KIDWELLY CASTLE, SA17 5BQ
Postcode: SA17 5BQ
Lat/Long: 51.739515N 4.305732W
Notes: The castle is a major tourist attraction and well sign-posted. A dedicated car park is located directly adjacent to the castle.
WHAT IS THERE TO SEE?
The extensive ruins of a major fortress. Parts date from the twelfth century but most is later having been built in the thirteenth to early fifteenth centuries. The concentric configuration of the inner defences was clearly influenced by contemporary castles built in Wales.
1. The original builder of Kidwelly Castle was Roger, Bishop of Salisbury. He also built Devizes, Malmesbury, Sherborne and Salisbury (Old Sarum) Castles.
Kidwelly Castle Layout. The distinctive crescent shape of Bishop Roger’s ringwork castle dictated the shape of the castle throughout its life. The Inner Defences however were influenced by contemporary Norman fortifications elsewhere in Wales.
Chapel Tower. The Chapel Tower has angled buttresses - a design copied from castles such as Caerphilly, Chepstow and Goodrich.
Originally built by Roger of Salisbury, Kidwelly Castle was a key Norman fortification that was periodically attacked by the native Welsh. Changing hands on multiple occasions it was regularly upgraded enabling it to withstand a fierce assault and sustained siege during the Owain Glyndŵr rebellion.
HISTORY OF KIDWELLY CASTLE
Upon the death of Hywel ap Goronwy, a Welshman who had risen to favour during the reign of Henry I, the King sought to install a loyal major magnate to offset the power of the Norman Marcher Lords. Accordingly in 1106 he granted the Lordship of Kidwelly to Roger, Bishop of Salisbury. He was one of the Henry’s most trusted servants who held the position of Lord Chancellor and it was he who built the castle no later than 1114. Constructed on a steep scarp overlooking the River Gwendraeth, it was a ringwork fort with its landward side protected by a crescent shaped earthwork and wooden palisade. There was seemingly no Keep in this early castle but a fragment of masonry suggests at least one building, perhaps the Great Hall, was made of stone from the start.
A major Welsh rebellion against Norman rule occurred in 1136-7 with a battle being fought at Kidwelly between Maurice de Londres and Gwenillan, wife of Gruffudd ap Rhys, Lord of Deheubarth. Maurice rose in prominence during the reign of King Stephen (1135-54) and in 1139 he was granted Kidwelly; it seems Roger had fallen from grace at this time.
In 1190 Kidwelly was captured by Gruffudd ap Rhys, Lord Rhys. His death in 1197 marked a reversal of Welsh fortunes however and the castle was back in the hands of the de Londres family by the early thirteenth century. A further Welsh attack, this time by Rhys Gryg of Dinefwr Castle (one of the sons of the Lord Rhys), was made in 1215 with the castle held by him until 1220 when it once again returned to the de Londres. The castle was attacked again in 1231 and badly damaged. At some point during this turbulent time the timber defences of the castle were rebuilt in stone although whether this was due to Welsh or Norman work is unknown.
The castle passed through marriage to Patrick de Chaworth and then to his son Payn. An experienced soldier who had fought with Lord Edward (later Edward I) on crusade and in the first War of Welsh Independence in 1277, it was he who commissioned significant building works at Kidwelly. The inner defences were rebuilt in stone with four round towers added connected by tall stone curtain walls. Its design mimicked the contemporary concentric configuration of castles such as Caerphilly, Flint and Rhuddlan.
In 1283 the castle was granted to William de Valence, Lord of Pembroke who made further upgrades to Kidwelly. Returning to the de Chaworth family in 1291 it then passed through marriage to Henry, second son of Edmund Crouchback who was brother to Edward I. Henry would be raised Earl of Lancaster in 1327 following the execution of his elder brother, Thomas. It would then pass through his daughter Blanche into the hands of John of Gaunt, first Duke of Lancaster.
John's son, Henry Bolingbroke, had a turbulent relationship with Richard II. He had been temporarily exiled in 1398 for allegedly treasonous comments but when John of Gaunt died in 1399, Richard seized the opportunity to confiscate his vast estates including Kidwelly. Henry immediately invaded initially seeking to reclaim his inheritance but expanded his objective into a bid for the Crown. He forced Richard to abdicate, took the throne as Henry IV and murdered the former King in Pontefract Castle. With the Duchy of Lancaster now restored to the new King, Kidwelly became a Royal castle.
In 1403 the rebellion of Owain Glyndŵr spread into South Wales and in August of that year Kidwelly was attacked. An initial assault failed although the associated town was burned and the castle was placed under siege. The onset of Winter however saved the garrison as the Welsh forces withdrew in October. A further (unsuccessful) attack was made in 1404 and the area remained troubled until 1407 after which English attacks had largely defused the rebellion. Upgrades were made to the castle in the subsequent years including rebuilding of the Gatehouse.
From the later fifteenth century onwards Kidwelly declined in importance as Wales stabilised. Most building thereafter was on domestic ranges with the defences neglected; certainly by the seventeenth century they were described as ruinous. This led to the fortification taking no part in the Civil War and it continued to be neglected until taken into State care in 1927.