Pembroke Castle

Pembroke Castle- A Mighty Fortress

Pembroke Castle is very much a sight to see with its alluring architecture and large oval shape, it is no doubt one of the finest castles ever built, not only in Wales but also in Britain. It is said that Pembroke Castle was essentially built to showcase the wealth, prestige, and honour of all of the medieval Earls of Pembroke and to honour the importance of Pembroke itself during the medieval period. It is very much a significant part of history and is even more so prominent because of the fact that it is known as the birthplace of Henry VII, the first Tudor King.

Pembroke Castle
Pembroke Castle. Source: Wikimedia Commons

Pembroke Castles History

Pembroke Castles History is certainly something to be talked about. For centuries, it has held a significant part in history and is particularly known for the long and fascinating history it holds. With its construction, sieges, and tumultuous past, it is no doubt that it is very intriguing and will capture the eye of anyone needing a good story to dwell on. Let’s take a look at the volatile history of Pembroke Castle.

The early history of Pembroke Castle

Under the town of Pembroke, there is a large prehistoric cave that was inhabited far before Norman knights set their sights on this quaint town in Wales. Though it is said that Romans initially occupied this site, the history of Pembroke Castle really started after the Norman Conquest when the Welsh ruler of the south-west, known as Rhys ap Tewdwr agreed to a truce with William the Conqueror.

It was then that William the Conqueror decided to leave Rhys de Tewdwr in peace and move on. Soon after, in 1093, Rhys de Tewdwr passed away and the Norman, Roger de Montgomery, Earl of Shrewsbury, decided to move in and invade. It was then that Roger de Montgomery began to build the wooden structure after he had begun to rule the town.

Pembroke Castle
Pembroke Castle. Source: Wikimedia Commons

The ruling of the Montgomery’s

Roger de Montgomery had made a great start on the castle, though in 1094 he died and his son, Arnulf de Montgomery, appointed Gerald de Windsor as his castellan at Pembroke. Between being appointed and having to defend the castle almost immediately, there wasn’t much of a break for Gerald de Windsor. Roger and Arnulf de Montgomery, who built Pembroke Castle, essentially set the whole history of it in stone, or timber rather, considering that that was the first material it was made of.

It is said that the land it stands on has been occupied since the Roman period and has had several occupants before Arnulf de Montgomery. Although Pembroke Castle was only an earth and wood structure at first, it certainly grew and flourished into a stunning castle. However, Pembroke Castle was never weak. Back when it was only a timber structure standing alone, it resisted several Welsh attacks.

When was Pembroke Castle built?

It all began back in 1093, soon after the Battle of Hastings when Roger de Montgomery, Earl of Shrewsbury, erected a timber structure that later became the beloved Pembroke Castle. Although the structure was only fairly basic at first being a simple timber structure, it managed to stand tall and strong against Welsh attacks. It has certainly earned its place as a favourite Pembrokeshire Castle.

It is well-known and should be appreciated that Pembroke Castle did originate as a timber structure, but in 1189, the first stone structure of Pembroke Castle was erected by William Marshal after he became Earl of Pembroke. From then on, the castle took off and became the wonderful and rugged structure it is today, but not without its fair share of controversy. Though the castle itself does propose such drastic beauty to the untrained eye, the history itself can be considered far from beautiful.

Head of William Marshal
Head of William Marshal. Source: Wikimedia Commons

Rebellion, sieges, and establishments

King Henry II
King Henry II. Source: Wikimedia Commons

In 1102, Arnulf de Montgomery rebelled against the crown which, in turn, made Henry I seize Pembroke Castle. Henry I then proceeded to establish an intentional settlement outside of Pembroke Castle and set up a mint there. Once the mint was set up, Henry I invited settlers from Flanders and England to inhabit the new borough he had proudly created.

It then became known as ‘little England beyond Wales’. Gilbert de Clare was afterwards named the first Earl of Pembroke after he was granted Pembroke by Henry’s successor, King Stephen. However, none of this lasted long after Gilbert de Clare’s son, Richard ‘Strongbow’ de Clare, suffered the wrath of Henry II and Pembroke was once again the victim of a siege.

