Home | Main Menu | Castle Index | Historical Essays | Related Essays | What's New | Links

Coity Castle

2m NE of Bridgend, Bridgend, south Wales

Map link for Coity Castle

Test copyright 1997 by Lise Hull
Photographs copyright by Jeffrey L. Thomas

Throughout Wales, several Marcher lordships were quickly established in the decades immediately after the Norman Conquest of 1066. Rewarded by William I for their loyal service, the Marcher lords became powerful men and erected fine stone fortifications to control their portion of the kingdom.

In South Wales, one Marcher lord, Robert FitzHamon, had William's blessing to distribute the lands of Glamorgan among a dozen of his own men. While FitzHamon (who built Cardiff Castle) doled out his best lands to his favorites, he forced at least one member of his retinue, Sir Payn de Turberville, to acquire land on his own.

Below: the gatehouse and curtain wall at Coity Castle.

Shrewdly venturing into the Lordship of Coity, Payn de Turberville discussed the acquisition of Coity Castle with the Welsh leader, Morgan Gam. Evidently, Morgan agreed to turn over his castle to Sir Payn on one condition: either the Norman had to fight Morgan for the lordship or he had to marry Sybil, Morgan's daughter. Symbolically (and wisely), Payn took the proffered sword in his left hand and clutched Sybil with his right. They married and Sir Payn de Turberville became Lord of Coity.

Regardless of the authenticity of the above tale, Payn ("the Demon") de Turberville gained control of the Lordship of Coity no later than the beginning of the 12th century. While it is possible that the earliest stronghold at Coity was erected by Morgan Gam, Payn de Turberville replaced the Welsh stronghold with one of his own.

Below: two views of the 14th-century inner bailey at Coity Castle.

De Turberville's first castle at Coity was a typical Norman fortification called a ringwork. This ringwork included a circular embankment which was surrounded by a deep ditch and topped by timber palisades. A simple timber gatehouse may have controlled access to the castle. Later construction at Coity consolidated the primitive earthworks into the overall design. Today, the shape of the later stone castle still reflects the original design of the ringwork.

By the start of the 12th century, the Normans had extended the Welsh Marches as far west into Wales as the Lordship of Coity. Two other castles joined Coity to defend the Lordship of Glamorgan along the western border of the Marches: Newcastle (first erected by Robert FitzHamon) and Ogmore (built by William de Londres). The three castles were certainly a formidable lot. Each represented a particular lord, but also belonged to Glamorgan.

In the 1180's, Sir Gilbert de Turberville had control of the Lordship and Castle of Coity. During his tenure, the castle was refortified with stone. Some fragments of the original masonry have survived. Sir Gilbert's greatest contributions were the keep, the curtain wall which encloses the Inner Bailey, and the northeast tower.

Now greatly ruined, Coity Castle retains several distinctly Norman features. Well-preserved portions include the eastern face, parts of the battlements, and the wall-walk which connected the three-storied keep with the curtain wall. During the 14th century, extensive alterations were again made to the castle, and the fine Middle Gate was added to offer access to the elaborate residence which sat inside the Inner Bailey.

Like much of the castle, the keep was substantially altered during the 14th century. Most of what remains dates to that period. Noteworthy features include an ornate annex on the northeast (with windows, fireplaces and latrines, indicating comfort and status). An unusual central pier, formed with eight ribbed vaults, once buttressed the upper floors.

Inside the Inner Bailey we may still view the ruins of other 14th century buildings, including the great hall and its service block (with the kitchen, buttery and pantry, and an interesting circular malting kiln). The elaborate hall was embellished with finely cut stone, including tomb stones, and, during the Tudor Era, fanciful chimney-pieces were added.

The male line of de Turbervilles died out in the 14th century. In 1384, Sir Lawrence Berkerolles inherited the Lordship of Coity, its castle and its estates, through marriage to one of the de Turberville daughters. Sir Lawrence probably ordered the extensive renovations mentioned above. He also added the east gate, which opens toward Coity Church and was defended with a portcullis and a drawbridge; a new stone curtain wall around the Outer Bailey; and a four-storied round latrine tower on the south side of the curtain. Draining into a cesspit which directed the waste into the moat, the round tower served the personal needs of the garrison and also functioned as a observation post from which the guards could fire down on attackers.

