Pembroke Castle

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Pembroke Castle


PembrokeCastle 2007.jpg
Pembroke Castle
Type: Linear castle
Grid reference: SM981015
Location: 51°40’40"N, 4°55’14"W
Town: Pembroke
Built 1093
Battles: Siege of Pembroke
Condition: Partially restored
Owned by: Philipps Family

Pembroke Castle is a spectacular mediæval castle towering over Pembroke, the county town of Pembrokeshire, on a high crag over the River Cleddau.

The castle was the original seat of the Earldom of Pembroke, which held palatine powers in the county in the Middle Ages. In 1093 Roger de Montgomerie, 1st Earl of Shrewsbury built the first castle at the site when he fortified the promontory during the Norman advance into Wales. A century later this castle was given to William Marshal by Richard I. Marshall, who would become one of the most powerful men in 12th-Century Britain, rebuilt Pembroke in stone creating most of the structure that remains today.

Pembroke underwent major restoration work in the early 20th century.


The castle is sited on a strategic rocky promontory by Cleddau Estuary. The first fortification on the site was a Norman motte-and-bailey. It had earthen ramparts and a timber palisade.[1]

In 1189, Pembroke Castle was acquired by William Marshal, Earl Marshal of England. The Earl Marshal then set about turning the earthen, wooden fort into an impressive Norman stone castle. The inner ward, which was constructed first, contains the huge round keep with its domed roof. Its original first-floor entrance was through an external stairwell. Inside, a spiral stairwell connected its four stories. The keep's domed roof also has several putlog holes that supported a wooden fighting-platform. If the castle was attacked, the hoarding allowed defenders to go out beyond the keep's massive walls above the heads of the attackers.

The inner ward and Great Keep

The inner ward's curtain wall had a large horseshoe-shaped gateway. But only a thin wall was required along the promontory. This section of wall has a small observation turret and a square stone platform. Domestic buildings including William Marshal's Great Hall and private apartments were within the inner ward.[1]

In the late 13th century, additional buildings were added to the inner ward including a new Great Hall. A 55-step spiral stairwell was also created that led down to a large limestone cave, known as Wogan Cavern, beneath the castle. The cave, which was created by natural water erosion, was fortified with a wall, barred gateway and arrowslits. It may have served as a boathouse or a sallyport to the river where cargo or people could have been transferred.

The outer ward was defended by a large twin-towered gatehouse, barbican and several round towers. The outer wall is 17 feet thick in places and constructed from Siltstone ashlar.

Although Pembroke Castle is a Norman-style enclosure castle with great keep, it can be more accurately described as a linear fortification[2] because, like the later 13th-century castles at Caernarfon and Conwy, it was built on a rock promontory surrounded by water. This meant that attacking forces could only assault a narrow front. Architecturally, Pembroke's thickest walls and towers are all concentrated on its landward side facing the town, the river creating a natural defence around the rest of its perimeter.


Birthplace of King Henry VII

Pembroke Castle stands on a site that has been occupied since, at least, the Roman period]].

Norman Lord, Roger of Montgomery founded the first castle here in the 11th century. Gerald de Windsor, ancestor of the FitzGeralds of Ireland, was constable of Pembroke Castle from 1102. Although only made from earth and wood, Pembroke Castle resisted several Welsh attacks and sieges over the next 30 years, the castle establishing itself at the heart of the Norman-controlled lands of southwest Wales.[1]

In the 12th century Robert of Bellême, 3rd Earl of Shrewsbury, Roger de Montgomerie's eldest son was forced to forfeit all his British lands and titles after he rebelled against Henry I. By 1138 King Stephen had given Pembroke Castle to Gilbert de Clare who used it as an important base in the Norman invasion of Ireland.

In August 1189, Richard I arranged the marriage of Isabel, de Clare's granddaughter, to William Marshal who received both the castle and the title, Earl of Pembroke. He had the castle rebuilt in stone; establishing the great keep at the same time. Marshall was succeeded by each of his five sons. His third son, Gilbert Marshal, was responsible for enlarging and further strengthening the castle between 1234 and 1241.

However, all of Marshal's sons died childless. In 1247, the castle was inherited by William de Valence, a half-brother of Henry III who became Earl of Pembroke through his marriage to Joan, William Marshal's granddaughter. The Valence family held Pembroke for 70 years. During this time, the town was fortified with defensive walls, three main gates and a postern.[1]

Pembroke Castle, by Hendrik Frans de Cort, c. 1800

During the conquest of North Wales by Edward I between 1277 and 1295, Pembroke Castle became de Valence's military base for fighting the princes adherent to Prince Llewelyn. On the death of Aymer de Valence, 2nd Earl of Pembroke, William de Valence's son, the castle passed through marriage to the Hastings family. In 1389, 17-year-old John Hastings, 3rd Earl of Pembroke died in a jousting accident ending a line of inheritance stretching back 250 years,[1] and the castle reverted to the Crown

King Richard II granted short tenancies of the castle. After Richard's fall, Owain Glyndŵr began a rebellion against the usurper, Henry IV, but Pembroke escaped attack because the castle's Constable, Francis а Court, paid Glyndŵr off in gold.

Eventually the castle and the earldom were presented to Jasper Tudor by his half-brother King Henry VI in 1452. Tudor brought his widowed sister-in-law, Margaret Beaufort, to Pembroke where she gave birth to her only child, the future King Henry VII, born in the castle in 1457.

The accession of the Tudor dynasty brought peace for the first time in centuries, and so it remained until the Civil War. Most of South Wales sided with the King, but Pembroke Castle declared for Parliament. It was besieged by Royalist troops but was saved after Parliamentary reinforcements arrived by sea from nearby Milford Haven. From Pembroke, Parliamentary forces went on to capture the Royalist castles of Tenby, Haverfordwest and Carew. But in 1648, when the war was at its close, Pembroke's leaders changed sides and led a Royalist uprising. Oliver Cromwell came to Pembroke and took the castle after a seven-week siege. Its three leaders were found guilty of treason and Cromwell ordered the castle to be destroyed. Townspeople were even encouraged to disassemble the fortress and re-use its stone for their own purposes.[1]

The castle was abandoned after the war and allowed to decay. It remained in ruins until 1880 when a three-year restoration project was undertaken. Nothing further was done until World War I veteran Major-General Sir Ivor Philipps bought the castle in 1928 and started an extensive restoration of the castle's walls, gatehouses and towers. After his death a trust was set up for the castle, jointly managed by the Philipps family and Pembroke Town council.

Present day

Pembroke castle has been a Grade I listed building since 1951.[3]

The castle is open to the public. It remains the largest privately owned castle in Wales. Tableaux and displays depict the many highlights in its history.

Film appearances

  • Jabberwocky (1976), used for the jousting scenes
  • The Lion in Winter (1968) opening scenes
  • Prince Caspian (BBC television adaptation, 1989) serving as the castle of King Miraz
  • Richard II (BBC filmed play, 2011)

Outside links

("Wikimedia Commons" has material
about Pembroke Castle)


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 1.5 Cathcart King, D.J. (1975). Pembroke Castle. Archaeologia Cambrensis. 
  2. Philip Warner (1971), The mediæval castle, 
  3. Pembroke Castle - British Listed Buildings