Cardiff Castle is one of Wales' leading heritage attractions and a site of international significance. During 2000 years of history, the Castle has been a Roman Garrison, a Norman stronghold and in Victorian times was transformed into a gothic fairytale fantasy.
Romans 55 - 400 AD
The history of Cardiff Castle stretches over 2000 years. Excavations inside the boundary walls raise the possibility that the Roman legions arrived in the area as early as the first half of the reign of the Emperor Nero (A.D. 54-68).
The Roman occupation of South Wales began following the defeat of the war-like Silures and the exiling of their great leader Caractacus to Rome. Their first fort, built on this strategically important site where the River Taff nears the Bristol Channel, was a campaign base constructed in still-hostile territory. Their defensive works surrounded a ten-acre site on which were built their timber barracks, stores and workshops.
Around A.D. 75, when the Romans controlled the whole of Wales, they rebuilt their Cardiff fort, somewhat smaller than before. The area now occupied by the southern half of the Castle lay outside new perimeter walls and on it rose the workshops of the craftsmen who gathered around any Roman base.
Yet another new fort was built on the site around the year 250 AD. This had 10 foot thick stone walls backed by an earth bank and served until the Roman Army withdrew from the area in the 5th century AD. Its position gave the fort a new strategic importance as a naval base for the protection of the Empire against the menace of sea-bourne attacks by savage raiders from the west and north.
Little is known of the castle during the centuries that followed the Roman departure. Perhaps for long periods, the raiders from the sea made it untenable. The native princes of Glamorgan based themselves about a mile to the north and the ruined fort waited - for a new army of occupation.
Normans 1091 - 1216
Robert Fitzhamon, the Norman Lord of Gloucester, drawn into the quarrels of the Welsh princes, defeated Iestyn ap Gwrgan, Prince of Glamorgan, in 1091. He saw the strategic value of the site of the old Roman fort and built his Norman castle here.
The Normans concentrated their defensive works into the western half of the site, which became the 'inner' ward. At the northern end of this part, Fitzhamon built a 'motte', or mound, 40 feet high and surrounded it by a moat. This Keep, or strong-point, was surmounted by a timber stockade giving shelter and protection to the wooden buildings which housed the lord, his household and his garrison.
Robert Fitzhamon died of wounds received in battle in 1107, and some years later his daughter and heiress, Mabel, married Robert, the natural son of King Henry I of England. King Henry raised Robert to the Earldom of Gloucester, and made him Lord of Glamorgan, in 1122. The Earl or 'Consul' of Gloucester dominated the political scene in England after the death of his father and during the long and bitter struggle for the throne between Matilda and Stephen. It was 'Robert the Consul', lauded on all sides as a brave soldier, wise statesman and patron of the arts, who is credited with having built the first stone keep of Cardiff Castle. At King Henry's request, in this keep he imprisoned another Robert - the second Duke of Normandy and his father's older brother - from 1126 until Robert of Normandy's death in 1134.
Robert 'The Consul' died in 1147, to be succeeded by his son William. William, as soldier and statesman, was by no means of the calibre of his renowned father. When he died without male heir in 1183, the lordship passed to Prince (later King) John through John's marriage to Isabel, William's daughter. John divorced Isabel but retained the lordship until her second marriage; to the Earl of Essex's death in 1216 the lordship passed to Gilbert de Clare, son of Isabel's sister, Amicia, and the descendant of a noble family which claimed kinship with William the Conqueror.
The Clares 1216 - 1306 AD
The first Gilbert de Clare is principally remembered as one of the barons of the Magna Carta; he died in 1230, leaving his son, Richard, as his heir. Richard, who was only 8 years old at he death of his father, was left in the unenviable position of having to carry on his father's feud with Morgan Gam, a grandson of Ifor Bach, the scourge of Count William. On coming of age in 1243 he tightened his father's hold on the Welsh lords in the uplands and on the fringes of Glamorgan.
An almost unbroken period of military success was enjoyed by the Welsh prince Llewelyn ap Gruffydd ('Llewelyn the Last') from 1256 until 1274. Most of the native Welsh princes were obliged to transfer their allegiances from the king to him, and he mounted raids of unbridled ferocity into South Wales. Only four years after he inherited his father's estate he started to build Caerphilly Castle in order to defend the northern approaches to his lands.
