Roman and Mediaeval History, Illlustrated Travel Journals, Mediaeval Literature, Geology


30.6.08
  History of a Castle

It began with the Romans who built a fort on the site of what is now Cardiff Castle, most probably during the campaign 55 AD against Caratacus (Caradog), a Catuvellauni chief who fled to the Silures in South Wales and sicced them against the Romans. They lost the war and Caratacus escaped to the Brigantes whose queen Cartimandua promptly delivered him to the Romans. He managed to talk his head ouf of getting chopped off (no wonder, he filched the speech from Tacitus) and ended his life in the sunny south, wearing a toga. The sources don't tell us if he missed the rain and his oatmeal porridge.

Remains of the Roman wall
visible at the bottom, framed by the red stones

The place near the Bristol channel was a strategically important position between the legionary fort at Caerleon and the fortress at Carmarthen. Cardiff - its Roman name is unknown - fortress encompassed ten acres and was, like all Roman forts, a timber and earth structure at first. During the war against Caratacus it probably held a legionary vexillatio, not an auxiliary cohort.

The fortress was rebuilt in 75 AD and again around 250 AD. This version had 10 feet thick stone walls backed by an earth fortification, and was in use until the Romans left Britain. The fortress seems to have served as naval base during that time.

After Constantine III dragged the army over to Gaul to tell the Emperor Honorius who was boss (didn't work, btw), the fortress fell into decline until 1091 when the Norman Robert Fitzhamon Lord of Gloucester, after having defetated the Welsh prince Iestyn ap Gwrgan of Glamorgan and claiming his lands, saw the remains and thought, hey, that looks like a good place for a castle, and there's even some of the walls left. So he planted one of those Norman motte and bailey thingies right in the middle of it.

The Norman Keep

Reminds of Clifford Tower, doesn't it?

The first version of the keep was of timber with a palisade, but the 40 feet high motte was surrounded by a moat filled with water. After Robert Fitzhamon died of wounds recieved in battle (remember Rob, the Welsh are never defeated), Cardiff Castle went to his son-in-law, another Robert 'the Consul', natural son of King Henry I, and one of the dominating characters during the struggle between Maud and Stephen.

He erected a stone keep, perhaps using some of the stones of the Roman buildings still lying around in what was to become the outer bailey. The spiffy new stone keep was then used to imprison another Robert (those Normans really needed a nameyourbébé.com site), Robert Duke of Normandy, from 1126 until his death in 1134.

After Robert's death (the other Robert, 'the Consul'), the castle changed hands several times. Among others, Cardiff Castle passed to Prince John Lackland for some years, thus proving he had at least ten acres of land at some point, and in 1216 the castle and the lordship of Glamorgan fell to Gilbert de Clare, one of the barons of the Magna Charta.

The de Clares needed all the castles they could get in South Wales, because the Welsh still thought the Normans sucked. Unfortunately, every Welsh prince thought his neighbours and his brothers sucked even worse, and so they failed to unite and kick the Normans out. Until Llywelyn ap Gruffydd first eliminated his brothers, solidified his rule over Gwynedd and then marched south to collect the allegiance of the Welsh nobles. In 1267, King Henry III had to acknowledge Llywelyn as Prince of Wales. But Llywelyn made the mistake to really piss off King Edward I and that didn't end well. In 1277, Edward showed him what a big bad Anglonorman army looked like by displaying his troops in full splendour at Chester, probably not knowing that big bad Roman armies had mustered there about thousand years earlier. Llywelyn had to sue for peace and lost his title and most of his possessions. He died in a skirmish later that year.

Norman Keep, inside

The lands of Glamorgan and Cardiff as administrative seat lay in a sensitive spot during these quarrels, and so Gilbert de Clare's grandson, another Gilbert, remodeled the keep and further strengthened the castle by dividing the terrain of the ancient Roman fortress by a wall, thus creating an inner and outer bailey, and reinforcing the Roman fortifications as outer curtain walls. He also built Caerphilly Castle.

