Penmaen Castle was an earth and timber ringwork fortification built in the early twelfth century by the Earl of Warwick or one of his retainers. With a commanding view over Threecliffs Bay, it was one of a series of castles intended to secure Norman control over the Lordship of Gower. It remained occupied until 1217 when it was destroyed by Rhys Gryg ap Rhys.
In the early twelfth century Wales was a series of independent Kingdoms whose power and influence fluctuated depending upon the strengths of their respective rulers. Whilst there was no centrally co-ordinated Norman invasion of Wales, important magnates were encouraged to seize land within the Principality and in return these so-called Marcher Lords were given near regal powers within their new territories. As part of this piecemeal conquest of South Wales, Henry I granted the Gower peninsula to Henry de Beaumont, Earl of Warwick in 1107. He invaded and immediately started securing his newly acquired lands with fortifications raised at key nodal points. Henry and his followers constructed at least seven substantial castles on the peninsula including Penmaen Castle.
The castle was built upon the summit of a headland protected by high cliffs on the north, east and south-east sides. It offered a commanding view overlooking Threecliffs Bay. The fortification was an oval shaped enclosure protected by an earthwork rampart topped with a wooden palisade. A ditch surrounded the site on all sides except the east where the cliff made it superfluous. A single timber gateway was located on the west side. A settlement, now buried under the sand dunes to the west of the castle, was founded at the same time as the fortification. Pennard Castle stood just 1,000 metres away on the other side of Threecliffs Bay.
The first castle at Penmaen was destroyed by fire although precisely when this occurred, or the cause, is uncertain. The fortification was then rebuilt with the lower portion of the gatehouse revetted in stone and the entrance passage narrowed. The latter modification hints that the first castle may have been destroyed by an enemy attack. A dry stone hall was also constructed within the fortification. Penmaen remained occupied until 1217 when "all the castles of Gower" were destroyed by Rhys Gryg ap Rhys. It was never rebuilt and the associated settlement failed.
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Penmaen Castle consists of the earthwork remains of a twelfth century ringwork fortification. The site is in the care of the National Trust and offers spectacular views over Threecliffs Bay.
Gower Peninsula. The Norman invasion of Gower was led by Henry de Beaumont, Earl of Warwick in the early twelfth century. He and his followers built multiple castles on the Gower peninsula most notably at Swansea, Loughor, Oystermouth, Penrice, Penmaen and Pennard.
Penmaen Castle. The ringwork enclosure survives as a substantial earthwork. The rampart would originally have been topped by a timber palisade. The site of Pennard Castle can be seen on the other side of the bay.
Three Cliffs Bay. The castle site was protected on the east side by the steep slope down to the cliff.
Penmaen Burrows. The site is known as Penmaen Burrows as the site was used for breeding rabbits in the sixteenth century.
Castle Interior. The castle has suffered from coastal erosion.