White Castle

Has been described as a Certain Masonry Castle

There are major building remains

NameWhite Castle
Alternative NamesLlantilio Castle; Blanc Castle; Guyn
Historic CountryMonmouthshire
Modern AuthorityMonmouthshire
1974 AuthorityGwent
CommunityLlantilio Crossenny

White Castle originally comprised earthwork and timber defences erected in the manor of Llantilio Crossenny by the Normans in the wake of the Norman Conquest in order to protect the communication routes between Hereford and Wales, forming a triangle of fortifications together with Grosmont Castle and Skenfrith Castle The castle was rebuilt in its characteristic white stone during the twelfth century, with a stone curtain and square keep. During the thirteenth century further fortifications were carried out in response to the rise of Llewellyn ap Gruffudd, and the castle took the shape that survives today, with a twin-towered gatehouse and series of four D-shaped towers, equipped with distinctive cross-shaped arrow loops. The earthwork defence to the north of the castle was enclosed within a stone curtain wall with circular towers and a gatehouse, while the keep and gatehouse to the south were demolished and replaced with a postern gate and battery of further loops. In contrast to Grosmont and Skenfrith, White Castle lacked high-status domestic accommodation to suit the nobility, indicating that it served more as a military garrison than a seat of power. Despite repair work carried out during the fifteenth century, by 1538 it was entirely abandoned, and remained disused until it came into State care in 1922. (Coflein–ref. Knight, 2000)

Impressively sited on gently sloping ground overlooking the village of Llanvetherine and the undulating countryside beyond, some 3km NW of village of Llantilio Crossenny.

Following the initial conquest of the Welsh kingdom of Gwent by William Fitz Osbern, Lord of Breteuil in Calvados, between 1067-75, the Normans built a triangle of castles at Grosmont, Skenfrith and White Castle to control their newly won lands

These late C11 defences would have been of earth and timber. At White Castle the great outer ditch of that ringwork castle still survives, the perimeter of which would originally have been protected by a wooden palisade. The earliest masonry structure at White Castle, built probably in the early C12, was a small rectangular keep- tower now demolished which stood within the inner ward. During the reign of Henry II, the surviving Exchequer Accounts record an expenditure of £128. 16s. on work at White Castle. This substantial expenditure must relate to the construction of the great six-sided stone curtain wall which encloses the inner ward. In July 1201, King John granted the three castles to Hubert de Burgh, who was later was captured whilst fighting for King John in France. Whilst he was still prisoner John gave the castles to William de Braose of Abergavenny, in royal favour at the time. On Hubert's release, a prolonged dispute ensued over the ownership of the castles, but in December 1218 this was settled by the King's Court in Hubert's favour. After Hubert fell from power in 1232, he was forced to surrender the three castles which shortly afterwards reverted to the Crown and were placed in the charge of a royal officer, Waleran the German. In 1244 Waleran built a new hall, buttery and pantry at White Castle. Shortly afterwards, in 1254, the three castles were granted to Henry III's elder son, later King Edward I. White Castle played an important strategic role during the rising of Llwyelyn ap Gruffydd, Prince of Gwynedd in 1262. The Welsh conquered many of the English-held castles, but Abergavenny and White Castle, which did not fall, became important frontier fortresses. As a defence against Llywelyn, White Castle was refortified in the military mode of the late C13. Great round towers were added at the angles of the curtain wall of the inner ward, and the earlier C12 keep was demolished and replaced by a new inner gatehouse. At the same time, the outer ward was enclosed by a formidable new curtain wall with massive corner towers and a new outer gateway. These works were carried out sometime after 1263, probably by Edmund, Earl of Lancaster, the younger brother of Edward I. With the subjugation of Wales by Edward I, the strategic importance of White Castle declined and by the C16 the castle had fallen into ruin. In 1825 the Duchy of Lancaster sold the ruins to the Duke of Beaufort and in 1922 they were given to the state by Mr Henry Mather Jackson.