Gilbert's son, Gilbert the younger (you guessed that, didn't you?) died at Bannockburn in 1314. The lordship passed to his sister Eleanor who had married Hugh Despenser; that family would retain the lordship of Glamorgan for a hundred years. I will get back to our (in)famous Despensers in another post - Lady D and Alianore would hang, draw and quarter me if I reduced their darling Despensers to a footnote. :) Suffice to say that the lordship passed to the Beauchamp earls of Warwick in 1414 and finally into the hands of the Tudor kings.

In 1550 William Herbert, brother of Catherine Parr, Henry VIII's last wife, obtained Cardiff Castle which fortunately wasn't destroyed during the Civil War and remained with the family until ...

The Neo Gothic part of the castle

... 1766 when Cardiff Castle and the Glamorgan lands came into the hands of John Stuart Earl of Bute by marriage to Charlotte Herbert. The Bute family fully embraced industrialization and could have given Bill Gates and that Trump guy a run for their money; they were among the richest families in the word, and Cardiff became a major export port.

They also took interest in the Roman past of Cardiff Castle (which was a good thing) and transformed the castle into a Neo Gothic dream palace (which at least makes for a grin these days). In 1865, Lord Bute began a partnership with the architect William Burges with the result that we now have a really fancy thing with lots of turrets, spires, oriels, fake merlons, and rooms with the most splendid, but un-Mediaeval furniture, tapestries and whatever. Fortunately, the Butes decided not to alter the Norman Keep, and the reconstructions of the Roman walls and the North Gate are a commendable effort to preserve and reconstruct the past. The German Emperor Wilhelm did the same with the Saalburg Roman fortress.

Reconstructed Roman North Gate
As with the Saalburg, the walls are not whitewashed

Reconstruction and reimagination work on all parts of the castle was going on basically from 1770 to 1927. Thus the castle is a mix of Norman, reinvented Norman (oh yes, we have a Bute Tower, a Herbert Tower, a Guest Tower ...) Mediaeval, reinvented Mediaeval (there's a Mediaeval Great Hall? fun, let's have our own Banqueting Hall besides), Tudor, reinvented Tudor (the roof of the Octagon Tower looks prettier with a fancy spire), and reconstructed Roman architecture.

Cardiff Castle escaped enemy action during WW2, but Labour governments don't like people getting too rich and invented heritage taxes. In 1947, the 5th Marquess of Bute gave Cardiff Castle to the people because the upkeep was too expensive.
 
Comments:
I think it's absolutely fascinating how these same sites are used over and over again throughout history. Due in part, I suppose, to their advantageous positions, and also to the connotations of the military might of old? You can see why they'd be attractive.
 
I've visited here a couple of times. My father as from Caerphilly which is now almost a bedroom community of Cardiff. Have you seen the castle there?
 
Excellent post, excellent pictures. All of these posts have been great but this one especially hit the blanace between story, illustrations and explanation nicely. More like this etc.
 
~yearning~
(As usual)
Excellent precis, Gabriele.
 
Kirsten, the position surely played a role, something the first Robert realised. I'm not sure if he recognised the palce as Roman, though, or just as 'some old fortress'. The use Edwartd I made of the Roman history in Wales when building Caernarfon on the model of Byzantium used an outside model, not Welsh remains.

Wynn, yes, I've been to Caerphilly as well. There will be many more posts about Wales. ;)

Thank you, Jonathan.

Bernita, you should save for a trip to Europe. :)
 
Simply stunning!
 
"every Welsh prince thought his neighbours and his brothers sucked even worse,"
Several thousand years of history condensed into 12 words :-)
 
Thank you, Daphne.

