The Normans arrived in south-west Wales in the late eleventh century when Roger de Montgomery, Earl of Shrewsbury had seized Pembrokeshire and Henry de Beaumont, Earl of Warwick had conquered the Gower peninsula. Over the subsequent decades the Normans expanded their territory in the region and secured their new acquisitions by constructing castles at key nodal points. Llansteffan Castle was one of these new outposts and was built circa-1112 to secure the mouth of the River Towy, a key artery for communication and movement in pre-industrial Wales. It occupied the eastern end of a steeply sided hillock which had previously been the site of a bivallate Iron Age promontory fort. The castle took the form of an earth and timber ringwork fortification and was constructed wholly within the earlier defences.
Precisely who raised the first castle at Llansteffan is unknown but in 1136 the site was owned by the Camville family. The first surviving record mentioning the castle by name dates from 1146 when it was seized by Maredudd ap Gruffydd. An attempt to retake it the same year failed with a contemporary chronicler recording how the Welsh threw down ladders as the Normans attempted to scale the palisade. Nevertheless, Llansteffan was successfully retaken by the Normans in 1158 and returned to the Camvilles. They then held it until 1189 when it was captured by Rhys ap Gruffydd, Lord Rhys but it was back in the hands of the Camville family by 1192. Soon after, they started rebuilding portions of the castle in stone commencing with the Inner Ward curtain wall. However, the defences proved inadequate as in 1215 Llansteffan was taken by Llywelyn ab Iorwerth (the Great). It remained in Welsh hands until 1223 when it was recovered the Camvilles who then made further upgrades to the site including adding the Round Tower and the square Inner Ward gatehouse.
Llansteffan Castle was seized by Llywelyn ap Gruffudd (the Last) in 1257. It remained under his control until the 1260s when, once again, it was returned to the Camvilles. They commenced an extensive building programme to enhance the castle's defences. The Outer Ward curtain wall was rebuilt in stone and strengthened and two D-plan towers on the north and west sides. However, the most significant new feature was a massive Gatehouse Keep which was constructed to serve as the entrance into the Outer Ward.
In 1338 the male line of the de Camville family failed and Llansteffan passed through marriage to Robert Penrees, a powerful magnate with extensive lands in Gower centred on Penrice Castle. His family still owned the site in 1405 when it was attacked and briefly captured during the Owain Glyndŵr rebellion. It was back in English hands by 1406 and later in the fifteenth century the castle was taken into Crown control. Henry VII granted it to his uncle, Jasper Tudor, in 1495. He made some modifications to the Outer Gatehouse, predominantly to enhance the accommodation facilities, but the castle's defences were neglected and allowed to drift into ruin.
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Llansteffan Castle consists of the ruined remains of a medieval castle dating from the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. The Gatehouse Keep still stands to an impressive height and is an early example of the type that was later used extensively in the great fortresses built in North Wales by Edward I.
Llansteffan Castle Layout. The castle was built within the existing earthworks of a bivallate Iron Age promontory fort. The first structure was a ringwork-and-bailey castle and this defined the layout of the later stone built fortification. Rebuilding in stone started in the late twelfth century with the ringwork of the earlier fortification converted into the Inner Ward.
Hillock. Llansteffan Castle occupied a steeply side hillock overlooking the mouth of the River Towy.
Outer Gatehouse. The large Gatehouse Keep was added circa-1280 and was heavily influenced by the East Inner gate at Caerphilly Castle. The main entrance was blocked up by Jasper Tudor, Earl of Pembroke who was granted in 1495. The replacement entrance can be seen attached to the side of the structure.
North Tower. This was added in the 1260s after the castle had been recovered from Llywelyn ap Gruffudd.
North Tower. The square Inner Gatehouse was built in the 1220s.
Inner Ward. View of the Inner Ward from the Outer Gatehouse
Round Tower. The round tower was added to the Inner Ward curtain wall in the 1220s shortly after the Camville family had recovered the castle after its seizure by Llywelyn ab Iorwerth.
Carmarthen Bay. The castle overlooked the mouth of the River Towy at the point of its confluence with the River Taf. Both waterways flowed out into Carmarthen Bay.
Llansteffan Castle occupies a steeply side promontory overlooking the mouth of the River Towy. The castle was built in the early twelfth century, initially in the form of an earth and timber ringwork. Throughout the medieval period it regularly changed hands as the Anglo-Normans and Welsh vied for control which prompted regular upgrades to the structure.
Llansteffan Castle towers above the village of the same name. It is accessed from a private road with no (unauthorised) vehicular access but there is a large public car park nearby (details below).
Car Parking Option