The surviving ruins at White Castle are built of uncoursed red sandstone, with ashlar dressings. They form the whole of the castle ground plan, including the walls and towers of both the inner and outer wards, and the walls of the twin-towered gatehouse. The present approach to the castle passes through the remains of the twin-towered outer gatehouse where the surviving walls rise to a height of approximately 5m. Side walls of outer gateway are grooved for a portcullis. Inner gate passage has guard chamber (left) with remains of chimney flue to upper fireplace. On right of gatehouse is a chamfered ashlar doorway with broach stops leading to short flight of stairs and ruins of a mural passage. Gatehouse passage opens into extensive outer ward, which is enclosed on N and W sides by the curved late C13 curtain wall which has three circular and one rectangular tower at intervals along its length. Surviving walling varies in height, from approximately 5m to 7m. Towers are all two-storey and have a windowless lower stage and arrow loops in upper stage. Masonry evidence suggests that upper wall of each tower was timber-framed. Upper stage of rectangular NW tower is arranged as a small lodging, with sloping hood of upper fireplace still visible. The inner ward is a pear-shaped enclosure reached across a C20 bridge which spans a deep, water-filled moat with revetment wall. C13 gatehouse of the inner ward has two circular towers flanking gate passage; side walls of central entance passage are again grooved for a portcullis and side walls have drawbar holes. Masonry of towers and flanking curtain wall rise to level of former wall walk. Each tower originally had four stages and its own inner staircase. Staircase of NE tower has been destroyed but NW tower (to right of entrance) has Tudor arched entrance doorway leading to reconstructed staircase which rises to C20 wooden viewing platform. Basement and ground floor stages of tower have arrow loops with deeply splayed embrasures, the next stage is without windows and presumably served as a store. Little survives of top stage which rose above the level of the wall walk. NE tower (left) has been rebuilt but original layout was probably similar. The gatehouse opens into grassed enclosure of inner ward. At opposing S end are foundations of early C12 stone keep which was demolished in later C12 when stone curtain was built. Original entrance to castle was probably sited next to the keep, protected by a large hornwork beyond the moat. Great stone curtain walls were built 1184-6 to replace earlier timber defences, and four circular flanking towers added c1260. Each originally had four stages. E central tower has a basement which is windowless (probably a store); ground stage has arrow loops; walls of next stage are blind; fourth stage formerly rose above level of old wall walk. W central tower is similar, but lacks a basement stage. The two S towers have arrow loops in splayed embrasures at basement level with two more loops at ground level, next stage is blind with uppermost stage now largely destroyed. Chancel of chapel was located at ground level in SE tower. (Listed Building Report)

Originally a single ward castle with a crescent shaped barbican surrounded by a formidable wet most. The ward was built in stone with a square keep in C12. The keep was demolished in C13 and the curtain wall given four round towers and a twin tower gatehouse. The barbican appears to have been abandoned as part of this rebuilding as a very large but weakly defended outer ward was built to the north. A strongly fortified oval enclosure, c.50m by 38m, defined by a C12 curtain with C13 towers, having a crescentic hornwork to the S, both contained in a broad moat. From the NW to the SE is an outer, ditched and scarped enclosure, of which the NW part has C13 walls and towers. The whole work is c.175m by 220m. Work is mentioned, 1161-2 and 1184-7, and thought to have occurred c.1257-77. The castle was described as roofless and derelict in C16. A long, round-angled, field enclosure, c.165m NNW-SSE by 26m, adjoining the castle earthworks on the SW, may be associated with the castle. The castle was held in common with Grosmont and Skenfrith. The C13 work has arrow loops of interesting and ?unique design. (Clwyd Powys Archaeological Trust - Research Framework for the Archaeology of Wales)

Gatehouse Comments

Probably the large castle of 'Guyn' (Gwyn) in Leland's list of castles in Herefordshire.

