Haverfordwest Castle was built in the early twelfth century as one of numerous fortifications intended to secure Anglo-Norman dominance in Pembrokeshire. Although attacked on multiple occasions, it was never taken by the Welsh. The castle was converted into the county gaol in the eighteenth century.
Pembrokeshire was seized for the Normans by Arnulf de Montgomery in 1093. The Earl established a substantial fortress at Pembroke and, in the subsequent decades, he and his retainers expanded their territory and built castles to secure their advance. This process was accelerated by the arrival of numerous Flemish immigrants in the early twelfth century. Many of these men had formed part of the entourage of the Flemish wife of William I, Queen Matilda, but soon they became a landless burden on the Royal court. Concurrently Welsh insurrections in Pembrokeshire threatened Anglo-Norman control of the region. In the Chronicle of the Kings, written by William of Malmesbury in 1125, the author states that Henry I found a solution to both problems by transporting "thither all the Flemings then resident in England" to South West Wales. One of these individuals was Tancred the Fleming who emigrated to Pembrokeshire between 1100 and 1110. He founded Haverfordwest Castle shortly afterwards.
The Castle and Town
Haverfordwest Castle was built to control the lowest bridging point over the Western Cleddau, a strategically important nodal point especially as the river was navigable for sea-going ships up to this point. The fortification was built upon a rocky ridge protected on the east by a cliff and on all others sides by steep scarps. This early castle has been obliterated by subsequent rebuilding but it was probably an earth and timber motte-and-bailey fortification. The town, which was known as Castleton, grew up to serve the fortress and occupied a five acre area to the west and north of the castle. It was probably fortified with a ditch and timber palisade. The town is first mentioned in 1207 when it was granted a charter by William Marshal, Earl of Pembroke.
The castle successfully resisted an attack by Owain ap Gruffudd in 1136, following his defeat of an Anglo-Norman force at the Battle of Crug Mawr, and withstood a further assault in 1147. Shortly afterwards, Haverfordwest Castle was rebuilt in stone. The earliest masonry structure was a square stone Keep located in the north-east corner of the Inner Ward.
Throughout this period the castle remained in the hands of Tancred's descendants - Richard FitzTancred and then Robert FitzRichard - who all held the castle under the overlordship of the Earl of Pembroke. However, in 1210 Robert quarrelled with King John and the castle was confiscated. Three years later it was restored directly to William Marshal, Earl of Pembroke who started a substantial rebuilding programme. These upgrades were sufficient to deter an attack by Llywelyn ap Iorwerth in 1217 and resist an assault in 1220, although in the latter instance the town (and nearby Wiston Castle) were both seized and burnt. Later in the thirteenth century the castle passed to Humphrey de Bohun whose family held the fortification, excluding a period of forfeiture, until 1289.
Castleton, the nucleus of Haverfordwest town, was granted a charter in 1207 and around this time the timber palisade that defended the early settlement was replaced with a substantial stone wall. Three gates - on the north-east, north and west - provided access into the town. However, the settlement quickly outgrew this relatively small enclosure and started expanding to the south. By the 1250s Haverfordwest had become one of the largest towns in medieval Wales and was also wealthy due to the trade between England and Ireland that flowed through it. Murage, the right to raise taxes to fund construction of Town Walls, was granted by Henry III between 1264 and 1271. It is likely this funding was used for an expansion of the Town Walls to enclose the settlement to the south of Castleton. The line of these expanded Town Walls, assuming they were ever completed, is uncertain but records note the existence of town gates on High Street and Market Street.
The castle was purchased by Edward I's wife, Queen Eleanor, in 1289. She spent a vast sum rebuilding the castle and much of the expenditure was probably on the Inner Ward. A large double drum gatehouse was added at this time as were round towers on the north-west and south-west corners. The Great Hall occupied the southern portion of the Inner Ward. Queen Eleanor died in 1290 but the castle remained in Royal ownership. Some minor upgrades were made by Richard II in the 1390s including the installation of several artillery pieces. These enhancements were timely as within a decade the rebellion of Owain Glyndŵr had spread across Wales. France sought to exploit this uprising and landed an army in support of Glyndŵr in Milford Haven. They advanced inland to seize Haverfordwest but, although the town was once again burnt, the castle resisted the attack albeit with significant damage being sustained to the Outer Gatehouse. The Glyndŵr rebellion eventually failed but Haverfordwest Castle continued to be maintained by the Crown throughout the fifteenth century and was still a viable fortification in 1485 when Henry Tudor passed through the town on his way to the Battle of Bosworth Field. His son, Henry VIII, granted the castle to Anne Boleyn but, by this stage, the castle had been neglected and was described in an official report as "utterly decayed".
