Caerphilly Castle

Coordinates: 51°34′34″N 3°13′13″W / 51.5761°N 3.2203°W / 51.5761; -3.2203
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Caerphilly Castle
Part of the Caerphilly County Borough
Caerphilly, Wales, United Kingdom
Caerphilly Castle and moat
TypeMedieval concentric castle
AreaAround 30 acres (12 ha)
Site information
ConditionRuined, with partial restoration
Site history
Built byGilbert de Clare
In useOpen to public
MaterialsPennant Sandstone
EventsWelsh Wars
Invasion of England
English Civil War
Listed Building – Grade I
Official nameCaerphilly Castle[1]
Reference no.13539[1]
Official nameCaerphilly Castle[2]
Reference no.GM002[2]

Caerphilly Castle (Welsh: Castell Caerffili) is a medieval fortification in Caerphilly in South Wales. The castle was constructed by Gilbert de Clare in the 13th century as part of his campaign to maintain control of Glamorgan, and saw extensive fighting between Gilbert, his descendants, and the native Welsh rulers. Surrounded by extensive artificial lakes – considered by historian Allen Brown to be "the most elaborate water defences in all Britain" – it occupies around 30 acres (12 ha) and is the largest castle in Wales and the second-largest castle in the United Kingdom after Windsor Castle.[3] It is famous for having introduced concentric castle defences to Britain and for its large gatehouses. Gilbert began work on the castle in 1268 following his occupation of the north of Glamorgan, with the majority of the construction occurring over the next three years at a considerable cost. The project was opposed by Gilbert's Welsh rival Llywelyn ap Gruffudd, leading to the site being burnt in 1270 and taken over by royal officials in 1271. Despite these interruptions, Gilbert successfully completed the castle and took control of the region. The core of Caerphilly Castle, including the castle's luxurious accommodation, was built on what became a central island, surrounding by several artificial lakes, a design Gilbert probably derived from that at Kenilworth. The dams for these lakes were further fortified, and an island to the west provided additional protection. The concentric rings of walls inspired Edward I's castles in North Wales, and proved what historian Norman Pounds has termed "a turning point in the history of the castle in Britain".[4]

The castle was attacked during the Madog ap Llywelyn revolt of 1294, the Llywelyn Bren uprising in 1316 and during the overthrow of Edward II in 1326–27. In the late 15th century, however, it fell into decline and by the 16th century the lakes had drained away and the walls were robbed of their stone. The Marquesses of Bute acquired the property in 1776 and under the third and fourth Marquesses extensive restoration took place. In 1950 the castle and grounds were given to the state and the water defences were re-flooded. In the 21st century, the Welsh heritage agency Cadw manages the site as a tourist attraction.


13th century[edit]

Caerphilly Castle was built in the second half of the 13th century, as part of the Anglo-Norman expansion into South Wales. The Normans began to make incursions into Wales from the late 1060s onwards, pushing westwards from their bases in recently occupied England.[5] Their advance was marked by the construction of castles and the creation of regional lordships.[6] The task of subduing the region of Glamorgan was given to the earls of Gloucester in 1093; efforts continued throughout the 12th and early 13th centuries, accompanied by extensive fighting between the Anglo-Norman lords and local Welsh rulers.[7] The powerful de Clare family acquired the earldom in 1217 and continued to attempt to conquer the whole of the Glamorgan region.[8]

Caerphilly Castle from the south-west

In 1263, Gilbert de Clare, also known as "Red Gilbert" because of the colour of his hair, inherited the family lands.[9] Opposing him in Glamorgan was the native Welsh prince Llywelyn ap Gruffudd.[8] Llywelyn had taken advantage of the chaos of the civil war in England between Henry III and rebel barons during the 1260s to expand his power across the region.[10] In 1265 Llywelyn allied himself with the baronial faction in England in exchange for being granted authority over the local Welsh magnates across all the territories in the region, including Glamorgan.[11] De Clare believed his lands and power were under threat and allied himself with Henry III against the rebel barons and Llywelyn.[12]

The baronial revolt was crushed between 1266 and 1267, leaving de Clare free to advance north into Glamorgan from his main base in Cardiff.[13] De Clare started to construct a castle at Caerphilly to control his new gains in 1268. The castle lay in a basin of the Rhymney Valley, alongside the Rhymney River and at the heart of network of paths and roads, adjacent to a former Roman fort.[14] Work began at a huge pace, with ditches cut to form the basic shape of the castle, temporary wooden palisades erected and extensive water defences created by damming a local stream.[15] The walls and internal buildings were built at speed, forming the main part of the castle.[15] The architect of the castle and the precise cost of the construction are unknown, but modern estimates suggest that it could have cost as much as castles such as Conwy or Caernarfon, perhaps as much as £19,000, a huge sum for the period.[16]

Llywelyn responded by intervening with his own forces but outright conflict was prevented by the diplomatic efforts of Henry III.[17] De Clare continued building work and in 1270 Llywelyn responded by attacking and burning the site, probably destroying the temporary defences and stores.[18] De Clare began work again the following year, raising tensions and prompting Henry to send two bishops, Roger de Meyland and Godfrey Giffard, to take control of the site and arbitrate a solution to the dispute.[19]

Great Hall (l), private apartments (c), Inner West Gatehouse (r)

The bishops took possession of the castle later in 1271 and promised Llywelyn that building work would temporarily cease and that negotiations would begin the following summer.[19] In February of the next year, however, de Clare's men seized back the castle, threw out the bishops' soldiers, and de Clare – protesting his innocence in these events – began work once again.[19] Neither Henry nor Llywelyn could readily intervene and de Clare was able to lay claim to the whole of Glamorgan.[15] Work on the castle continued, with additional water defences, towers and gatehouses added.[20]

Llywelyn's power declined over the next two decades. In 1277 Henry's son, Edward I, invaded Wales following a dispute with the prince, breaking his power in South Wales, and in 1282 Edward's second campaign resulted in Llywelyn's death and the collapse of independent Welsh rule.[15] Further defences were added to the walls until work stopped around 1290.[21] Local disputes remained. De Clare argued with Humphrey de Bohun, the earl of Hereford, in 1290 and the following year the case was brought before the king, resulting in the temporary royal seizure of Caerphilly.[21]

In 1294 Madog ap Llywelyn rebelled against English rule, the first major insurrection since the 1282 campaign.[22] The Welsh appear to have risen up over the introduction of taxation and Madog had considerable popular support.[22] In Glamorgan, Morgan ap Maredudd led the local uprising; Morgan had been dispossessed by de Clare in 1270 and saw this as a chance to regain his lands.[23] Morgan attacked Caerphilly, burning half of the town, but failed to take the castle.[23] In the spring of 1295 Edward pressed home a counter-attack in North Wales, putting down the uprising and arresting Madog.[22] De Clare attacked Morgan's forces and retook the region between April and May, resulting in Morgan's surrender.[23] De Clare died at the end of 1295, leaving Caerphilly Castle in a good condition, linked to the small town of Caerphilly which had emerged to the south of it and a large deer park in the nearby Aber Valley.[24]