The ever-present threat of attack on the castle at Cardiff, the administrative centre for the whole of the Glamorgan lordship, caused him to reconstruct its defences with a great sense of urgency. He constructed a central embattled wall to link the improved keep (remodelled for the better accommodation of the household) with the south gate and the Black Tower. On the east side of the embattled wall (the outer ward) were now provided permanent lodgings for the knights of Glamorgan and their grooms and men-at-arms, during their periods of garrison duty.
Gilbert died in 1295 and left a son of the same name. When his mother Joan died, Gilbert the younger was still under age but inherited the lordship. What little we know of this new lord reflects well on his dealings with his neighbouring Welsh princes, but he fell in battle at Bannockburn in 1314 at the age of 23. The lordship passed to his sister Elizabeth, who had married Hugh Despenser in 1306. This Hugh Despenser was the first of the family which was to retain the lordship for nearly a hundred years.
The Despensers 1306 - 1411 AD
The new lords wrote a sordid chapter in the history of the castle.
On the death of the young Gilbert de Clare in 1314, Glamorgan and Cardiff passed for a while into royal custody, and during the period when Pain de Tuberville, Lord of Coity, served as 'custos' all Welshmen were removed from office. These included Llewelyn Bren, a great-grandson of Ifor Bach and a good friend of the last young lord.
Edward II's estranged wife Isabella (the 'She-wolf of France') returned from France in 1326 and directed her army against her husband's favourites. Edward and Hugh Despenser fled for refuge to Glamorgan but were captured some 10 miles to the west of the castle. Edward was eventually taken to Berkley Castle in Gloucestershire and they were foully murdered in 1327. Retribution against the Despensers came more swiftly; Hugh was hanged at Hereford in 1326, one of the charges against him was that of the murder of Llewelyn Bren. His father was hanged without even the benefit of trial at Bristol.
Two years after the execution of Hugh Despenser, his widow married again, but on her death in 1337 her son, Hugh Despenser II succeeded to the lordship. This Hugh's death saw his nephew Edward come into possession of Cardiff Castle in 1394.
The Welsh rebellion of Owain Glyndwr broke out in the year 1400, and 4 years later Owain broke through the west gate of Cardiff and set fire to the town. The ferocity of the attack was in some measure due to the hatred still felt by the Welsh against the Despensers for the murder of Llewelyn Bren in 1317. The only place spared was the monastery of the Grey Friars, who had given a Christian burial to Llewelyn's body.
Richard Despenser died in 1414 whilst still a ward of King Henry V (Harry of Monmouth). Richard's sister Isabel had married Richard Beauchamp, Lord Abergavenny, in 1411, whilst still being only eleven years old. On her brother's death her husband succeeded to the Lordship of Cardiff in her right.
The Beauchamps 1411 - 1445 AD
Richard Beauchamp survived only 8 years after succeeding to the lordship; he died in 1422, a year after being created Earl of Worcester. A year later his widow, Isabel, still only 23 years old, married his kinsman of the same name - Richard Beauchamp Earl of Warwick. Warwick had been a trusted counsellor of King Henry V, who had appointed him, on his deathbed in 1422, to be governor of his infant son, King Henry VI.
The final defeat of Owain Glyndwr, of whom no more had been heard since 1412, and the failure of the Welsh to mount a further offensive, saw the prospect of peace in Glamorgan, and Isabel's second husband now prepared to move from the safety of the Keep, embarking upon the construction of new lodgings against the West Curtain Wall.
In 1428 Richard Beauchamp took formal charge of the infant King Henry's education. He took him to France in 1430, and while at Rouen superintended the trial of Joan of Arc. When the king came of age in 1437 he chose his tutor to be governor of Normandy and it was there that Richard died in 1439. Isabel died the same year, and they left a daughter, Ann, and a son, Henry, who was shown extraordinary marks of favour by King Henry VI, who made him Premier Earl of the Realm and Duke of Warwick in 1444. When the young lord died in 1445, however, the male line of the Warwick Beauchamps became extinct, as did the earldom on the death of his infant daughter Ann (his only child) five years later.
The Nevilles 1445 - 1483 AD
Richard Beauchamp's vast inheritance now passed to his sister Ann. Ann had married Richard Neville, eldest son of the Earl of Salisbury, who had been betrothed to her at the age of seven. The new Lord of Cardiff was created Earl of Warwick in 1450, when he became of age, and entered politics two years later, declaring his support for Richard of York against Henry VI (who had greatly honoured his wife's family) in 1455.