In the early 15th century, Owain Glyndwr, the Welsh freedom fighter and folkhero, assaulted Coity Castle. Despite his successes elsewhere, the owners of Coity Castle managed to withstand Glyndwr's siege.

After Sir Lawrence Berkerolles's death in 1411, Coity Castle passed to the Gamage family. They added a chapel over the hall and a large barn against the south wall of the Outer Bailey, and also converted one of the wall towers into a gatehouse. In 1584, Barbara Gamage, heir to the castle and the Gamage fortune, married Sir Robert Sydney, Earl of Leicester, and moved from Coity to greener pastures at Penshurst Place in Kent.

With no one living at Coity Castle, the grand structure decayed. Even though the Sydney family owned Coity Castle until the 19th century, it never regained its earlier splendor. Fortunately, Coity Castle has been rescued and is now managed by CADW: Welsh Historic Monuments. Remarkable Coity Castle is open to the public most days of the year.

Just across the lane that passes by Coity Castle sits a marvelous medieval battlemented church. The church houses two fine effigies of de Turberville women and an intriguing carved oak chest (possibly a very rare example of a portable Easter Sepulchre dating to 1500). The presence of a church so close to the castle is not surprising, given the closeness of Church and State during the Middle Ages.

The charm of Coity Castle reveals itself quickly as you head around the perimeter to the main entrance. Though modern Coity has encroached upon the fortress, the embankments and walls of the castle divert your attention and you will sense a shift in the air. Before you stands one of South Wales' finest examples of a Marcher castle. It remains an enchanting sight.

Lise Hull owns and operates Castles of Britain, an information and research web site providing a wide range of information on the castles of Britain. Mrs. Hull has a Masters Degree in Historic Preservation, and has visited well over 160 castles in Wales, England, Scotland and Ireland. She welcomes any and all questions concerning the castles of Britain, and invites people to visit her web site or contact her directly via e-mail at: castlesu@aol.com.

 

Castles and the Norman Conquest of Lowland Glamorgan

From the Cadw guidebook for Coity, Ogmore & Newcastle castles

King William I (1066-87) himself may have established the motte-and-bailey castle at Cardiff, at the time of his expedition to St Davids in 1081, and it was from here that what became the lordship of Glamorgan was administered. But Cardiff was not alone; immediately to the north and west of the castle there are a number of fortresses, which although undated, may have been established at about the same time. For how long these earth and timber castles remained in use is not known, but it seems likely that some of them were abandoned as the Normans moved further west into Glamorgan.

In the early stages of colonization the castles were first and foremost fortresses, secure bases from which the chief and lesser lords could defend, exploit and administer their newly acquired territories. Many were built along or close to existing lines of communication, including rivers, coastal routes, and former Roman roads, ensuring easy access and safe supply routes. Some, such as at Kenfig, later developed boroughs. Coity, Ogmore and Newcastle, however, never became large centres of settlement, remaining instead as manors and centres of administration once their role as frontier posts had diminished following the westwards expansion of Norman conquest and settlement.

Many of the first castles were mottes or mounds, and there are large numbers of this type of castle in south Wales. But the majority of Norman castles in lowland Glamorgan were ringworks - simple earth-and-timber embanked enclosures without the large mound or motte. The reason for this appears to be the geology of the region. Glaciation, with its deep drift deposits, stopped short of the southernmost areas of Glamorgan, especially in the Vale. The terrain here consists of a thin covering of soil over limestone, which was not sufficient to erect a large earthen motte. To the north, however, where glacial deposits are abundant, mottes outnumber ringworks.

 

Visit the Castles of Britain Web Site

Home | Main Menu | Castle Index | Historical Essays | Related Essays | What's New | Links

Copyright 2009 by Lise Hull and the Castles of Wales Website