Narberth lay within the medieval commote (Cwmwd) of Arberth, an area which encompassed much of the south Pembrokeshire peninsula. Arberth was mentioned in the Mabinogion, a twelfth century manuscript that documented ancient Welsh legends and myths,which states that Pwyll, Prince of Dyfed had his hall (llys) in the area. Precisely where this caput was located is unknown but Narberth, with its dominant hilltop location along with its position adjacent to a ford across Narberth Brook, make it a likely contender. To date though no archaeological evidence has been found to substantiate this claim.
Pembrokeshire was seized for the Normans by Arnulf de Montgomery (later Earl of Shrewsbury) in 1093. He established substantial fortresses at Pembroke and Haverfordwest and over the subsequent years he and his retainers had expanded their territory and built castles to secure their conquests. Narberth Castle was raised as one of these fortifications and was positioned on what later became known as the Landsker line which marked the extent of the twelfth century Anglo-Norman incursion into Pembrokeshire (and even today remains a significant divide between English and Welsh speakers).
The precise date the castle was founded, who initially built it and where it was constructed are all uncertain! Some sources suggest the castle was raised around 1112 by Stephen Perrot, allegedly a Norman Knight from Brittany, but no contemporary evidence supports this. Furthermore Narberth is referenced in a charter of Henry I, dated circa-1130, which authorised the removal of timber from "our forest of Narberth" suggesting it was in Crown ownership at that time. This makes it more likely the castle was raised by the Earl of Shrewsbury himself and that it passed to the King when he seized his lands in 1100. As for the location, a site two miles to the south, Sentence Castle near Templeton, is mooted as the first Narberth Castle. This may be correct but there is no evidence to support it and it seems just as likely the current site was the location of the earlier castle.
Narberth Castle was attacked and burnt by the Welsh in 1116 and, if the structure was on a different location, this was perhaps what prompted a rebuilding of the fortification on the present site. Like its predecessor, this castle was an earth and timber fortification consisting of inner and outer baileys. No evidence has been found of a motte but it is possible that a ringwork may have existed. Human burials found in the outer bailey suggest that St Andrew's Church, which was refounded on the opposite hilltop in the thirteenth century, was originally located within the defences. The castle passed into the hands of Henry FitzRoy, illegitimate son of Henry I, around 1140 although it was part of the wider estates of Gilbert de Clare, Earl of Pembroke.
Narberth Castle was attacked by the Welsh in 1159 and 1215. On both occasions they burnt it but the site was quickly retaken and the structure rebuilt (still in timber). In 1247 the castle passed to Roger Mortimer, Lord of Wigmore and he was still the owner when Narberth was attacked and destroyed in 1257 by Llywelyn ap Gruffudd. Mortimer soon re-captured the site and commenced rebuilding the castle's Inner Bailey in stone. The new structure, which was very similar to the contemporary Kidwelly Castle, consisted of a broadly rectangular enclosure protected by a substantial curtain wall. Round towers stood on each corner with the north-eastern one being significantly larger and presumably served as Keep and as high status accommodation. D shaped towers were located along the eastern and western curtain walls. The Outer Bailey seems to have remained a timber structure. Despite the impressive new defences though, at least part of the castle was burnt once again in 1299 when Welsh rebels attacked the site. The extent of the damage is unknown although Mortimer complained to the King that some of his men were killed.
The Mortimers had a difficult relationship with the monarchy during the fourteenth century. In 1322 Roger Mortimer supported the Earl of Lancaster’s rebellion against Edward II and, when this failed, he forfeited Narberth Castle and was imprisoned in the Tower of London where he died in 1326. His nephew, another Roger, got his revenge when he conspired with Queen Isabella, overthrew the King and made Edward III his puppet. He was himself overthrown in 1330 and thereafter Narberth Castle passed through several owners before being restored to the Mortimer family in 1354. It was confiscated again in 1402 when Edmund Mortimer allied himself to Owain Glyndŵr. Thomas Carew was installed as its custodian and in 1404 successfully held the fortification against the Welsh rebels prompting Henry IV to reward him with a grant of the castle and lordship for life.
Narberth Castle was restored to the Mortimer family in 1413 by Henry V. However when Edmund Mortimer died childless in 1422 it reverted to the Crown. Henry VI then granted it to Richard, Duke of York until his death at the Battle of Wakefield (1460). It then remained in Crown ownership until Henry VIII granted it to Sir Rhys ap Thomas, owner of Carew Castle. By this time though the structure was in decline and in the seventeenth century it was reported as ruinous although a Richard Castle was recorded as living there between 1657 and 1677. The castle was stabilised and opened to the public in 2006.
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Narberth Castle is in ruins but significant portions of the thirteen century fortification survive and give an indication of the scale of the structure. The remains have recently been consolidated and the site is now open (free of charge) to the public.
Narberth Castle. The Inner Bailey was very similar in layout to Kidwelly Castle with round towers in each corner.
South West Tower.
South East Tower.
Great Hall. The Great Hall abutted the southern defences of the Inner Bailey.
Vault. The vault was located under a D shaped interval tower on the eastern curtain wall.
Keep. Little remains of the north-east tower but this was originally the largest of them and also served as a Keep.
Narberth Castle was raised by the Normans in the late eleventh or early twelfth century as one of numerous fortifications along the Landsker line. It was attacked on multiple occasions by the Welsh and in the thirteenth century was rebuilt in stone by Roger Mortimer. It was successfully held against the forces of Owain Glyndŵr in 1404.
Narberth Castle is found to the south of the modern town. There is no parking in vicinity of the ruins but a central car park is available (details shown below). The ruins are accessed via a footpath from Castle Terrace.
Car Park Option