Lol, Carla. After what I've read about Welsh history, their nobles quarreled even worse than the Scottish chiefs. And 'eliminate your brothers' was always the first step of becoming a prince. ;)
 
Excellent history lesson. Unfortunately, halfway through I was attacked by a group of ninja plotbunnies, who not only gave me the whole history of my own castle, but told me exactly how I have to redesign it. Sigh. :)
 
Ouch Ann, ninja plotbunnies are no fun. ;)
 
Lady D and Alianore would hang, draw and quarter me if I reduced their darling Despensers to a footnote. :)

Damn right. ;)

Very interesting post, Gabriele. I learned a lot.
 
Nice photos. Enjoyable read. I really liked the line: "The de Clares needed all the castles they could get in South Wales, because the Welsh still thought the Normans sucked. Unfortunately, every Welsh prince thought his neighbours and his brothers sucked even worse, and so they failed to unite and kick the Normans out."

Also, do you not still post your stories over at the Lost Scrolls? I enjoyed reading those.

Steven
http://steventill.com
 
I've driven past Cardiff Castle but haven't seen inside. Thanks for the photos and history.
 
Lol, Alianore. Thank you.

Steven, I don't post regular Friday snippets any longer and I'm a careful not to post too much of my NiPs online, but there will still be the occasional snippet. The Lost Scrolls have now become Endangered Frontiers (same url, though), a blog dedicated to my Roman novels, and I got me another one, Kings and Rebels, for my Fantasy project.

You're welcome, Shelley. :)
 
Great post! Fascinating history made more interesting with your humor!

I do think the Welsh would have done better to remedy their family problems and unite - but they were always bickering and therefor lost Wales to the English. The English didn't bother bickering, they just eliminated the opposition, lol.
 
Thank you, Sam.
Well, sometimes the English had problems as well, like Edward II who had to deal with troublesome nobles a lot and promptly lost Scotland to Robert the Bruce. Too bad the Welsh didn't have a Llywelyn right then. ;)
 
LOL Gabriele - as if the Despensers would even FIT into a footnote!! By the way... ahem... i'm sure it was just a slip of the pen - probably while you were being ambushed by a barbarian horde of plotbunnies, but you seem to have our Hugh marrying Elizabeth instead of Eleanor ;-)

I must admit, I didn't like Cardiff castle that much due to the emphasis on the Victorian gothic stuff (which was pretty, but not that interesting to me). By the way, did you ever find out what all those holes in the wall of the Norman keep are? They go right through the wall (no, not the windows - the other holes!), The place resembles a colander!
 
I didn't cross check with the guidebook, but it is the wife of the first Hugh Despenser I was talking about, not of the famous Hugh. But if her name was Eleanor, I'm going to change that, of course.

The regular rows of holes supported the roof beams that divided the storeys, I think, and the irregular ones spread all over the walls were scaffolding supports. I have no idea why they didn't close those holes when they took the scaffolding down, but you can find them in a lot of Mediaeval buildings. Though they weren't supposed to go all the way through the wall.
 
Hullo! How on earth did I miss this post? Gorgeous pictures!
 
Lol, I should have used some chemical symbols in the title. That would have caught your attention. :)
 
Lady D, you're right about Eleaonr, and I'm tempted to send an email to the authors of the guidebook, if I can find out who's responsible. ;)
 
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Miscellaneous musings of an aspiring Historical Fiction and Fantasy author. Illustrated essays on Roman, Dark Age and Mediaeval history, Mediaeval literature, and Geology. Some poetry translations and writing stuff. And lots of photos of old castles, cathedrals, Roman remains, and beautiful landscapes from Germany, the UK, Scandinavia, and the Baltic States.

All texts (except comments by guests) and photos (if no other copyright is noted) on this blog are copyright of Gabriele Campbell.

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I'm a writer of Historical Fiction and Fantasy living in Germany. I got a MA in Literature, Scandinavian Studies, Linguistics and History, I'm interested in Archaeology and everything Roman and Mediaeval, an avid reader, opera enthusiast, traveller with a liking for foreign languages and odd rocks, and photographer.


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