Powis Castle

A Medieval Mansion – Powis Castle

Powis Castle in Wales is a grand and exquisite castle that sits grandly above a beautiful garden. It is often referred to as many things with some calling it a medieval fortress and some referring to it as a grand mansion in the countryside. Either way and no matter what you choose to call it, one thing remains the same and that is how eloquent this castle really is.

When the medieval wars ceased, most of the castles in Wales were allowed to decay, but Powis Castle seemed to survive it all too well. It is a captivating and absolutely stunning example of just how perfectly castles were built back in those times and even today, it remains incredibly strong, sturdy, and just as grand as it would have been back then. The architecture within the castle is simply amazing and is a lovely way to see how architecture has changed over time considering it has pieces of every century within it.

The exterior of Powis Castle in Wales on a sunny day
The exterior of Powis Castle in Wales. Source: Wikimedia Commons

The history of Powis Castle

Powis Castle holds a very specific and important part within history and the mellow red gritstone walls tell that story perfectly as do the unique furnishing within the beautiful castle walls. The formal Powis Castle Garden is one of the most widely recognized parts of this stunning castle and people from all over the world flock to gain only a glimpse of it. The castle rises perfectly above the garden and leaves an enchanting feel in the mind, body, and soul of everyone who is lucky enough to visit it.

The early history of Powis Castle

When the First War of Welsh Independence went through in 1276 until 1277, Edward I and Gruffydd ap Gwenwynwyn had teamed up after Llywelyn ap Gruffudd attacked and burned down a previous fortification of his and forced him to flee to England to escape his clutches. When Gruffydd ap Gwenwynwyn had heard of Llywelyn’s feud with Edward I, he soon allied himself with the ruthless English King. Edward I and his forces very quickly overpowered the Welsh regime and took hold over all of the land east of the River Conwy.

Llywelyn ap Gruffudd
Llywelyn ap Gruffudd.
Source: Wikimedia Commons

In honour of the support Edward I had received from Gruffydd ap Gwenwynwyn, when the Welsh Wars had concluded, Edward I permitted Gruffydd ap Gwenwynwyn to begin building this lavish castle and he was absolutely overjoyed by the given permission. It is said that the castle was built as a means of separating himself from the other powerful Princes of Gwynedd and asserting himself. Powis Castle dates back to the 13th century and was built by a wealthy Welsh prince known as Gruffydd ap Gwenwynwyn.

He held onto this castle despite many mishaps and despite the presence of his very powerful neighbours. Four years after Edward I’s conquest of Wales in 1286, Owain ap Gruffydd ap Gwenwynwyn who was the last hereditary prince of Powis, renounced his royal claim title and was granted the title of Baron de la Pole. The ancient Kingdom of Powys had basically included many different counties.

However, by the 13th century had been essentially reduced down to two independent principalities – Powys Wenwynwyn and Powys Fadog. When Owain passed away, the barony passed to his daughter Hawise who married Sir John Charleton. Together, the Charlestons continued to live at Powis Castle right up until the 15th century when two daughters, Joan Tiptoft and Joan Grey inherited the castle. Then, in the 1530s, the Grey family took the entire castle under their control.

It was in 1578, that an illegitimate son of the last Baron Grey of Powis, leased out the lordship and castle to a distant relative known as Sir Edward Herbert who was the second son of Sir William Herbert, 1st Earl of Pembroke. Eventually, Edward decided to buy the castle outright which essentially started a connection between the Herberts and Powis Castle which would continue to the present day. On the 22nd October 1644, Powis Castle was captured by Parliamentary troops and was not returned to the family until the restoration of Charles II.

The Clive Family 

In 1784, Lady Henrietta Herbert, daughter of Lord Powis, decided to marry Edward Clive who was the eldest son of Clive of India. The castle passed on to Robert Clive’s son, Edward when he married Henrietta who was an original descendant of the original owners. They then took the surname of Herbert for their descendants. Until it was bequeathed to the National Trust in 1952, the Herbert’s owned the castle for the entire time.

According to William Dalrymple, the wealth that Clive amassed was mainly loot that was illicitly collected after the Battle of Plassey. When Clive returned to the UK with £234,000, which in these days would equate to roughly £23 million today, he was said to be the richest self-made man in Europe. The ever so beautiful Powis Castle and the surrounding Estates were inherited by Henrietta as well as Edward’s eldest son when he eventually turned 21.

