• Lucy

Pembroke Castle (Pembrokeshire, Wales)

Updated: Jan 16, 2019

Pembroke Castle was built on a rocky promontory overlooking the natural harbour of Milford Haven Waterway. This particular site had been used continuously since at least the Roman period, benefiting from strategic significance as it was located on rocky ground with easy access to water.

The first castle on the site was a motte and bailey constructed by Roger de Montgomerie, 1st Earl of Shrewsbury. It consisted of earthen ramparts with a wooden palisade. Although only made from earth and wood, Pembroke Castle resisted several Welsh attacks and sieges over the next 30 years.

The castle was acquired by William Marshall (Earl Marshall) in 1189. He replaced the existing motte and bailey with a stone fortress that consisted of a keep surrounded by an inner ward and encircled by a larger outer ward. After the male Marshall line died out in 1247 the castle was inherited by the Valence family through marriage to William Marshal's granddaughter. In the 70 years that the Valence family held the castle Pembroke town was fortified with defensive walls, three main gates, and a postern.

As a result of its location in Wales Pembroke Castle became de Valence's military base for fighting the Welsh princes, during the conquest of North Wales by Edward I between 1277 and 1295.

Pembroke Castle Reconstruction
Source: Neil Ludlow

In 1389 the castle reverted back to the Crown and was in the various short tenancies. In 1452 the castle and the earldom were presented to Jasper Tudor by his half-brother Henry VI. Tudor brought his widowed sister-in-law, Margaret Beaufort, to Pembroke where in 1457 she gave birth to her only child and the future King Henry VII of England.

After a peaceful couple of centuries at Pembroke the Civil War erupted and although most of South Wales sided with the King, Pembroke declared for Parliament. It was besieged by Royalist troops but was saved after Parliamentary reinforcements arrived by sea from nearby Milford Haven.

In 1648, at the beginning of the Second Civil War, Pembroke's then-commander Colonel John Poyer led a Royalist uprising alongside the commanders of Tenby Castle and Chepstow Castle. The castle was retaken by Oliver Cromwell in May 1648 after a seven-week siege and its three leaders were found guilty of treason. Cromwell subsequently ordered the castle to be destroyed. Townspeople were actively encouraged to disassemble the fortress and re-use its stone for their own purposes.

The castle was then abandoned and left to decay. There was a brief three year restoration attempt that began in 1880, but nothing substantial was done until 1928. The castle was acquired by Major-General Sir Ivor Philipps who began 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.

Today the castle is still managed by the council.

Pembroke Castle Site Plan
Source: https://www.medart.pitt.edu/image/england/Pembroke/Castle/mainPembroke.html

The keep is four stories connected by a spiral staircase that was originally entered from the first floor via an external stairwell. The keep's domed roof also has several putlog holes that supported a wooden fighting-platform.

The inner ward was a curtain wall with a horse-shoe shaped gateway. Within this inner ward there were domestic buildings, including William Marshal's Great Hall and private apartments. In the 13th century this grew to include a new Great Hall and a 55-step spiral staircase that led down to a natual cavern beneath the castle called Wogan Cave, which possibly functioned as a sallyport (gateway) to the river.

This was then further protected by the outer ward, which consists of a massive curtain wall defended by a large twin-towered gatehouse, barbican and several round towers.

Pictures taken October 2017.

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