'Warwick the King-maker', as he was later to be known, was ambitious to rule the country under a weak king, and he was, in part, successful. He played one king (Henry VI, the Lancastrian) against the other (Edward IV, the Yorkist) with some effect, but eventually he was killed in battle in 1471. His puppet, Henry VI, died, murdered, the same year.
Richard Neville had two daughters. The elder, Isabel, married George, Duke of Clarence (and younger brother of King Edward IV) in 1469, and he seems to have come into the Lordship of Cardiff by right of his wife when his father-in-law was killed. Isabel died in 1476, and the same year Edward IV imprisoned his brother Clarence on suspicion of having plotted to seize the crown. Sentenced to death, Clarence was killed secretly in the Tower of London in 1478, it being popularly supposed that he was done away with by being drowned in a butt of malmsey wine.
Richard Neville's younger daughter, Ann had been married in 1472 to Richard, Duke of Gloucester (afterwards King Richard III) who succeeded to the Lordship of Cardiff on the death of his brother Clarence. Richard of Gloucester usurped the throne in 1483 and soon afterwards the rightful heirs, the young children of his brother Edward IV, were murdered in the Tower of London.
The Tudors 1485 - 1550 AD
In 1485 Henry Tudor, the head of the house of Lancaster, landed at Milford Haven. He marched to Bosworth Field, and there defeated and killed Richard III. Richard's queen, Ann Neville, had died five months previously.
It was not expected that the vast Neville estates, by now merged in those of the Crown, should be allowed to revert to the Neville family, and Henry Tudor (now King Henry VII) gave the Lordship of Cardiff to Jasper Tudor in 1486. Jasper was Henry's cousin who protected the future king during the first eleven years of Henry's life, and had fled with him to seek sanctuary in Brittany during the rampaging hey-day of the Yorkists.
Ann Beauchamp, widow of Warwick the Kingmaker, had been deprived of any claim to the Beauchamp estates by an act of Edward IV after her husband's death in 1471, and had seen them through the hands of her sons-in-law Clarence and Richard III. She now made the last Beauchamp bid for the lordship of Cardiff. In this she was successful, but her triumph was short-lived, for we hear of her abrogation of all claims in favour of the king 1487, and a year later Jasper was once more granted possession by his nephew. With this, the name of Beauchamp disappeared from the castle's history.
On Jasper's death in 1495 the lordship reverted to the crown and the castle remained in royal hands through the reigns of Henry VII and Henry VIII. In 1550 Edward VI granted possession to William Herbert.
The Herberts 1550 - 1766 AD
William Herbert, the first of that name to be Lord of Cardiff, was a man of great national importance. His father, 'Black' Sir Richard Herbert, was the illegitimate son of William Herbert, Earl of Pembroke of the first creation, who had been executed after the battle of Hedgecote in 1469.
William Herbert of Cardiff Castle was described in his youth as a 'mad fighting fellow'. He entered the service of the influential Charles Somerset, a staunch supporter of Henry Tudor, who married William's cousin, Elizabeth Herbert. Through his patron's influence William gained preferment at the court of Henry VIII, and his position was enhanced when Henry married his sister-in-law Catherine Parr, the king's sixth wife and the only one to survive him.
Through the good offices of the king, William acquired much property in South Wales, and was given the rare privilege of keeping his own armed retainers. When Henry VIII died in 1547, William, one of the king's executors, became one of the young King Edward VI's governors, and held other very high offices under the crown. He was created Baron Herbert of Cardiff and Earl of Pembroke in 1551.
The outbreak of the Civil War in 1642 saw Cardiff Castle in the hands of an earl whose sympathies lay with the 'rebels', whilst the allegiance of most of the gentry of Glamorgan was for the king. The then king, Charles, sent the Marquis of Hertford to take the castle, and it remained under the occupation of a royalist garrison for the greater part of the war.
Two years after Philip Herbert, the fourth earl, died in 1650, to be succeeded by his son of the same name, work started on the repairs to the castle made necessary by the damage suffered during the Civil War.
