The largest castle, Caerphilly Castle, in Wales (and the second largest in Britain) has quite a long and bloody history reaching back almost 800 years. A multitude of families have held the castle over the years. It has been both loyal and rebel to the country, and has set a few records in its time.
History of the Castle
To understand why Caerphilly exists, we have to look a bit further back in time, back to the Norman Conquests. After the Normans defeated the English in 1066, they turned their attention to Wales (around 1068 or so). The conquest of England was a public venture (William the Conqueror raised an army, everyone fought for and receives rewards from him afterwards); the conquest of Wales was a completely different kettle of fish. Rather than a concerted effort by William, any land conquered by nobles were theirs to control under him. In other words, the conquest of Wales was a free-for-all, resulting in the Normans fighting both other Normans and the Welsh. They controlled land through force of arms and fortifications, usually castles. That is why Wales is known as the ‘Castle Capital of the World’. During its heyday, Wales had over 600 fully-functional castles, of which 100 are still standing today.
So what does this have to do with Caerphilly? Well, the 1260s was very important for the region of Glamorgan. Until this point, Glamorgan we know today was in two halfs: one controlled by Norman descendants and one by local Welsh princes. In 1267, a rebel Baron Revolt was crushed in England. The Norman ruler of Glamorgan at this time, Gilbert de Clare, had supported the King (Henry III); the Welsh princes had given their support to the rebels. This weakened the Welsh position and allowed the de Clare family to push northwards. They captured Caerphilly, which lies in the basin of the Rhymney Valley and sits alongside the Rhymney River. Though this valley, a network of paths and roads ran (and still run today). It is an ideal and logical choice for a new castle where de Clare could consolidate his hold.
After much back and forth between the Normans, Welsh, and other Normans, a completed castle stood tall in 1290. It was also during this time that the de Clares greatly bolstered the defences. Part of these defences are the artificial lakes surrounding the castle. This made Caerphilly the castle with the most sophisticated and largest water defence ever in Britain. This was especially useful as the next 200 years saw fighting and sieges of the castle during almost every decade. In 1326 Edward II even fled to Caerphilly when his wife, Isabella of France, deposed Edward II in favour of their son, Edward III.
Around 1486, the castle fell into disrepair as the owners moved their residences to other manors or castles. By 1776, when the Marquesses of Bute took over, it was well and truly a ruin. Have oyu heard of the Marquesses of Bute? They are famous for restoring many castles in the area. Between the 1860s and 1939, the castle underwent major renovations to restore parts. The focus was restoring the walls and the water defences to their original state. Since the 1950s, the state owns and operates the castle allowing tourists to visit it.
As the castle was built in the 1290s, it is naturally in the typical, medieval style that comes to mind when one thinks of the words ‘dark, damp castle’. The castle sits on an island with a drawbridge giving it access across the lakes and moats that protect it. There is also a narrow bank that allowed for access to other gates set into the walls.
Caerphilly Castle today
Are you looking at the pictures and wondering why Caerphilly Castle looks familiar? It has had a starring role in several British television programmes, including Dr Who and Merlin. Both have used the castle many times. Because of its impressive aerial views, Caerphilly Castle often features in documentaries, fiction and nonfiction programmes alike.
Here are some more photos from visiting the castle: