Castles have played an important military, economic and social role in Great Britain and Ireland since their introduction following the Norman invasion of England in 1066.
Although a small number of castles had been built in England in the 1050s, the Normans began to build motte and bailey and ringworks castles in large numbers to control their newly occupied territories in the Welsh Marches.
1 Caernarfon Castle
Caernarfon Castle (Welsh: Castell Caernarfon) is a medieval fortress in Caernarfon, Gwynedd, north-west Wales. There was a motte-and-bailey castle in the town of Caernarfon from the late 11th century until 1283 when King Edward I of England began replacing it with the current stone structure.
The Edwardian town and castle acted as the administrative centre of north Wales and as a result the defences were built on a grand scale. There was a deliberate link with Caernarfon’s Roman past – nearby is the Roman fort of Segontium – and the castle’s walls are reminiscent of the Walls of Constantinople.
2 Raglan Castle
Raglan Castle (Welsh: Castell Rhaglan) is a late medieval castle located just north of the village of Raglan in the county of Monmouthshire in south east Wales.
The modern castle dates from between the 15th and early 17th-centuries, when the successive ruling families of the Herberts and the Somersets created a luxurious, fortified castle, complete with a large hexagonal keep, known as the Great Tower or the Yellow Tower of Gwent.
Surrounded by parkland, water gardens and terraces, the castle was considered by contemporaries to be the equal of any other in England or Wales. During the English Civil War the castle was held on behalf of Charles I and was taken by Parliamentary forces in 1646. In the aftermath, the castle was slighted, or deliberately put beyond military use.
3 Caerphilly Castle
Caerphilly Castle (Welsh: Castell Caerffili) is a medieval fortification in Caerphilly in South Wales. The castle was constructed by Gilbert de Clare in the 13th century as part of his campaign to conquer Glamorgan, and saw extensive fighting between Gilbert and his descendants and the native Welsh rulers.
Surrounded by extensive artificial lakes – considered by historian Allen Brown to be “the most elaborate water defences in all Britain” – it occupies around 30 acres (120,000 m2) and is the second largest castle in Britain. It is famous for having introduced concentric castle defences to Britain and for its large gatehouses.
Gilbert began work on the castle in 1268 following his occupation of the north of Glamorgan, with the majority of the construction occurring over the next three years at a considerable cost. The project was opposed by Gilbert’s Welsh rival Llywelyn ap Gruffudd, leading to the site being burnt in 1270 and taken over by royal officials in 1271. Despite these interruptions, Gilbert successfully completed the castle and took control of the region.
The core of Caerphilly Castle, including the castle’s luxurious accommodation, was built on what became a central island, surrounding by several artificial lakes, a design Gilbert probably derived from that at Kenilworth. The dams for these lakes were further fortified, and an island to the west provided additional protection. The concentric rings of walls inspired Edward I’s castles in North Wales, and proved what historian Norman Pounds has termed “a turning point in the history of the castle in Britain”.
4 Laugharne Castle
Laugharne Castle (Welsh: ‘Castell Talacharn’) is a castle in the town of Laugharne in southern Carmarthenshire,Wales. It is located on the estuary of the River Tâf.
The original castle was established by 1116 as the castle of Robert Courtemain, who is recorded to have entrusted its care to the Welshman Bleddyn ap Cedifor.
The castle also was the meeting place of Henry II of England with Rhys ap Gruffudd in 1171-1172, where they agreed a treaty of peace. When Henry II of England died in 1189 the castle along with St Clears and llansteffan were seized by Rhys ap Gruffudd of Deheubarth in 1189, Laugharne Castle may have been burnt down at this time.
During the Civil War, Laugharne was captured by Royalists in 1644, the Parliamentary forces of Major-General Rowland Laugharne attacked the castle in 1644. After a weeklong siege in which much of the castle was damaged by cannon fire, the Royalist garrison finally surrendered. The castle was slighted to prevent any further use. It was left as a romantic ruin during the 18th century, and around the start of the 19th century the outer ward was laid with formal gardens.
5 Conwy Castle
Conwy Castle (Welsh: Castell Conwy) is a medieval fortification in Conwy, on the north coast of Wales. It was built by Edward I, during his conquest of Wales, between 1283 and 1289.
Constructed as part of a wider project to create the walled town of Conwy, the combined defences cost around £15,000, a huge sum for the period. Over the next few centuries, the castle played an important part in several wars. It withstood the siege of Madog ap Llywelyn in the winter of 1294–95, acted as a temporary haven for Richard II in 1399 and was held for several months by forces loyal to Owain Glyndŵr in 1401.
