Caerphilly is a town, a borough and a castle in South Wales, about an hour an a half from Bristol. The trip, which can be done via bus or train (the latter is faster) will take the traveller from Bristol to the Welsh towns of Newport or Cardiff ending in Caerphilly. Upon exiting the rail station, this former Romano-British settlement extends with the older part wrapped around the castle, the main attraction.
Caerphilly Castle came first. It was one of those fortresses built during the times of Anglo-Norman expansion in Welsh territory in the 13th century. This castle, the second largest in Britain, was constructed by English nobleman Gilbert de Clare in a very strategic territory as a way to strengthen his position in Wales. These were times of an intense power struggle between the local population and the English; Gruffydd ap Rhys (the last lord of Sengenhydd) had lost to Gilbert de Clare in 1266, but next year King Henry III was forced to acknowledge Llywelyn ap Gruffudd as Prince of Wales. Subsequently, Llywelyn ap Gruffudd attacked Caerphilly Castle before it was even finished but De Clare managed to seize back the fortress and continue its construction. In the coming years, Llywelyn was murdered by King Edward I (Henry’s son) and Welsh power diminished. De Clare’s troubles did not go away, however, as Royal intrusions increased and had to manage a local insurrection related to taxes. By the time De Clare died in 1295, a town (with the same name) had begun to appear and the future of the castle, endowed with riches, seemed secure. But it really wasn’t, due to more infighting between the local population and the English overlords.
A century later, Caerphilly Castle had a role during the short and disastrous reign of Welsh-born Edward II. A story full of passion (the homosexual kind, it seems), much-hated favourites, power, a scorned French wife who launches an attack against England and a lot of murder. Fed up with her husband, Edward’s wife, Isabella, overthrew the English government. She forced her husband and his favourite, Hugh Le Despenser, to flee. Caerphilly Castle was the place where they stayed and later left, only to be captured near Llantrissant, in South Wales. Le Despenser was hanged, castrated and quartered in Hereford and the King was deposed. His days ended in Berkeley Castle, where he was murdered. His body rests in Gloucester Cathedral. For a very, very detailed account of Edward II, this blog is a must-read.
Eventually, with time the castle decayed. In a bizarre episode, some of its stones were used in the construction of a local mansion. It was coal money in Victorian times (the very wealthy Bute family) that brought the castle back to life. These days, the Welsh heritage organisation CADW manages Caerphilly Castle.
Caerphilly Castle is truly a masterpiece in military design with artificial lakes, dams, high curtain walls and towers as outer defense mechanisms, which make reaching the inner buildings impossible.
The South East Tower, below.
One of the greatest surviving medieval castles in the world, it was built in three years, despite all the conflicts in the area. That’s what money does, and De Clare was very rich.
Below, walking around the inner areas of the Castle. Super thick walls.
An interior view of the castle. It also features (not photographed) a great hall, and state apartments, very richly decorated, see below.
One of the inner gatehouses, below. There are two of them, actually, and they are “independent” buildings, meaning, if the outer walls are attacked and seized, the gatehouses do not have to be.
Below, the view from Caerphilly Castle.