The name Emlyn derives from 'Emelinus’, a Roman era ruler of the area. In 1240 Henry III divided the territory granting half to Gilbert Marshal, Earl of Pembroke and the other half to Meredith ap Rhys Gryg, Lord of Dynevor. As the Earl managed the western portion from Cilgerran Castle, Meredith built a new castle to administer his portion. The new fortification was initially an earth and timber fortification but rebuilt shortly after in stone. Sited on a peninsula of land, it was almost completely surrounded by the Afon Teifi but the intent behind its construction was as an administrative centre rather than a defensive fortification (Meredith's main residence was at Dryslwyn Castle). It was in proximity to a small settlement but inevitably the construction of the castle led to a sizeable expansion as merchants, soldiers and their families arrived to serve the needs of the new facility. The settlement took the name of Trecastell.
Emlyn passed to Meredith's son, Rhys ap Maredudd, who successfully avoided becoming embroiled in the Wars of Welsh Independence. Accordingly he was rewarded by Edward I but the English King's refusal to grant him wider estates prompted the relationship to break down. He rebelled in 1287 prompting Newcastle Emlyn to be seized by Roger Mortimer, Earl of March. Rhys' men recaptured the castle but in January 1288 it was besieged and fell to Robert Tiptoft, Justiciar of South Wales after 23 days. Rhys ap Maredudd fled and his possessions, including Emlyn, were confiscated by the Crown. He was captured in 1291 and executed the following year.
Newcastle Emlyn was now a Royal fortification and three successive Kings - Edward I, Edward II and Edward III - all made modifications. In 1300 the Treasurer of South Wales was instructed to ensure the castles in his care, including Emlyn, were repaired and provisioned. In 1312 a new Great Hall was commissioned and possibly at this time construction started on the great Gatehouse. The large increase in population of the adjacent civilian settlement prompted a re-configuration of the town, which was now known as Newtown Emlyn, and it was granted the status of a Royal Borough. However, the castle and town went into marked decline in the mid-fourteenth century when the area was ravaged by the Black Death. A report of 1343 - commissioned for Edward, (Black) Prince of Wales - noted the castle was in a poor condition. Nevertheless in 1347 it was repaired and stabilised by Richard de la Bere on behalf of the Prince. In 1382 it was granted to Simon Burley.
In September 1400 a new Welsh rebellion erupted in North Wales when Owain Glyndŵr was proclaimed Prince of Wales. Finding popular support, the uprising spread and expanded into South Wales. His forces arrived at Newcastle Emlyn in 1403. He captured the castle whilst the town, whose inhabitants would have largely been of English origin, was sacked. Within two weeks the area had been retaken by Sir Thomas Carew although the damage must have been considerable. A report from 1428 describes the castle as "ruinous".
The victory of Henry Tudor at the Battle of Bosworth Field (1485) saw a new era for Wales as the new King owed much to the principality. His regime saw key Welsh magnates come to the fore one of whom was Sir Rhys ap Thomas. He acquired Newcastle Emlyn in the early sixteenth century and converted the structure into a mansion. The large windows in the surviving masonry of the Gatehouse date from this period.
During the Civil War the castle was initially a Royalist stronghold and, in an attempt to make the medieval site more defendable against seventeenth century artillery, an earthwork bastion was constructed in front of the Gatehouse. Nevertheless the castle exchanged hands several times. Taken by the Parliamentarians in 1644, it was quickly re-captured by a Royalist force under Sir Charles Gerard. The Parliamentarians besieged it again in 1645 but this attempt to take the castle was defeated by a sharp engagement with Gerard's forces. However, as Royalist fortunes collapsed and Wales succumbed to the Parliamentarians, Newcastle Emlyn fell to Parliament and was deliberately slighted by gunpowder to prevent any further military use.
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Newcastle Emlyn consists of the ruined remains of a small but impressive castle. Portions of the fourteenth century Gatehouse survive to a dramatic height complete with their sixteenth century modifications. The earthworks of the Civil War defences are also still partially visible.
Newcastle Emlyn Castle. The remains consist of earthworks and masonry largely dating from the fourteenth century modifications.
Afon Teifi. The castle was surrounded on three sides by the Afon Teifi
Gatehouse. The Great Gatehouse, the dominant feature of the ruins, took over 20 years to build. Started during the reign of Edward II (1307-27), it was not completed until 1349.
Earthwork Defences. By the seventeenth century Civil War gunpowder artillery was a real threat to the tall, stone built medieval fortifications. An earthwork Ravelin was built to protect the masonry of the castle from direct bombardment.
NEWCASTLE EMLYN CASTLE
Newcastle Emlyn Castle was built in the mid thirteenth century by Meredith ap Rhys Gryg. His descendants supported the English during the Wars of Welsh Independence but later participated in the rebellion of Rhys ap Maredudd after which the castle was seized by the Crown. It later saw action during both the rebellion of Owain Glyndŵr and the Civil War.
Newcastle Emlyn Castle is found off Castle Street in the village of the same name. There is pay and display car parking directly adjacent to the castle ruins.