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Llandovery Castle

In the town, Carmarthenshire, south Wales
SN 767 342

Map link for Llandovery Castle

Text Copyright © 1998 by Lise Hull
Photographs copyright © 2002 by Jeffrey L. Thomas

The tiniest of Welsh villages, like pretty Llandovery, inadvertently camouflage their medieval origins. Not normally a problem, except for those of us who hunt for castles, seeking them in every nook and cranny in the Welsh countryside. Many castles loom well overhead, rising above more recent structures, hubbing the centers of town. As we drive into a town or village, we usually have little trouble spotting such well-placed castles. Even without the aid of signs, we can reach them simply by aiming toward the graying brown ruins. In my travels, I have found that the best way to track a castle is to scan the horizon and then search for brown or gray splotches in a town's center. Studying the hilltops also is a fine strategy for detecting a castle.

Over time, the expansion of some Welsh villages has concealed their castles and other medieval relics, like abbeys or burial grounds. For example, the A40 east-west route across Wales, which cuts through the center of Llandovery, is lined with shops, private homes, and other buildings. Even when we are aware that a castle exists in this town, we may find it a challenge to spot its remains. Not only do other buildings block the view, we also do not have the luxury of stopping in the midst of traffic, to gaze down alleyways or ponder just which backroad leads to the site.

The key to finding Llandovery's castle is to locate the central car park. Follow the large blue "P" and you will find yourself conveniently situated to explore the castle. The round stone tower and its bright green mound startle visitors who scoot down the short lane into the parking lot. The sight is all the more remarkable when the region's classic cars are on display beneath the medieval castle, as they were on my last visit to Llandovery Castle!

From the base of Llandovery Castle, visitors readily sense just how imposing the stronghold was in its heyday. Though simple in comparison with other castles in Wales, Llandovery's placement atop a rocky hillock overlooking the winding River Bran (now partially diverted by the asphalt lot) still intimidates anyone who approaches its footings.

In 1116, the Norman Richard Fitz Pons began construction of the motte and bailey, then known as the "castle of Cantref Bychan." Shortly thereafter, the Welsh, led by Gruffydd ap Rhys, attacked and destroyed the outer bailey. However, the Normans retained control of the castle until 1158, when the Lord Rhys successfully seized it from owner Walter Clifford. Over the next several years, control of Llandovery Castle not only alternated between the Welsh and the English, but the heirs of the Lord Rhys (including Rhys Gryg and Maelgwyn) also fought each other for command of their father's possessions. In 1277, Llandovery Castle finally fell to Edward I, and the English monarchs continued to control the stronghold until its demise, with the brief exception of a few months in 1282 when Llywelyn the Last captured the castle.

Much of Llandovery Castle's surviving masonry dates to the refortification that occurred after Llywelyn's death. Then, Edward I encouraged John Giffard to strengthen Llandovery Castle in order to secure it from further Welsh attacks. Giffard added a stone curtain wall (of which little has survived) and the impressive D-shaped tower which, although greatly ruined, still dominates the site. The tower retains a garderobe (latrine) at first floor level. Traces of a twin-towered gatehouse are also visible, as are the grass- covered foundations of other structures , probably domestic buildings like a hall or the kitchen range, which dominated the bailey.

After 1282, little else of historic consequence occurred at the castle. Though neglected from then onward, Llandovery Castle was strong enough to be targeted by Owain Glyndwr during his rebellion in the early 1400's. But, after Cromwell's victory in the English Civil War, the aging stronghold was slighted and rendered completely useless.

Today, Llandovery Castle steadfastly guards the River Bran and its attractive village. It is freely accessible at all times, and makes an enjoyable stop on any drive across South Wales.

 

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.

 

     

 

Llandovery Castle, Miscellaneous Notes as complied by John Cotton

Motte and bailey beside the river. D-shaped tower with fragments of twin-towered gatehouse and curtain on motte. Part of the curtain rests uncomfortably on a stepped foundation near the north angle, perhaps of 12th.c. date.

First mentioned in 1116, when the Welsh took the castle but failed to capture the tower. Its destruction in 1158 (Brut y Tywysogion) was followed by strengthening and garrisoning at royal expense in 1160-2 (Pipe Rolls). R.C.A.M.Carm. pp.94-5 The castle was partly burned by Gruffydd ap Rhys in 1116,and doesn't appear to have been long held by the English after 1158 although 'its alterations were many’ DF Renn

Very much ruined, the eastern side is washed by the Bran. Founded by the marcher lord Richard fitz Pons in the early 12th century, lost by his son Walter de Clifford, but recovered by him early in the reign of Henry II, Llandovery Castle was being strengthened and garrisoned at royal expense between 1160 and 1162. (See J. Floyd, A History of Wales 1911.). In 1160 £541 was spent in ‘operatione castelli de Canterbohan’ (Llandovery). Despite these efforts the castle which had resisted Gruffydd ap Cynan in 1116 fell to Rhys ap Gruffydd in 1162,and was not recovered by the English until 1276. Its grant to John Giffard in 1282 terminates its history as a royal castle.

 

Below: view from the summit of the motte at Llandovery

 

It once belonged to Griffith ap Nicholas, Lord of Dinevor, at the end of the reign of Henry VI. He had many castles of his own, but Henry, aware of his importance, gave him the commission of the peace and the captaincy of Kilgarran Castle.

It has an obscure history but which appears to have been held by the Welsh more than by the English. The remains are on a hillock near the Castle Hotel, and approached through the Hotel yard. Built about 1100 it was almost immediately taken by the Welsh, who remained in possession until the time of Edward I.

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George Borrows says that the most striking object which Llandovery can show is its castle majestic though its ruins, stands on a green mound, the eastern side of which is washed by the Bran. Little with respect to its history is known. One thing, however, is certain, namely that it was one of the many strongholds, which at one time belonged to Griffith ap Nicholas, Lord of Dinevor, one of the most remarkable men which South Wales has ever produced.

 

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