Eventually, he relented, but in 1176, when Richard ‘Strongbow’ de Clare passed away without a male heir, Henry proceeded to make his daughter, Isabel, a royal ward.

A memorable transformation

Llywelyn The Great
Llywelyn The Great. Source: Wikimedia Commons

When Isabel reached the age of 17, Henry granted her hand in marriage to none other than his most loyal supporter, William Marshall, who was later named Earl of Pembroke. It is mainly thanks to William Marshall and not the terrible history and tumultuous fortune that Isabel de Clare bought with her, that Pembroke Castle embarked on a memorable transformation. This transformation was one of the reasons Pembroke Castle was officially named as one of the finest castles in all of Britain.

William Marshall’s sons were seen as singularly ineffective which resulted in a continuous cycle of them inheriting the castle and then dying without heirs. Though in 1220, Llewelyn The Great decided to invade the Pembroke Estates. It wasn’t until an outcry was heard by the townspeople that he promised that with a sizeable fee paid by them (100 pounds), he would leave Pembroke Castle and the town of Pembroke alone.

In 1245, the last of William Marshall’s sons had passed, but by then, the castle was already somewhat in its present shape.

After the golden age of Pembroke Castle

The golden age of Pembroke Castle was in the 13th century when it remained a stunning building. Though it was soon after essentially forgotten about and fell into decay. However, it once again saw action in 1405 when it was besieged by a French army in aide of Owain Glyndwr’s rebellion.

Later on, in 1457, Jasper Tudor, the half-brother of Henry VI was named Earl of Pembroke. After being named Earl of Pembroke, he brought Margaret Beaufort, who was the newly widowed wife of his brother Edmund Tudor, to Pembroke Castle. At the time of Edmunds death, Margaret, who was only 13 at the time, was pregnant and soon after a beautiful baby boy was born. The little boy grew up to be Henry VII.

During this period, the lordship of Pembroke essentially ceased and once again, the castle was forgotten about and lost its importance.

Execution and destruction

The castle finally saw action again in 1642, though this definitely wasn’t a good thing. John Poyer, the mayor of Pembroke, spent time rebuilding the castle’s defences. Then, the castle was under siege again, as well as the town. After holding out for a long two months, Poyer and his allies ended up surrendering to Oliver Cromwell.

John Poyer was then executed, and many parts of the beautiful Pembroke Castle were viciously destroyed. Very little was left of Pembroke Castle, though the romantic ruins attracted artists from all over. People began to flock from various places to write about, paint, and admire the picturesque, rugged, and beautiful ruins that once stood as Pembroke Castle.

The present day

Pembroke Castles restoration can mainly be attributed to the efforts of Major-General Sir Ivor Philipps. Just before the Second World War commenced, in 1928, Major-General Sir Ivor Philipps began a ten-year restoration process and archaeological investigation that made the castle what it is today. Pembroke Castle is one of the most visited historic sites in Wales and people now travel from all over the world to bask in its rugged ruins.

It is certainly one of the best-preserved and historically intriguing castles ever built and taking the time to explore it is certainly in your best interest. Sometimes, all you need to do is visit a beautiful castle to get a taste of medieval times.

Pembroke Castle
Pembroke Castle. Source: Wikimedia Commons

5 Pembroke Castle facts

It is time to talk about some Pembroke Castle facts!

  • The site of Pembroke Castle is said to have been occupied for around 12,000 years.
  • Beneath Pembroke Castle, there is a cave known as ‘The Wogan’ which was used as a reliable shelter in the Ice Age. The cave can still be accessed to this day though beware, there are many steps.
  • One of the most distinct parts of Pembroke Castle is the huge cylindrical keep. This was used as a defence from invaders and a place from which they could be attacked.
  • Over the centuries, Pembroke Castle changed hands several times.
  • In the present day, Pembroke Castle is the largest privately-owned castle in Wales.

You may enjoy reading about the other Welsh castles we have covered here.

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