Powis Castle was built by Gruffudd ap Gwenwynwyn as a means of asserting his independence from the powerful Princes of Gwynedd - a region centred on North West Wales (including Anglesey and Snowdonia) which had become the pre-eminent Welsh kingdom. Although the power of the Gwynedd Princes varied dependent upon the relative strengths of the English monarchs, by 1255 Llywelyn ap Gruffudd (the Last) had defeated his opponents and at the Treaty of Montgomery (1267) he was recognised as overlord of all Wales. Gwenwynwyn opposed him and in 1272 Llywelyn ap Gruffudd attacked and burnt Gwenwynwyn's castle. It is not clear whether that was the fortification seen today at Powis or an earlier motte-and-bailey castle at Welshpool. Whichever was the case, Gwenwynwyn fled to exile in England. He remained there until Llywelyn came into conflict with Edward I and he then allied himself with the English King. In what became known as the First War of Welsh Independence (1276-77), Edward's forces quickly overpowered the Welsh regime and took direct control of all land east of the River Conwy. In recognition of his support to the English cause, Powis was returned to Gwenwynwyn. He either built or repaired Powis Castle at this time.
Powis Castle, which is also known as Castell Coch (Red Castle), initially consisted of a square keep and a hall block with both probably enclosed by a curtain wall. This fortification played no part in the Second War of Welsh Independence (1282-83) and it passed to Gwenwynwyn's heirs until the male line of the family failed in 1309. Thereafter it was passed through marriage to Sir John Charlton prompting an attack by one of Gwenwynwyn's descendants, Gruffudd Fychan. This attempt to seize the castle failed but, to deter future attacks, the castle's defences were enhanced by the addition of the twin drummed Gatehouse tower.
Powis Castle continued to serve as the primary residence of the Lords of Powis until 1421 when the male line of the family failed. Ownership of the castle and its associated estates was divided between two daughters and, through marriage, their husbands. With no single owner the castle was neglected. This changed in the 1530s when Sir Edward Grey, Lord Powis acquired sole ownership. He commenced a major rebuilding programme converting the castle into an impressive stately home.
Despite the extensive modifications in 1578, the Grey family leased the castle to Sir Edward Herbert, second son of the Earl of Pembroke and Anne Parr (sister of Henry VIII's Sixth wife). He purchased it outright in 1587 and commenced his own upgrades. In 1629 the title Lord Powis was granted to his son and heir, William Herbert. He supported the Royalists during the Wars of Three Kingdoms and, whilst the castle saw no action during this period, he forfeited his estates and was imprisoned following the Parliamentary victory. He died in 1656 but his son, Percy Herbert, was allowed to inherit the estates the same year.
Following the restoration of the monarchy, the Percy family prospered. William Herbet, son of Percy, was created Earl of Powis in 1674 and he was further elevated to Marquis in 1687. The following year, when the King was deposed in the Glorious Revolution, William followed him into exile remaining there until his death in 1696. His son returned to reclaim his estates in 1703. The castle then remained in the hands of the Herberts until 1801 when the line failed and it passed to Edward Clive (son of Clive of India) on the condition he changed his surname to Herbert. His heirs retained control until 1952 when the castle was gifted to the National Trust.
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Powis Castle has been extensively rebuilt as an elaborate mansion but traces of the older structure remain. In particular the impressive double drum Gatehouse survives albeit this has been modified over subsequent decades. The castle is located within an extensive parkland complete with an ornate garden.
Powis Castle. The castle has been transformed into a stately home but its footprint remains the same as the medieval castle and it incorporates much masonry from the original fortification.
Gatehouse. The double drum Gatehouse, although now heavily modified, was added in the early fourteenth century.
Keep. The abrupt right angle in the castle's structure occurs as it was the original corner of the medieval Keep.
Peacock. Kept for meat on special occasions, many medieval castles had peacocks. Powis still has some (although clearly not destined to be eaten!).
Powis Castle was built by a native Welsh Prince keen to assert his independence from the ever powerful Princes of Gwynedd. It was attacked and seized by Llywelyn ap Gruffudd in 1272 but was returned to its original owner by the English. Later it was converted into a magnificent stately home.
Powis Castle is a major National Trust tourist attraction and is well sign-posted. The vehicular access is via Red Lane off the A458. There is a dedicated car park on site.
Red Lane, SY21 8RF