This is the biggest castle in Wales, building began in 1268 and continued at breakneck speed until it was more or less finished in 1271. Its purpose was to enable King Edward 1 to protect Glamorgan (the earlier Welsh kingdom of Morgannwg) against the threat posed by the Welsh Prince Llywelyn ap Gruffudd.
The man responsible for its construction was Gilbert de Clare, Earl of Gloucester and Hertford, and Marcher Lord of Glamorgan. It was constructed on the site of an earlier Roman earth and timber fort and the whole castle is surrounded by two lakes, a truly magnificent defensive ring.
In the 1330s the eldest daughter of “Red Gilbert” married Hugh Despenser the younger. He was a terrible overlord, vicious and greedy. How was he so successful? He had enormous influence in the realm as King Edward II’s lover. Despenser was hated in South Wales for his wanton cruelty and also detested throughout England because of his influence with the King. When he took Prince Llywelyn prisoner he had him hung, drawn, and quartered.
I quote the guidebook “one of the finest and most ambitious architectural creations ever raised during the Middle Ages”. And their perfectly correct. It took me all day to walk around the castle taking photos and it still left me with the impression that I hadn’t seen it all.
I walked over the first bridge and through the first barbican and I was assailed by the second. There are two walls surrounding the main castle, the outer has no towers but the inner has two either side of the much larger barbican. Passing through this gatehouse I saw the giant keep at the other end of the courtyard, now grassed over, and my eyes were drawn to the well in the middle. Here are examples of the first scenes to greet you.
On the left of the courtyard is the Great Hall which, after the death of Llywelyn in 1283, was used primarily for entertainment. The curator has installed here sound effects of a Medieval feast, quite remarkable in setting the tone of the place. I was fascinated and spent a long time here just sitting at the head table listening and looking.
Following my tour of the towers and the keep I proceeded to examine the examples of Medieval siege engines. They aren't as large as I have always imagined but still give a feeling for the infernal devices.
On my return from the weapons I was advised to take a look at the original communal toilets. It was a relatively small room with a low ceiling. It served as the only convenience for the garrison and must have been appalling. But I had to smile – the curator had added very realistic sound effects. Shocking!