's
three younger sisters. Eleanor de Clare, the eldest, was married to Hugh Despenser the younger.
A favourite of Edward II, he held the court position of chamberlain.
Able to pick which part of the de Clare estates he wanted he chose the
lordship of Glamorgan and Cardiff, and therefore acquired the castle. Despenser started work on
the great hall at Caerphilly Castle. In 1326 the deeply unpopular Edward II
was forced to abdicate by his estranged wife and some rebel barons. The king spent some time
taking refuge at Caerphilly with his favourite Despenser before both were eventually captured.
Despenser was executed.
The Caerphilly Castle today
From this time on the castle's role as a fortress and as the domestic
residence of a lord declined, with its various owners preferring the more comfortable
surroundings of other properties.
Today the Caerphilly Castle is under the care of CADW
and is open to the public. Hugh Despenser's hall is available to hire for weddings.
Caerphilly Castle Map&Location
Address: Twyn Square, Caerphilly, Caerphilly,Wales CF83 1JL., United
Kingdom. Get help with directions using the map provided bellow:
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