Upon the outbreak of the First Civil War in 1642, Haverfordwest Castle was hastily refortified and garrisoned by the Royalists. In February 1644 the navy, which was under Parliament's control, landed an army in Milford Haven. On hearing of their approach, the Royalists abandoned the castle without firing a shot. They clearly regretted the decision for in July 1644 a Royalist force under General Charles Gerard was sent to re-capture the castle which they duly did albeit after suffering significant casualties. The castle was stormed by Parliamentary forces in August 1645.
The Second Civil War started in 1648 with a major rebellion against Parliament centred on Pembroke Castle. A Parliamentary force under Oliver Cromwell advanced into the region and concurrently ordered the destruction of Haverfordwest Castle.
Haverfordwest Castle remained an abandoned ruin until 1779 when it was reactivated as a prison. A dedicated building was constructed within the Inner Ward and in 1797 was used to incarcerate the prisoners captured after the Battle of Fishguard. Overcrowding led to the construction of new facilities, this time in the castle's Outer Ward in 1820. The prison remained in use until 1878 and thereafter most of the prison buildings were demolished although the main prison block and the Governor's House survive. The latter now hosts the town museum..
Douglas, D.C and Greeaway, G.W (ed) (1981). English Historical Documents Vol 2 (1042-1189). Routledge, London.
Douglas, D.C and Rothwell, H (ed) (1975). English Historical Documents Vol 3 (1189-1327). Routledge, London.
Frayling, G (2004). Haverfordwest Castle: A Short History. Cleddau Press.
Griffiths, R.A (1972). The Principality of Wales in the Later Middle Ages. London.
Guest, C.E (1998). The Mabinogian. Dover Publications.
Kenyon, J (2010). The Medieval Castles of Wales. CPI Rowe, Chippenham.
Lewis, S (1833). A Topographical Dictionary of Wales. London.
Lloyd, J.E (1912). A History of Wales. Cardiff.
Owen, H (1914). A Calendar of Public Records relating to Pembrokeshire. London.
Pettifer, A (2000). Welsh Castles, A Guide by Counties. Boydell Press.
Philips, A (2014). Castles of Wales. Amberley.
Pryce, H (2005). Acts of the Welsh Rulers: 1120-1283. University of Wales, Cardiff.
Reid, A (1973). Castles of Wales. Philip, London.
Renn, D.F (1973). Norman Castles of Britain. John Baker Publishing, London.
Salter, M (1996). The Castles of South West Wales. Folly Publications, Malvern.
Haverfordwest Castle consists of the partial ruins of a major Anglo-Norman fortress. The remains are in a public park and freely accessible. Also visible is an eighteenth century Prison Governor's House (which houses the town museum) and a nineteenth century gaol block. The town walls have been demolished with no visible remains.
Haverfordwest Castle and Town Walls Layout. The castle comprised Inner and Outer Wards which, although built in the thirteenth century, probably reflect the layout of the original Norman foundation. The town, which was walled by the thirteenth century, developed to the north and west. The settlement later expanded to the south.
Haverfordwest Castle. The castle's east side was protected by a sheer cliff.
North Tower. Also known as Brechinock Tower, this three storey circular structure stands at the junction of the Inner and Outer Wards.
Keep. This square tower was built upon the foundations of a mid-twelfth century stone Keep.
Inner Ward. The southern portion of the Inner Ward was occupied by the Great Hall.
Old Prison Building. The prison block was built in the 1820s when the existing facilities in the Inner Ward were deemed too cramped. It later served as the County Records Office until 2013.
Prison Governor's House. The house was built around 1780 on the site of the medieval castle's Inner Ward Gatehouse. It now hosts the town museum.
Outer Ward. A low retaining walls mark the outline of the Outer Bailey but the bulk of the medieval defences have been removed.
Bridge. The castle was built in proximity to a bridge over the Western Cleddau.