1. The River Wye, which marks the southern part of the border with Wales, was heavily fortified in the Medieval era. Chepstow, Monmouth, St Braviels, Goodrich Castle and Hereford Castles were all situated along its length.
2. William FitzOsbern built multiple castles to protect and dominate the southern March. Chepstow, Monmouth and Hereford were his creations as were Grosmont, Skenfrith and White Castle. The central March was held by the Earls of Shrewsbury and the northern March by the Earl of Chester.
3. The twin round towered Gatehouse at Chepstow was built by William Marshal in the late twelfth century. The design would become a common feature of Edward I's castles built almost a hundred years later at (amongst others) Harlech, Rhuddlan, Caernarfon and Beaumaris.
4. After the restoration of the monarchy in 1660 a number of political opponents of Charles II were held at Chepstow Castle. Most prominent amongst these was the Republican politician and regicide Henry Marten was held here after periods of imprisonment at Lindisfarne Castle, the Tower of London and Windsor Castle.
5. Chepstow Castle was the location used for the 1913 film version of Ivanhoe.
Hadnock Rd, NP25 3NG
Notes: Castle is located within central Chepstow and is a major, well sign-posted tourist attraction. Pay and display town car park directly adjacent and ample other parking facilities in the town.
Castle Gate. A rare medieval survivor - the original timber castle gate.
Norman Hall. The oldest part of the castle - the original Norman stone hall.
A key fortress at the centre of the Southern March, Chepstow Castle was built by one of William the Conqueror’s most important supporters. Held by key magnates over the years, including Walter de Clare and William Marshall, it saw action during the Wars of the Roses as well as the first and second Civil Wars.
HISTORY OF CHEPSTOW CASTLE
Chepstow Castle was built in the years immediately following the Norman invasion by William FitzOsbern who was one of the key supporters of William I. He had been instrumental in persuading the Norman Barons to support the invasion of England and was liberally rewarded with extensive lands. These were centred around Hereford (including Chepstow) and was a pragmatic decision by William I who wanted one of his most reliable allies in a position to secure the border (known as the March) and suppress any threat from Wales. Baron William was raised to Earl of Hereford and permitted to build castles as required one of which, according to the 1086 Domesday Book, was Chepstow. It is likely the castle he constructed was an earth and timber ringwork fort - the cliffs overlooking the River Wye making any motte superfluous - but William didn't live long enough to enjoy the fruits of his loyalty to King William; he was killed in 1071 at the Battle of Cassel.
Osbern's son was Roger de Breteuil who inherited his father’s extensive estates but forfeited everything when he participated in an attempted coup against William I in 1075. Chepstow, along with other castles built by Osbern, were taken into Crown. It was probably at this time work started on the Great Tower; a stone built hall that would have dominated the castle and could have served as Royal accommodation. However although William I visited Wales in 1081 - when he established Cardiff Castle - he never appears to have visited his property at Chepstow.
In 1115 Henry I granted Chepstow to Walter de Clare with the castle passing to his descendants despite the family had a rocky relationship with the monarch. During the Anarchy, the civil war between King Stephen and Queen Matilda, the de Clare's supported King Stephen's claim to the throne and when Matilda's son ascended to the throne as Henry II found themselves out of favour. Relations didn't improve when Richard ('Strongbow') de Clare defied Royal orders and invaded Ireland in 1170.
Richard died without male heir in 1176 and Chepstow passed to his young daughter, Isabella. She was to marry William Marshal (later Earl of Pembroke) - a knight of modest background who had made his fortune in the French wars and by successful participation in tournaments. Marshal became a trusted ally of Henry II and showed incredible loyalty even in the old King's later years in particular fighting against the future Richard I when the son rebelled against his father. Despite their differences, when Richard I became King in 1189, Marshall was granted permission to marry Isabella de Clare which immediately elevated him to one of the key magnates in the Kingdom. Marshal went on to serve loyally to both Richard himself and, when he ascended to the throne in 1199, to King John. During the latter's reign he acted as John's advisor and chief negotiator as Magna Carta was devised. Upon King John's death in 1216, he assumed the title of Regent of England during the minority of Henry III. During his tenure Marshall made numerous improvements to Chepstow including adding the twin-towered gatehouse.
The male line of the Marshal family ended in 1245 and the vast properties accumulated were split between various descendants. Chepstow passed to Maud who married Hugh Bigod, Earl of Norfolk. Their son and grandson, both named Roger Bigod, took the title Earl Marshal and held Chepstow Castle until 1306. During this period the town wall was built enclosing the land approaches to Chepstow town. Despite the turbulence of the Welsh Wars of Independence that were concurrent with this period, it seems construction of this wall may have had more to do with tax than defence. Chepstow Castle was also heavily upgraded as it became the main residence of the Bigod family. Staterooms were improved and the great Tower enlarged.
Roger Bigod the younger died childless so the castle passed to the Crown and was held by the King until Edward II granted it to his unpopular favourite, Hugh Despenser the younger, in 1324. But just two years later the Edwardian government collapsed in wake of attack from Queen Isabel and Roger Mortimer, Earl of March. Edward II and Hugh Despenser fled to Chepstow Castle which had seemingly been provisioned for a siege but ultimately decided to flee instead; they were both captured with Despenser executed and the King deposed, imprisoned and possibly murdered at Berkeley Castle.
In 1399 Chepstow Castle was granted to Thomas Mowbray, Earl of Norfolk by Henry IV. With the rebellion of Owain Glyndŵr he quickly found himself provisioning the castle for war but the Welsh advance was held at Usk Castle. The castle did however see brief action during the Wars of the Roses; after the Yorkist defeat at the Battle of Edgcote (1469) Richard Woodville, Earl Rivers and Sir John Woodville attempted to seek safety at Chepstow Castle. Pursued by Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick ('the Kingmaker') the garrison of the castle surrendered to them without a fight. In a vicious act of revenge that had become the norm for the war, both Woodvilles were summarily executed.
During the Tudor era numerous modifications were made to Chepstow to convert the castle into a comfortable lodging. But war again came to the castle in the seventeenth century when, during the first Civil War, it was held for the Royalist cause. In October 1645 Parliamentary forces brought artillery against the castle forcing its surrender. The castle avoided slighting but in 1648, as the second Civil War erupted, Chepstow was seized and held by Sir Nicholas Kemeys. The castle suffered a heavy artillery bombardment before being forced to surrender with Kemeys being executed.
After the restoration of the monarchy in 1660, Chepstow Castle was retained in Royal ownership and artillery was installed plus it was also used as a prison for political dissidents. By the late seventeenth century though the castle was little more than a depot for discarded and out-dated weaponry and was ultimately allowed to drift into ruin.