UNESCO considers Conwy to be one of “the finest examples of late 13th century and early 14th century military architecture in Europe”, and it is classed as a World Heritage site. The rectangular castle is built from local and imported stone and occupies a coastal ridge, originally overlooking an important crossing point over the River Conwy. Divided into an Inner and an Outer Ward, it is defended by eight large towers and two barbicans, with a postern gate leading down to the river, allowing the castle to be resupplied from the sea. It retains the earliest surviving stonemachicolations in Britain and what historian Jeremy Ashbee has described as the “best preserved suite of medieval private royal chambers in England and Wales”.
6 Beaumaris Castle
Beaumaris Castle, located in the town of the same name on the Isle of Anglesey in Wales, was built as part of Edward I’s campaign to conquer the north of Wales after 1282.
Plans were probably first made to construct the castle in 1284, but this was delayed due to lack of funds and work only began in 1295 following the Madog ap Llywelynuprising. A substantial workforce was employed in the initial years under the direction of James of St. George. Edward’s invasion of Scotland soon diverted funding from the project, however, and work stopped, only recommencing after an invasion scare in 1306. When work finally ceased around 1330 a total of £15,000 had been spent, a huge sum for the period, but the castle remained incomplete.
Beaumaris Castle was taken by Welsh forces in 1403 during the Owain Glyndŵr rebellion, but recaptured by royal forces in 1405. Following the outbreak of the English Civil War in 1642, the castle was held by forces loyal to Charles I, holding out until 1646 when it surrendered to the Parliamentary armies. Despite forming part of a local royalist rebellion in 1648 the castle escaped slighting and was garrisoned by Parliament, but fell into ruin around 1660, eventually forming part of a local stately home and park in the 19th century.
7 Dolbadarn Castle
Dolbadarn Castle is a fortification built by the Welsh prince Llywelyn the Great during the early 13th century, at the base of the Llanberis Pass, in North Wales. The castle was important both militarily and as a symbol of Llywelyn’s power and authority.
The castle features a large stone keep, which historian Richard Avent considers “the finest surviving example of a Welsh round tower”. In 1284 Dolbadarn was taken by Edward I, who removed some of its timbers to build his new castle at Caernarfon.
The castle was used as a manor house for some years, before falling into ruin. In the 18th and 19th century it was a popular destination for painters interested in Sublime and Picturesque landscapes.
8 Tretower Castle
Tretower (Welsh: Gastell Tretŵr) was founded as a motte and bailey castle. In the 12th century, a shell-keep was added to the motte. By c.1230 a tall cylindrical keep was added to the inside of the shell-keep and the space between was roofed over.
At this time the earlier bailey was walled in stone and provided with cylindrical corner towers. In the early 14th century residential buildings were constructed away from the original fortifications forming today’s Tretower Court. Over time the lords of Tretower favoured the more luxurious Court and the castle fell into disuse.
The castle is roughly triangular in plan, with the motte and keep assemblage occupying the western corner. The 12th century shell-keep is an irregular enclosure with a gate-tower on the line of approach from the bailey. In the centre of the shell stands the tall cylindrical 13th century keep. The keep is of three stories, with an original entrance at first floor level, above a strong, slanted batter or talus. The top of the talus is marked by a decorative string-course of stone. The keep is a rare example of a cylindrical keep in the British Isles.
9 Pembroke Castle
Pembroke Castle (Welsh: Castell Penfro) is a medieval castle in Pembroke, West Wales. Standing beside the River Cleddau, it underwent major restoration work in the early 20th century. The castle was the original seat of the Earldom of Pembroke.
In 1093 Roger of Montgomery built the first castle at the site when he fortified the promontory during the Norman invasion of Wales. A century later this castle was given to William Marshal by Richard I. Marshall, who would become one of the most powerful men in 12th-Century Britain, rebuilt Pembroke in stone creating most of the structure that remains today.
10 Carew Castle
Carew Castle is a castle in the civil parish of Carew in the Welsh county of Pembrokeshire. The famous Carew family take their name from the place, and still own the castle, although it is leased to the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park, which administers the site.
The present castle, which replaced an earlier stone keep, is constructed almost entirely from the local Carboniferous limestone, except for some of the Tudor architectural features such as window frames, which are made from imported Cotswold stone. Although originally a Norman stronghold the castle maintains a mixture of architectural styles as modifications were made to the structure over successive centuries.
Entry to the inner ward is across a dry moat that had a barbican and gatehouse. The front of the castle had three D-shaped towers and crenelated walls. The rear of the castle has two large round towers. In the 16th century the northern defensive wall was converted into a Tudor range with ornate windows and long room.
In the Civil War, the castle was refortified by Royalists although south Pembrokeshire was strongly Parliamentarian. After changing hands three times, the south wall was pulled down to render the castle indefensible to Royalists.