- 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 ReferenceSO379167
Latitude51.8459205627441
Longitude-2.90206003189087
Eastings337980
Northings216770
HyperLink HyperLink HyperLink
Photograph by Nick Drury. All rights reserved
Photograph by Nick Drury. All rights reserved
Photograph by Nick Drury. All rights reserved
Copyright Philip Blayney All Rights Reserved
Copyright Philip Blayney All Rights Reserved
Copyright Philip Blayney All Rights Reserved
Copyright Philip Blayney All Rights Reserved
Copyright Philip Blayney All Rights Reserved
Copyright Philip Blayney All Rights Reserved
Copyright Philip Blayney All Rights Reserved
Copyright Philip Blayney All Rights Reserved
Copyright Philip Blayney All Rights Reserved
Copyright Philip Blayney All Rights Reserved
Copyright Philip Blayney All Rights Reserved

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Books

  • Goodall, John, 2011, The English Castle 1066-1650 (Yale University Press) p. 44-5, 183
  • Kenyon, John, 2010, The Medieval Castles of Wales (University of Wales Press) p. 141-145
  • Remfry, P.M., 2009, White Castle and the families of Fitz Osbern, Ballon, Fitz Count, Burgh, Braose and Plantagent of Grosmont (Castle Studies Research & Publishing)
  • Purton, P.F., 2009, A History of the Early Medieval Siege c. 450-1220 (Woodbridge: The Boydell Press) p. 332, 377n4
  • Kenyon, J.R., 2008, 'Masonry Castles and Castle-building' in R. Griffiths, T. Hopkins and R. Howell (eds), The Gwent County History (Cardiff: University of Wales Press) Vol. 2 The Age of the Marcher Lords, c. 1070-1536 p. 89-114
  • Morgan, Gerald, 2008, Castles in Wales: A Handbook (Talybont: Y Lolfa Cyf.) p. 180-86
  • Courtney, P., 2008, 'The Marcher Lordships' in R. Griffiths, T. Hopkins and R. Howell (eds), The Gwent County History (Cardiff: University of Wales Press) Vol. 2 The Age of the Marcher Lords, c. 1070-1536 p. 51-3 (tenurial history)
  • Prior, Stuart, 2006, A Few Well-Positioned Castles: The Norman Art of War (Tempus) p. 110-164
  • Phillips, Neil, 2006, Earthwork Castles of Gwent and Ergyng AD 1050-1250 (British Archaeological Reports) p. 353-4 (slight)
  • Pettifer, Adrian, 2000, Welsh Castles, A Guide by Counties (Boydell Press) p. 143-6
  • Remfry, Paul, 2000, White Castle, 1066 to 1438 (SCS Publishing: Worcestershire)
  • Reid, Alan, 1998, Castles of Wales (John Jones Publishing) p. 136, 138
  • Salter, Mike, 1991, The Castles of Gwent, Glamorgan and Gower (Malvern) p. 36-7
  • Knight, J.K., 1987, “The Road to Harlech: Aspects of Some Early Thirteenth-Century Welsh Castles”, in J.R. Kenyon and R. Avent (eds), Castles in Wales and the Marches (Cardiff p. 75-88
  • King, D.J.C., 1983, Castellarium Anglicanum (London: Kraus) Vol. 1 p. 289
  • Fry, P.S., 1980, Castles of the British Isles (David and Charles) p. 383
  • 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. 853-4
  • Renn, D.F., 1973 (2 edn.), Norman Castles of Britain (London: John Baker) p. 345
  • Oman, Charles W.C., 1926, Castles (1978 edn Beetham House: New York) p. 159-163
  • Bradney, J.A., 1904-33, History of Monmouthshire Vol. 1 p. 99-101
  • Bagnall-Oakeley, 1896, Papers on Monmouth Castle, etc. (Mom and Caerleon Ant. Ass.) p. 91-7
  • Mackenzie, J.D., 1897, Castles of England (Heinemann) Vol. 2 p. 92-3 online copy
  • Clark, G.T., 1884, Mediaeval Military Architecture in England  (Wyman and Sons) Vol. 2 p. 517-21 (reprint of 1881 article) online copy
  • Coxe, W., 1801, An Historical Tour in Monmouthshire (London) Vol. 2 p. 326-9
  • Buck, Samuel and Nathenial, 1774, Buck’s Antiquities (London) Vol. 1 p. 194

