Kidwelly Castle

Has been described as a Certain Timber Castle (Ringwork), and also as a Certain Masonry Castle, and also as a Palace (Bishop)

There are major building remains

NameKidwelly Castle
Alternative NamesCydweli; castellum de Cadweli; castelli de Kadweli
Historic CountryCarmarthenshire
Modern AuthorityCarmarthenshire
1974 AuthorityDyfed
CommunityKidwelly

Kidwelly Castle is an imposing ruin, situated on a scarp above the upper tidal limit of the Gwendraeth Fach Estuary. It was built for Roger, Bishop of Salisbury (1102-1139) as the centre of a significant lordship comprising the commote of Cydweli. The castle was established between 1106 and 1115, at the same time as the Benedictine Priory, now St Mary's Church, located some 180m south (upstream, on the other opposite side of the estuary). The priory was also contemporary with Capel Cadog, some 360m to its north-north-east. By the 1130s the castle was held by Maurice de Londres, Lord of Ogmore, Glamorgan. The castle was held by the familiy until 1216, although there were intervening periods when the castle was in Welsh hands, following its capture. In the 1160s the castle was held by the Lord Rhys (Rhys ap Gruffudd), and it is thought that the earliest survivig piece of masonry in the outer curtain wall may date to this time. In the early thirteenth century the castle passed to the Chaworth family. In 1283 the king granted Kidwelly to William de Valence, Earl of Pembroke (died 1296), but on his death it reverted to the Chaworth heiress, Matilda (who married Henry Earl of Lancaster in 1345). The castle passed to John of Gaunt, Earl of Lancater in 1362.

The castle is a Grade I listed building, considered one of the finest castles in Wales. Roger's castle consisted of a D shaped ringwork (the line of which dictated the position of the later outer curtain wall), constructed of earth and timber. The south-west section held the small medieval walled borough (NPRN 33065). The castle gardens (NPRN 79038) occupied its north-east section, which, with the castle itself, is a Scheduled Ancient Monument. No trace remains of the original castle buildings. The castle's square inner ward was the first phase of building work carried out by the Chaworth family

It has a circular tower at each corner and is thought to have been completed by 1283, when the king stayed for several days. The existing hall and chapel were built slightly later than the original internal buildings, about which little is known. The castle's outer ward, constructed around 1270-1290, consists of a D shaped enclosure with north and south gates and three D shaped towers. It is thought that William de Valance continued building work in the late thirteenth century. The outer curtain wall was rebuilt at around 1300, with only part of the central section retained. The remains of this run from the tower closest to the great gatehouse to the north gate and the adjacent (collapsed) tower, where it meets the inner ward's north tower. In the late fourteenth century a new hall with solar was constructed along the inner ward's east side, with a new kitchen opposite. The chapel was built around this time, in a tower projecting down the scarp below the south-east tower. The outer ward's towers and curtain walls had their tops raised at this time. The inner ward's north-east and both west towers were heightened.

It seems likely that the court walls were never visible from outside the castle, being overshaddowed by the outer wall. This would have effected the visual and symbolic impact of the four great towers, each one sufficient to signal lordship at a lesser castle. The castle was maintained into the sixteenth century. (Coflein)

Situated on a bluff above W bank of Gwendraeth Fach, across river from modern town centre.

