Caldicot Castle was built by Humphrey de Bohun, Earl of Hereford in the early thirteenth century as a replacement for an earlier motte-and-bailey fortification. It later passed into the hands of Henry Bolingbroke and, through him, was incorporated into the Duchy of Lancaster. The castle was slighted after the Civil War but was restored during the nineteenth century.
Caldicot is located at the mouth of the River Severn, an important waterway that connected the site with the wider world and also provided access far inshore. By the Iron Age a promontory fort had been established at Sudbrook and a hillfort at Llanmelin. The area increased with importance during the Roman era when the town of Caerwent was established around AD 75 as the civitas of the Silures tribe. Caldicot was located on the approach to that settlement from the Bristol Channel and would have effectively become its port. Its importance continued into the medieval period and, following the Norman incursions into South Wales in the late eleventh century, it was recognised as an important nodal point and accordingly fortified. It was possibly Walter FitzRoger, Sheriff of Gloucestershire who built the first castle probably in the form of an earth and timber motte-and-bailey fortification. A castle certainly existed on the site by the mid-twelfth century when it was held by Milo FitzWalter. This early fortification was located around 1000 metres to the north of the current castle, near Ballan Moor.
In 1221 Caldicot passed through marriage to Humphrey de Bohun, Earl of Hereford and he commenced construction of the castle on its current site. The castle consisted of an oval enclosure protected by a moat and a stone curtain wall augmented by strong towers in the South East and South West corners. The circular Keep was located in the north-west corner. An outer ward was located to the west between the castle and parish church.
By the late fourteenth century the de Bohun family had risen to become powerful magnates and through ownership of the Earldoms of Essex, Hereford and Northampton had amassed great wealth. When Humphrey de Bohun died without male heir in 1373 his properties passed into the hands of his young daughters, Alianore (Eleanor) and Mary. They became wards of Edward III who entrusted their properties into the hands of his son, Thomas (of Woodstock), later Duke of Gloucester. He sought to retain this vast wealth by marrying Alianore (in 1376) and conspired to send Mary into a nunnery. However, his brother John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster arranged the marriage of his son - Henry Bolingbroke (later Henry IV) - to Mary securing a portion of the de Bohun estates for his family. Caldicot formed part of the package of lands that passed through Alianore into the hands of Thomas. He added Woodstock Tower on the north side of the curtain wall and rebuilt the gatehouse.
When Edward III died in 1377, his grandson Richard II succeeded him. The early part of his reign was marred by the economic effects of the Black Death which led to civil disorder and the Peasants Revolt. This prompted Thomas to spend more time in his remoter properties including Caldicot. In 1381 he stayed at the castle and ordered a number of new improvements including construction of the huge Gatehouse (which became the primary residence), Woodstock Tower and the Postern Gate. The troubles of Richard's early reign passed but relations between the King and his uncles became strained; in September 1397 he ordered assassins to murder Thomas whilst he was in Calais. His properties passed through Humphrey de Bohun's second daughter, Mary, who was now married to Henry Bolingbroke. However, he also fell out with Richard and was exiled in 1398. The following year Henry’s father, John of Gaunt, died and the King seized his vast properties. Henry invaded, deposed Richard and took the throne himself as Henry IV. From this point onwards Caldicot become consumed into the vast Duchy of Lancaster.
During the fifteenth century Caldicot was held by Henry of Monmouth (later Henry V) and later his widow, Katherine of Valois. Thereafter it was leased to various owners but its fabric was neglected and it was allowed to become derelict. Nevertheless, it was garrisoned by Royalist forces during the seventeenth century Civil War and accordingly the structure was slighted by Parliament in the late 1640s. By the mid-nineteenth century the picturesque ruins were used for village events and in 1885 it was sold to Joseph Richard Cobb. He had previously conducted restoration work on Manorbier and Pembroke castles and his work at Caldicot transformed it into his family home including prettifying some of the structures. It remained with that family until purchased by the District Council in 1963.
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Caldicot Castle is an impressive fortification. The remains visible today date from the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries albeit with substantial rebuilding in the nineteenth century. The Gatehouse and Keep are both accessible.
Caldicot Castle Layout. The castle occupied a broadly oval footprint. The curtain wall was dominated by the Great Gatehouse on the south side. To the north the Nedern Brook provided a water source and an additional defensive feature (not least as it saturated the surrounding ground creating a boggy area to the north. An Outer Ward was located to the west.
Circular Keep. Similar in style to that at Pembroke Castle, the circular three storey Keep at Caldicot was built by Humphrey de Bohun, Earl of Hereford. It seemingly stands upon a motte and is often regarded as having been built on top of an earlier fortification. However, the masonry of the Keep extends deep into the earth mound suggesting that the two may actually have been contemporary. Attached to the Keep is D-shaped tower which originally rose to a lookout tower.
Gatehouse. The gatehouse was an unusual design with flank openings. The structure was extensively rebuilt in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries by Joseph Cobb in order to incorporate his new house.
South West Tower and de Bohun Gateway. The western defences included the South-West Tower, which was converted into a house circa-1890, and the de Bohun Gateway. The latter was also known as the West Postern Tower and provided access to the Outer Ward.
Inner Ward. The Inner Ward as viewed from the top of the Keep. The cannon was a naval weapon removed from HMS Foudroyant.