Wiston Castle was a motte-and-bailey fortification built in the early twelfth century by Wizo, a Flemish mercenary whose family had come to England with William I. It was attacked on several occasions by the Welsh and this prompted the rebuilding of the keep in stone, probably by William Marshal, Earl of Pembroke.
Wiston Castle was founded in the early twelfth century by Wizo, a Flemish mercenary. His background is unclear but it is likely his family was part of the entourage of the Flemish wife of William I, Queen Matilda. By the reign of Henry I (1100-1135) many of these men were landless burdens on the Royal court whilst concurrently insurrection against the Anglo-Normans continued in South West Wales. In the Chronicle of the Kings, written by William of Malmesbury in 1125, the author states the King found a solution to both problems by transporting "thither all the Flemings then resident in England" to Ross in South West Wales. This is presumably how Wizo and his family ended up in Pembrokeshire, an area which had been seized for the Normans by Arnulf de Montgomery, Earl of Shrewsbury in 1093. The Earl had established a substantial fortress at Pembroke and, over the subsequent years, he and his retainers had expanded their territory building castles to secure their advance. Wiston Castle was 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 that Wiston Castle was founded is uncertain but, along with a church and town borough, it certainly existed by 1112. The castle's defences were initially earth and timber and re-used existing earthworks of an Iron Age fortification. The motte, which was built over these ancient works, was originally topped with a timber tower surrounded by a palisade. A dry ditch surrounded the base of the motte and separated it from the oval shaped bailey. The castle was originally known as Castellum Wiz, after its owner, and this eventually morphed into the modern name. By contrast the surname Wizo, which had Latin origins, was replaced with the family later using the Welsh alternative, Gwys.
Throughout the twelfth and early thirteenth centuries, Wiston Castle was at the front-line of hostilities between the Anglo-Normans and the native Welsh. It was captured by the latter in 1147 due to the deception of the Norman Lord William fitz Gerald (from Carew Castle) who had joined forces with the sons of Gruffydd ap Rhys ap Tewdwr, Prince of Deheubarth. The castle later passed to Philip de Gwys but suffered a Welsh raid in 1193 during which he was captured by Hywel Sais, son of the famous Lord Rhys. The castle was recovered - and Philip freed - following a Flemish led raid in 1195. Another attack, this time in September 1220 by Llywelyn ap Iorwerth, saw the timber castle burnt. It has been suggested this is what led to the rebuilding of the Keep in stone and, if so, the work was undertaken by William Marshal, Earl of Pembroke. The new structure was a 16-sided stone shell Keep that was originally two storeys tall but, unusually, no further rebuilding took place after this with the bailey walls remaining in timber.
Historical records go silent on the fate of Wiston Castle after 1231 and accordingly it seems likely the structure was abandoned soon after. However the site remained in use as a manor and passed from Wizo's descendants to the Wogan family. They held it until 1794 and at some point moved out of the old castle into a new Manor house. This certainly existed by the time of the seventeenth century civil war for the abandoned castle site was occupied by Royalist troops in 1643 as one of numerous outposts to contain the Parliamentary garrison at Pembroke. The Royalist defeat at the Battle of Colby Moor (1644) saw the garrison at Wiston withdrawn. Thereafter the site continued in occupation and the Manor house was eventually replaced by the current farmhouse.
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Wiston Castle is one of the best preserved motte-and-bailey fortifications in Wales. The remains consist of a stone Shell Keep along with the earthworks of the bailey.
Shell Keep. The stone Keep is thought to have been built by William Marshal, Earl of Pembroke in the early thirteenth century. Some authors however suggest it dates from an earlier time and the fallen masonry is evidence of the attack by Llywelyn ap Iorwerth in 1220.
Bailey. When originally founded the castle was on the frontier between the Anglo-Normans and the native Welsh and accordingly the town borough, which was essential for supporting the daily functioning of the castle, was located within the bailey.