The fortune held by the Clive family was more than enough to pay for the long-overdue repairs to the castle which were later carried out by Sir Robert Smirke. Money also went into improving the garden and the park. When the many repairs were finished, part of Clive’s magnificent collection from India which included fine paintings, a large amount of money, and some spectacular English and French furniture was brought to the castle.

Some of the amazing parts of the collection include Tipu Sultan’s magnificent state tent, made of painted chintz; a gold and bejewelled tiger’s head finial from Tipu’s throne; and two cannons that are today positioned on either side of the castles grand entrance. There was also a large amount of Italian décor brought to the castle which still remains to this day.

The Powis Castle Garden

The garden at Powis Castle is certainly one of the most stunning gardens ever to be situated near a castle. It is said to be one of the only castles in Britain to still have a remaining Baroque garden that is this admirable. The stunning terraces are said to be cut from the rock in the early 1670s under the orders of Frenchman Adrian Duvall of Rouen. It is also said that William Winde may also have been involved before his untimely death in 1722.

The Powis Castle Garden is sometimes known as a paradise within Wales and it really isn’t hard to see why. It is absolutely stunning and enough to make you feel like you’re in a fairy tale movie only a few steps in. The garden dates back around 300 years ago and has seen many things throughout its life, yet through it all, it has bloomed, again and again. There is no other place in the world as beautiful as the Powis Castle Garden and even when you reach the smaller areas of the garden, it still makes a big statement. 

With a full crew of many experienced gardeners to look after the garden, you may be able to sneak a peek at them when they take to the air in autumn. They rise up above the garden on their machinery continuously for around ten weeks to make sure all of the pruning and trimming of the four-hundred-year-old hedges is done so that they stay in tiptop condition throughout the year. The fullness and colour of these amazing gardens are second to none and will continue to be a statement piece of Powis Castle for years to come. You can buy tickets to enter these mystical gardens right here!

The garden at Powis Castle
The garden at Powis Castle. Source: Geograph

Powis Castle interior

The Powis Castle interior boasts wealth and quality, it is truly a sight to behold. Though you aren’t allowed to take pictures inside the castle, you will be more than happy to simply look at the amazing pieces that dwell inside. It plays home to some seriously amazing pieces and they include the treasures that were brought home by Robert Clive and his son, Edward Clive of India. The Clive’s obtained them during their service with the British East India Company.

They have all been collected over a large number of years and are very much loved by the people who owned them, so much so that they are more than happy for them to remain on display for others to stare at for many years to come. It is fairly easy to walk around Powis Castle in Wales and imagine just what it would have been like when it was inhabited a long time ago. Even sitting inside the glorious castle is a large snooker table that is accompanied by large glass cabinets which are all absolutely packed with hundreds of odd stuffed birds.

With many unique and certainly questionable furnishings, you can easily see how many different people would have decorated the castle within its time. It is full of Greek, Italian, English, French, Indian, and even Spanish décor that oddly work together, even if it is a bit of an eyesore at times. They all help you gain a very specific and awe-inspiring insight into the beautiful and grand Powis Castle in Wales. Here are some of the most memorable and intriguing treasures within the castle:

  • Tiger, tiger– The Tiger, tiger is a historical and highly memorable gem that came from the throne of Tipu Sultan and is decorated with diamonds, emeralds and rubies. It is known for projecting its power, status, and beauty.
  • Book of hours– This absolutely amazing Book of hours is a 15th-century illuminated book that previously belonged to Lady Eleanor Percy. It was used for private prayer and devotion and is one of the finest examples of an illuminated manuscript in the care of the National Trust.
  • The state coach– The coach was used in 1914, to take Violet Powis and her husband George to a State Ball at Buckingham Palace. Violet had very well described how cautious checks were put in place at the event to prevent suffragettes from getting in, but the stunning yellow Powis coach was immediately recognised and granted admittance without being searched.

Powis Castle Facts

Here are some great facts about Powis Castle in Wales.

  • Powis Castle was built way back in the 13th century as a place of Royal residence.
  • The castle is amazing; however, it is mainly known for its parks, garden, and terraces.
  • The original owner of Powis Castle was Owain, the Prince of Powys.
  • Major improvements were made to Powis Castle at the very start of the 20th century.
  • Every single room at Powis Castle is filled with valuable and unique items. These include a medieval prayer book, a Roman statue of a cat, and the colourful cotton tent of an Indian sultan.

You may enjoy reading about other Welsh Castles such as Conwy Castle.

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