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Gilbert fitz Richard


A section of the Bayeux Tapestry detailing the Norman invasion of England.

In terms of the Norman settlements in Wales, the major consequence of the conflict between Henry I and the rulers of Powys was the introduction to west Wales of one family, the Clares, which was to play a major role in the history of the southern marchlands. Gilbert fitz Richard was already lord of Clare in Tonbridge; he and his family had grown rich in England. Gilbert had frequently asked the king for land in Wales, indicating that there were rich pickings in Wales even for the most powerful Norman families. Exasperated with fighting with Cadwgan and his kin, Henry determined that one part of their territory should be made safe in the hands of an immigrant lord. In a famous phrase, Henry said to Gilbert "Now I will give you the lands of Cadwgan ap Bleddyn. Go and take possession of it." Gilbert was given an area with one major castle at Cardigan already in use, but with the hinterland little explored. He secured Cardigan and established himself at Aberystwyth (not the later Edwardian stronghold) and commissioned a number of castles, some of which bore or came to bear Welsh names, while others were identified by the name of their French Castellans (Walker 1990). They included:
  • Walter's Castle
  • Razo's Castle
  • Lampeter Castle, aka Stephen's Castle: King Stephen built a motte castle here in 1137, now on the grounds of the college.
  • Humphrey's Castle (later rebuilt as Castell Hywel)
  • Richard's Castle
  • Blaenporth, aka Ralph's Castle: A minor Norman motte-and-bailey taken and destroyed by the Welsh in 1215.
Gilbert's eldest son Richard de Clare was killed in an ambush as he travelled through Abergavenny and Brecknock on his way to Ceredigion in 1136. Richard's youngest son Roger, who succeeded his father as earl in 1152, also campaigned in Wales and either built or reconditioned a number of strategic castles, including:
  • Castell Hywel: Between Lampeter & Newcastle Emlyn. Destroyed by the Welsh in 1136 and rebuilt in 1153.
  • Aberdyfi (Aberdovey)
  • Dineirth: A motte-and-bailey castle near Aberystwyth destroyed in 1208. Some signs of masonry.
  • Llanrhystud
Most of the castles above have long since disappeared from the landscape, however, another branch of the de Clare family (the junior branch) was to leave an even more indelible mark on castle building in Wales. Indeed, many claim that Gilbert de Clare's masterpiece at Caerphilly represents a major turning point in castle design and construction in Britain.


More about Gilbert de Clare and Caerphilly Castle
More information about the de Clare family

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Copyright 2009 by Jeffrey L. Thomas