Norman castle founded c1106 by Bishop Roger of Salisbury. Maurice de Londres was Lord of Kidwelly at time of the uprising of the Lady Gwenllian 1136. Control passed back to the Welsh under the Lord Rhys c1159, and Rhys is said to have built a castle at Kidwelly in 1190. In Norman hands by 1201, retaken by Rhys Grug 1215 and by Llywelyn the Great 1231. Norman control re-established by 1244 when the de Londres heiress Hawise (d1274) married Patrick de Chaworth (d1258). Pain de Chaworth (d1279) rebuilt inner ward of castle after his return from the Eighth Crusade, 1273. Passed in 1283 to an infant heiress, betrothed 1291 to Henry, son of Edward I's brother Edmund of Lancaster. Under Henry (d1345) and his son Henry, 1st Duke of Lancaster, (d1361) the castle was probably completed. Under royal control from 1399. Besieged 1403 by Henry Dwnn during the Glyndwr uprising. Granted to Sir Rhys ap Thomas after 1485 but reverted to crown 1531. In decay by early C17, owned by the Vaughans of Golden Grove from 1630 to 1927 when the Earl of Cawdor gave it to the state. Excavations 1930-1 by Sir C. Fox and C.A.R. Radford. Originally a semi-circular ringwork of c1106, square stone inner ward with four round corner towers built in 1270s. Hall added to E side c1298, and chapel projecting from SE tower possibly of same date. In early C14 outer walls with 4 towers and a small N gatehouse replaced the palisade, and the towers of the inner ward were raised. Large main S gatehouse was begun in earlier C14 but not complete when damaged in Glyndwr uprising 1403, finished 1422. Domestic additions c1485-1525.

Rubble stone, mainly millstone grit boulders with sandstone, and some Sutton limestone for dressings. Twin-towered S gatehouse of massive scale. Semi-circular outer ward wall facing W with four towers, one collapsed, and square inner ward with four corner towers linked by straight stretches of curtain wall to SE corner of gatehouse and NE end of outer ward wall. SW tower has domed vault. Hall against E side of inner ward. Fine polygonal-ended chapel projecting E from inner ward SE tower, with cross-gabled sacristy tower to S. Kitchen of c1500 in SW corner. In outer ward are two large gabled ranges, the Tudor Hall, against W wall of inner ward, c1500, and another in NE corner N of NE tower of inner ward, probably of same date. (Listed Building Report)

Gatehouse Comments

Although built by Bishop Roger of Salisbury did not stay in episcopal hands for long.

- Philip Davis

This site is a scheduled monument protected by law

This is a Grade 1 listed building protected by law

Historic Wales CADW listed database record number
The National Monument Record (Coflein) number(s)
County Historic Environment Record
OS Map Grid ReferenceSN409070
Latitude51.7394905090332
Longitude-4.30567979812622
Eastings240900
Northings207050
HyperLink HyperLink HyperLink
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Most of the sites or buildings recorded in this web site are NOT open to the public and permission to visit a site must always be sought from the landowner or tenant.

