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Caerphilly Castle

Caerphilly Castle History

Caerphilly Castle in Glamorgan, South Wales, is arguably the most impressive non-royal castle in Wales, and stands comparison with even the mightiest of the castles built by Edward I after 1276.

It was built from 1268 by Red Gilbert de Clare, Earl of Gloucester, in an effort to assert his claim to the disputed territory of upland Glamorgan.

A quick tour of Caerphilly reveals how much had changed since the 12th century, when keeps or great towers were fashionable. When castles were laid out from scratch in the 13th century, master masons and their patrons preferred an 'enclosure' model, which allowed them greater freedom to experiment with new designs.

The hall, the chapel, the kitchens and stables were now arranged around a courtyard, and all this was surrounded, or 'enclosed', by a circuit of high walls. A very early example of this type of castle was built at Framlingham in Suffolk from 1190.

Enclosed and safe

The walls of an enclosure castle were punctuated with strong towers. These stood taller than the walls themselves in order to allow flanking fire in all directions against attackers. Throughout the 13th century, there was a distinct preference for round towers rather than square ones.

It seems clear that 13th-century masons and military experts thought that this made the towers stronger. For example, the 13th-century masons who repaired the shattered 12th-century keep ofRochester Castle clearly weren't in the least bit interested in making it look pretty again - they simply wanted it to be stronger, and so they replaced the collapsed square tower with a round one.

Another very important development in the 13th century was the gatehouse, which grew in size until it started to resemble a keep. From the start of the century, the gatehouse was formed by building two round towers either side of the entrance. A larger gatehouse meant there was room for accommodation above the entrance, which was often used by the constable of the castle.

Caerphilly Castle also exemplifies the idea of 'concentricity', or having several lines of defence around the castle. The centre of the castle is protected by two complete loops of walls, one inside the other. The most striking element of Caerphilly's defences, however, are the great artificial lakes which surround it. The deep water of the moat made undermining impossible, and the wide expanses of water either side of the castle denied would-be attackers a place to put their trebuchets (catapults).


As well as being a fascinating castle in its own right, Caerphilly was one of the main flashpoints for the war which led to the conquest of Wales. Its building from 1268 was seen as a provocation against Welsh leader Llywelyn ap Gruffudd, and a challenge to his newly acquired title as prince of Wales.

Llywelyn twice attacked the castle while it was being built, but failed to gain possession in 1272. Instead, he tried complaining to Edward I, and miscalculated badly by trying to force the king into action. Edward's devastating response was to invade and conquer Wales. With the threat from Llywelyn removed, Caerphilly Castle was used less as a fortress and more as a centre for control and administration of the de Clare estates in the Glamorgan uplands.

The Red Earl died in 1295 and the estates passed to his son, also called Gilbert. Gilbert was killed at the battle of Bannockburn in 1314, ending the de Clare male line.

In 1317, the de Clare inheritance was partitioned between Earl Gilbert's three younger sisters. Eleanor de Clare, the eldest, was married to Hugh Despenser the younger. A favourite of Edward II, he held the court position of chamberlain.

Able to pick which part of the de Clare estates he wanted he chose the lordship of Glamorgan and Cardiff, and therefore acquired the castle. Despenser started work on the great hall at Caerphilly Castle. In 1326 the deeply unpopular Edward II was forced to abdicate by his estranged wife and some rebel barons. The king spent some time taking refuge at Caerphilly with his favourite Despenser before both were eventually captured. Despenser was executed.

The Caerphilly Castle today

From this time on the castle's role as a fortress and as the domestic residence of a lord declined, with its various owners preferring the more comfortable surroundings of other properties.

Today the Caerphilly Castle  is under the care of CADW and is open to the public. Hugh Despenser's hall is available to hire for weddings.

Caerphilly Castle Map&Location

Address: Twyn Square, Caerphilly, Caerphilly,Wales CF83 1JL., United Kingdom. Get help with directions using the map provided bellow:

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Caerphilly Castle Photos

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The Caerphilly Castle © Robert Payne
Caerphilly Castle courtyard © Alex Lecea
Caerphilly Castle © Stuart Lowe
Caerphilly Castle and garden © Porsupah Ree
Caerphilly Castle entrance © Roland Turner
Caerphilly Castle © Bronn Dave
Caerphilly Castle detail © Mart
Caerphilly Castle © Danie van der Merwe
Caerphilly Castle entrance © Danie van der Merwe
Caerphilly Castle door © Danie van der Merwe
Caerphilly Castle © Alex Lecea