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Builth Wells Castles

Breconshire, Mid-Wales
text & photographs copyright by Paul M. Remfry

he earthwork at Caer Beris seems to represent the first castle in the cantref of Buellt, probably built by Philip Braose in 1093. In 1098-1102 the archbishop of Canterbury instructed him to return to the bishop of St David's those lands he had wrongfully occupied. This almost certainly refers to Philip's encroachments in Buellt. The castle then seems to have remained in quiet occupation by the Braose family for almost a century. During this time it seems likely, judging from the pit and rubble seen on the motte-top, that the castle was refortified in stone. In 1168 the Lord Rhys invaded Brycheiniog and destroyed the castle. From this time forth it was out of Braose hands. The castle seems never to have recovered and the cantref was henceforth ruled by Meurig ab Addaf of Buellt and, after he was treacherously slain in his sleep in 1170, by his cousin by Maredudd Bengoch. The power behind these two descendants of Elystan Glodrydd was almost certainly the Lord Rhys. The position of Buellt seems to have been formalised when William Braose Senior (d.1211) granted the province to Gruffydd ap Rhys with the hand of his sister some time around 1180. The province was then inherited by the two sons of Gruffydd, Rhys Ieuanc and Owain ap Gruffydd on their father's death in 1201.

Below: the pit in the motte top at Caer Beris, and the motte at Builth Wells from the SE

     

An abortive foundation of Builth Wells Castle was probably made in 1208 by the sheriff of Gloucester. On this occasion his forces were defeated and he was repulsed by William Braose Senior's nephews, Rhys Ieuanc and Owain ap Gruffydd and Iorwerth ab Einion Clud of Aberedw, back down the River Wye. The sheriff returned in 1210 and completed his aborted foundation of a new castle in Buellt. The castle was later seized from King John by the Braose brothers in the early summer of 1215. The king sent men to aid in the castle's further fortification in 1219, but the castle was besieged by Prince Llywelyn in September 1223, until relieved soon after by royal troops. In 1229 the castle was given to Llywelyn Fawr by William Braose and it was destroyed by its new princely owner soon afterwards. On the death of Prince Llywelyn the castle site was retaken by John Monmouth in the summer of 1240 who then began its rebuilding. The castle was repeatedly besieged between December 1256 and its fall on 17 July 1260 when it was again thoroughly demolished. Seventeen years later Edward I ordered it rebuilt as a 'great tower' on the motte, with 'a stone wall with six turrets surrounding the said castle (tower meant?), a 'drawbridge with 2 large turrets' and stone walls enclosing the inner and outer baileys. Between 1277 and 1282 a considerable sum was spent on building this fortress, to wit 1,666 9s 51/4d. However that sum is 167 10s 61/4d less than the revenue that can be shown to have been sent to the castle. This explains the audit demanded by the barons of the Exchequer concerning the castle.

Whilst the wrangling over the missing money went on the more mundane jobs of guarding the castle while it was built and afterwards were undertaken by a variety of soldiers. In 1277, 9 mounted serjeants and 40 foot soldiers protected the site, though after the surrender of Llywelyn this figure was dropped to 4 horsemen and 10 infantry. In the winter of 1294 the besieged garrison consisted of 3 heavy and 3 light horsemen, 20 crossbowmen and 40 archers. The force which came to relieve them, 10 knights, 20 heavy and 40 light horse had to make 5 attempts to break through the attacking force and relieve the castle. This, as has been seen, was eventually done and Builth Wells Castle avoided the fate of Cefnllys and Morlais Castles to north and south respectively. After this Builth Wells Castle tended to become a muster point, with troops gathering here for foreign service in 1319, 1321, 1334 and 1385. By 1402 it had become part of the command of Lord Richard Grey of Condor and he held it throughout the Glyndwr war. In the Elizabethan era the castle seems to have been dismantled after a particularly bad fire which destroyed much of the town. The white house beneath the castle is said to have been built from its ruins, as indeed much of the town of Builth Wells seems to be. Little now remains of this once major castle except for its earthworks.

 

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