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Books

  • Goodall, John, 2011, The English Castle 1066-1650 (Yale University Press) p. 103, 162, 209-12, 343-4, 455
  • Kenyon, John, 2010, The Medieval Castles of Wales (University of Wales Press) p. 75-79
  • Purton, P.F., 2009, A History of the Early Medieval Siege c. 450-1220 (Woodbridge: The Boydell Press) p. 316
  • Morgan, Gerald, 2008, Castles in Wales: A Handbook (Talybont: Y Lolfa Cyf.) p. 91-4
  • Kenyon, John R., 2003, 'Kidwelly Castle, Carmarthenshire: the reinterpretation of a monument' in Kenyon, J.R. and O'Conor, K. (eds), The medieval castle in Ireland and Wales: essays in honour of Jeremy Knight (Dublin: Four Courts Press) p. 176-181
  • Pettifer, Adrian, 2000, Welsh Castles, A Guide by Counties (Boydell Press) p. 49-52
  • Davis, Paul, 2000, A Company of Forts. A Guide to the Medieval Castles of West Wales (Gomer Press) p. 50, 81-4 (reconstructions)
  • Emery, Anthony, 2000, Greater Medieval Houses Vol. 2 (Cambridge) p. 682-3
  • Reid, Alan, 1998, Castles of Wales (John Jones Publishing) p. 94-6
  • Thompson, M.W., 1998, Medieval bishops' houses in England and Wales (Aldershot: Ashgate Publishing) p. 85-7, 184
  • Salter, Mike, 1996, The Castles of South West Wales (Malvern) p. 30-3 (plan)
  • Avent, J.R., 1991, 'The Early Development of Three Coastal Castles' in James,H. (ed), Sir Gar: Studies in Carmarthenshire History (Carmarthen) p. 167-188
  • Brown, R.Allen, 1989, Castles from the Air (Cambridge University Press) p. 134-36
  • Davis, P.R., 1987, Castles of Dyfed (Llandysul: Gomer Press) p. 40-43
  • King, D.J.C., 1983, Castellarium Anglicanum (London: Kraus) Vol. 1 p. 55-6
  • Soulsby, I., 1983, The Towns of Medieval Wales (Phillimore)
  • Fry, P.S., 1980, Castles of the British Isles (David and Charles) p. 359-61
  • Renn, D.F., 1973 (2 edn.), Norman Castles of Britain (London: John Baker) p. 214
  • Sorrell, Alan, 1973, British Castles (London: Batsford) p. 54-56
  • Colvin, H.M., Brown, R.Allen and Taylor, A.J., 1963, The history of the King's Works Vol. 2: the Middle Ages (London: HMSO) p. 685-7
  • Richard, A.J., 1935, in Lloyd, J.E. (ed), History of Carmathenshire (Cardiff) Vol. 1 p. 277-8, 289
  • Oman, Charles W.C., 1926, Castles (1978 edn Beetham House: New York) p. 193-6
  • RCAHMW, 1917, An inventory of the Ancient Monuments of Carmarthenshire (HMSO) p. 45-50 no. 147 online copy
  • Armitage, Ella, 1912, The Early Norman Castles of the British Isles (London: John Murray) p. 288 online copy
  • Evans, Herbert A., 1912, Castles of England and Wales (London) p. 223-30
  • Hamilton Thompson, A., 1912, Military Architecture in England during the Middle Ages (London) p. 267, 279-82
  • Daven Jones, 1906, History of Kidwelly (Carmarthen) esp p. 19-25, 32-40
  • Clark, G.T., 1884, Mediaeval Military Architecture in England  (Wyman and Sons) Vol. 2 p. 153-62 (reprint of 1852 Arch Camb article) online copy
  • Turner, T.H. and Parker, J.H., 1859, Some account of Domestic Architecture in England (Oxford) Vol. 3 Part 2 p. 382-4 online copy
  • Clark, G.T., 1852, A description and history of the Castles of Kidwelly and Caerphilly, and of Castell Coch (London) online copy
  • Lewis, Samual, 1849, A Topographical Dictionary of Wales online copy
  • Grose, Francis, 1785, The Antiquities of England and Wales (London) Vol. 7 p. 19-20 online copy
  • Buck, Samuel and Nathenial, 1774, Buck’s Antiquities (London) Vol. 2 p. 363

Antiquarian

Journals

  • Coldstream, N., 2003 'Architects, Advisers and Design at Edward I’s Castles in Wales' Architectural History Vol. 46 p. 19-36 (reprinted in Liddiard, Robert (ed), 2016, Late Medieval Castles (Boydell Press) p. 41-60)
  • Kenyon, John R., 1996, 'Fluctuating Frontiers: Normanno-Welsh Castle Warfare c. 1075 to 1240' Château Gaillard Vol. 17 p. 119-126
  • Thompson, M.W., 1986, 'Associated monasteries and castles in the Middle Ages: a tentative list' The Archaeological Journal Vol. 143 p. 314
  • Kenyon, John R., 1985, ‘Kidwelly Castle’ 132nd annual meeting, old Carmarthenshire, 1985, CAA p. 11–12
  • Youngs, S.M. and Clark, J., 1981, ‘Medieval Britain in 1980’, Medieval Archaeology Vol. 25 p. 203 download copy
  • James, H J., 1980, ‘Kidwelly, Castle Farm car park’, Archaeology in Wales Vol. 20 p. 58-9
  • James, H.J., 1980, ‘Topographical notes on the early mediaeval borough of Kidwelly’, The Carmarthen Antiquary Vol. 16 p. 6-17 online copy
  • Hogg, A.H.A. and King, D.J.C., 1967, 'Masonry castles in Wales and the Marches: a list' Archaeologia Cambrensis Vol. 116 p. 71-132
  • King, D.J.C. and Alcock, L., 1969, 'Ringworks in England and Wales' Château Gaillard Vol. 3 p. 90-127
  • Hogg, A.H.A. and King, D.J.C., 1963, 'Early castles in Wales and the Marches: a preliminary list' Archaeologia Cambrensis Vol. 112 p. 77-124
  • Taylor, A.J., 1962 'Kidwelly Castle' The Archaeological Journal Vol. 119 p. 349 (plan), 350 online copy
  • Brown, R, Allen, 1959, 'A List of Castles, 1154–1216' English Historical Review Vol. 74 p. 249-280 (Reprinted in Brown, R. Allen, 1989, Castles, conquest and charters: collected papers (Woodbridge: Boydell Press) p. 90-121) view online copy (subscription required)
  • Faulkner, P.A., 1958, 'Domestic Planning from the Twelfth to the Fourteenth Centuries' The Archaeological Journal Vol. 115 p. 150-83 online copy
  • Taylor and Neaverson, 1948-9, Archaeologia Cambrensis Vol. 100 p. 149-50
  • J(ones), J.F., 1945-6, ‘Kidwelly Castle’, The Carmarthen Antiquary Vol. 2 p. 125–6
  • Perks, 1944-5, Archaeologia Cambrensis Vol. 98 p. 259-62
  • Fox, C. and Radford, C.A.R., 1933, 'Kidwelly castle, Carmarthenshire, including a survey of polychrome pottery' Archaeologia Vol. 83 p. 93-138
  • 1929-31, Bulletin of the Board of Celtic Studies Vol. 5 p. 282-3
  • Clark, G.T., 1852, 'Kidwelly Castle' Archaeologia Cambrensis Vol. 7 p. 1-20 online copy

