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The Castles of Wales and the Civil War

Avove: The destruction of Raglan Castle by Parliamentary forces.

Despite the peaceful advances of the Tudor era, the castle as a military strongpoint was to have yet one last lease on life. When the Civil War broke out between the king and Parliament in 1642 Wales was almost wholly royalist, and a number of castles were garrisoned in Charles I's cause. Conwy was renovated and refortified during 1642-43 by John Williams, archbishop of York, and was held for the king throughout the first Civil War. Caernarfon and Ruthin both withstood Parliamentarian sieges and raids during the first war, and only finally surrendered in 1646. Denbigh, too, was held for the king until the garrison was forced to abandon a hopeless struggle after a very long siege lasting from the end of 1645 through until October 1646. In the south-east, the staunch royalist marquess of Worcester held out at Raglan in the spring and summer of 1646, in one of the most hotly-contested sieges of the war. The marquess finally surrendered to Sir Thomas Fairfax on 19 August, long after the submission of the king and the collapse of his cause.

Follow this link to learn more about the fall of Raglan Castle

Pembroke Castle had been a firm Parliamentary base throughout this first war. In marked contrast, during the second war of 1648, it became a major royalist strongpoint. Cromwell himself arrived on 24 May to conduct the siege, but it was not until heavy cannon was brought by ship from Gloucester that he was able to achieve success. Several breaches were opened in the walls of the town and castle, pressing the king's men into submission in mid July.

Various other castles features to a greater or lesser degree in these wars. Surprising as it may seem, though, cannon bombardment was not the principal cause for their destruction at the time. So powerfully constructed were the medieval stone defences, gunpowder was only part of the story. It was the subsequent "slighting" ordered by Parliament, which caused the real damage.

Wales - Castles and Historic Places, Cadw: Welsh Historic Monuments, Wales Tourist Board, publisher, Cardiff, 1990.

 

View the orders for the demolition of Montgomery Castle

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Copyright 2009 by Jeffrey L. Thomas