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
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.