Philip, on his death in 1669 was succeeded in the lordship by three sons in succession; William, the 6th earl, who died in 1674, Philip the 7th earl, a homicidal dipsomaniac who died in 1683 and during whose tenure Saint John Lloyd and Saint Philip Evans were imprisoned in the Black Tower and then hanged, drawn and quartered for high treason as Catholic recusants in 1679, and Thomas, the 8th earl, who died in 1733.
What was left of the Herbert estates in Glamorgan had passed to Thomas, 1st Viscount Windsor on his marriage to Charlotte Herbert, daughter and heiress of Philip, the 7th earl, in 1703.
The Glamorgan lands, and Cardiff Castle, were conveyed in 1766 through the 1st viscount's granddaughter, Charlotte Jane to her husband, John Stuart. He was the heir of George III's prime minister, the Earl of Bute, and he was created Baron Cardiff of Cardiff Castle in 1776.
The Butes 1766 - 1947 AD
The lordship was to be held by the Bute family, until 1947, when the Castle was given to the City of Cardiff. The Bute family brought power and prosperity to Cardiff, which they turned from a sleepy backwater into one of the greatest coal exporting ports in the world. They transformed the Castle into the gothic fantasy we see today, as well as exploiting the Castle's Roman past
In the 1770's, 'Capability' Brown and his son-in-law, Henry Holland embarked upon an ambitious plan to landscape the grounds and modernise the lodgings. Brown cleared away the Lodgings of the Norman Knights and the Shire Hall, from the green. Brown stripped the Keep of its ivy and cut down all the trees growing on the ancient mound. He also filled in the moat.
Holland remodelled 16th century Herbert additions and rebuilt to the north and south of the hall, the greater and lesser wings. The Great Hall was partitioned off into a new Entrance Hall, a Library and a Dining Room. Above the Hall, the bedrooms were modernised and given such names as the Red Room, the Velvet Room etc...
In 1814, John Stuart 1st Marquess of Bute died. The Lordship passed to his grandson, John Stuart 2nd Marquess of Bute, 'The Founder of Modern Cardiff,' and during the 1820's the Castle underwent further restoration
In March 1848, the Marquess was found dead. His son and heir, John Patrick Crichton-Stuart, 3rd Marquess of Bute - destined to become one of the greatest private patrons of architecture this country has seen - was only six months old.
In 1865 Lord Bute invited architect William Burges to present a report on the state of the Castle; it was the beginning of a momentous partnership that was to last for sixteen years, and Cardiff Castle was to be transformed into a Neo Gothic dream palace.
Burges brought together a group of young men who were to work with him throughout the restoration of Cardiff Castle. Lord Bute called in distinguished local historians and he assisted with tracing the history of the Castle. He ordered the setting up of the Bute Workshops and employed the finest Welsh craftsmen.
Work started after Bute's workmen pulled down the houses built against the South Curtain Wall. Burges restored the stonework, and he added a covered parapet walk with embrasures and arrow slits. The Clock Tower was built on the site of a Roman bastion and completed in 1875.
In 1872 Lord Bute married the Hon.Gwendolen Fitzalan Howard, one of the beauties of the time. Burges decorated her rooms with silk hangings, which Lord Bute chose for his bride.
Work continued with the building of the Bute Tower, Herbert Tower, Guest Tower and Tank Tower. The 15th century Octagon Tower was restored with the addition of a timber fleche or spire above the battlements. Burges built the new Library and the Banqueting Hall on the site of the old medieval hall.
When Burges died in 1881, his work was continued by his former assistant William Frame. Frame built the Animal Wall and was responsible for restoring the North Gate, which it is said he based upon a variety of ancient sources, including Trajan's Column in Rome.
The 3rd Marquess died in 1900. His son, the 4th Marquess, continued to restore the Castle Walls and in the period 1922-5 oversaw the reconstruction of the Roman Wall to Duke Street, as well as the building of the Barbican Tower. A new entrance hall to the castle was added in 1927.
Cardiff Castle largely escaped enemy action during the 2nd World War, although two adjacent lodges were destroyed.
In 1947 the Castle was given to the people of Cardiff by the 5th Marquess of Bute.
The text was taken from: Cardiff Castle's official site, but the photo was taken by Karen (AKA my Mam) during our trip to Cardiff on Tuesday June 2nd 2009. We didn't actually go in to the castle, but we passed it, so Mam snapped a photo for me to post.