Guide Books

  • Kenyon, John R., 2007 4edn, Kidwelly Castle (Cardiff: CADW)
  • Kenyon, John R., 2002, Kidwelly Castle (Cardiff: CADW)
  • Kenyon, John R., 1990 rev edn, Kidwelly Castle (Cardiff: CADW)
  • Kenyon, John R., 1986, Kidwelly Castle (Cardiff: CADW)
  • Radford, C.A.R., 1952 2edn, Kidwelly Castle (HMSO)
  • Radford, C.A.R., 1933, Kidwelly Castle (HMSO) online copy and [plan > http://www.kidwellyhistory.co.uk/PhotoGallery/Maps/pages/CastlePlan.htm]
  • Clark, G.T., 1851, A Description and History of Kidwelly Castle (London and Tenby) (seperate issue of 1852 Arch.Camb. article)

Primary Sources

  • Dugdale, William (Caley, J., Ellis, H. and Bandinel, B. (eds)), 1817-30 (originally pub. 1655-73), Monasticon Anglicanum (London) Vol. 4 p. 64-5 online copy
  • Giraldus Cambrensis, c.1188, Journey Through Wales view online transcription
  • Brut y Tywysogion 1190, 1215, 1231 (Several transcriptions and translations exist the best being Jones, T., 1952, Brut Y Twysogion (University of Wales, History and Law series 11)–based on the Peniarth MS 20 version. There is a flawed translation Williams ab Ithel, John, 1860, Brut Y Twysogion or The Chronicle of the Princes (Rolls Series) online copy)
  • Pipe Rolls 1192-93 (see Pipe Roll Society for references)
  • Williams (ab Ithel), John, (ed), 1860, Annales Cambriae (444 – 1288) (London: Longman, Green, Longman, and Roberts)1215, 1231 online copy
  • Jones, T. (ed), 1948, 'Cronica de Wallia and other documents' Bulletin of the Board of Celtic Studies Vol. 12 p. 27-44 (1231)
  • Maxwell Lyte, H.C. (ed), 1905, Calendar of Patent Rolls Henry IV (1401-05) Vol. 2 p. 319 online copy
  • Rickard, John, 2002, The Castle Community. The Personnel of English and Welsh Castles, 1272-1422 (Boydell Press) (lists sources for 1272-1422) p. 129
  • SP14/49/82 (Survey of 1609) The National Archives reference

Other

  • Payne, Naomi, 2003, The medieval residences of the bishops of Bath and Wells, and Salisbury (PhD Thesis University of Bristol) p. 28 (available via [http://ethos.bl.uk])