Antiquarian

Journals

  • Neil Guy, 2015-16, 'The Portcullis - design and development' Castle Studies Group Journal Vol. 29 p. 132-201
  • Remfry, P.M., 2010-11, 'White Castle and the dating of the circuit towers' Castle Studies Group Journal Vol. 24 p. 217-230 (detailed case for redating circuit towers to 1229-31 and 1234-39) online copy
  • Guy, Neil et al, 2008-09, 'White Castle' Castle Studies Group Journal Vol. 22 p. 15-20 (slight)
  • Jones, P.N. and Renn, D.F., 1982, ‘The military effectiveness of arrow loops: some experiments at White Castle’ Cha^teau Gaillard Vol. 9-10 p. 445-56
  • 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
  • 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
  • Hurst, J.G., 1962, 'White Castle and the Dating of Medieval Pottery' Medieval Archaeology Vol. 6-7 p. 135-55 download copy
  • Taylor, A.J., 1961 'White Castle in the Thirteenth Century: A Re-Consideration' Medieval Archaeology Vol. 5 p. 169-75 (on dating) download copy
  • Brown, R, Allen, 1959, 'A List of Castles, 1154–1216' English Historical Review Vol. 74 (Reprinted in Brown, R. Allen, 1989, Castles, conquest and charters: collected papers (Woodbridge: Boydell Press)) p. 90-121
  • Brown, R. Allen, 1955, 'Royal Castle-building in England 1154-1216' English Historical Review Vol. 70 (Reprinted in Brown, R. Allen, 1989, Castles, conquest and charters: collected papers (Woodbridge: Boydell Press)) p. 19-64
  • Roderick, A.J. and Rees, W., 1954, 'The Lordships of Abergavenny, Grosmont, Skenfrith and White Castle: Accounts of the Ministers for the year 1256-57' South Wales and Monmouth Record Society Publications Vol. 3 p. 22-47
  • Roderick, A.J. and Rees, W., 1553, 'The Lordships of Abergavenny, Grosmont, Skenfrith and White Castle: Accounts of the Ministers for the year 1256-57' South Wales and Monmouth Record Society Publications Vol. 2 p. 68-125
  • O'Neil, B.H., 1936, Archaeologia Cambrensis Vol. 91 p. 344-6
  • Mather-Jackson, 1909, Archaeologia Cambrensis Vol. 64 p. 138-43
  • Clark, G.T., 1881, The Builder Vol. 41 p. 815-6 plan at p. 827
  • Banks, R.W., 1876, 'The castles of Grosmont, Skenfrith and Whitecastle' Archaeologia Cambrensis Vol. 31 p. 302-4 online copy

Guide Books

  • Knight, Jeremy K., 2009 (Rev.edn), The Three Castles: Grosmont Castle, Skenfrith Castle, White Castle and Hen Gwrt medieval moated site (Cardiff: CADW)
  • Knight, Jeremy K., 2000 (2edn), The Three Castles: Grosmont, Skenfrith and White Castle (Cardiff: CADW)
  • Knight, Jeremy K., 1987, The Three castles: Grosmont, Skenfrith and White Castle (Cardiff: CADW)
  • Radford, C.A.R., 1962 (rev edn), White Castle, Monmouthshire (HMSO)
  • Radford, C.A.R., 1946, White Castle, Monmouthshire (HMSO)

Primary Sources

  • Pipe Rolls 1163, 1185-88, 1199, 1201, 1205 (see Pipe Roll Society for references)
  • Brut y Tywysogion c. 1215 (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)
  • Hardy, T.D. (ed), 1835, Rotuli litterarm patentium in Turri londinensi asservati (Record Commission) p. 57a, 194b online copy
  • Maxwell Lyte, H.C. (ed), 1903, Calendar of Charter Rolls Henry III 1226-1257 Vol. 1 (HMSO) p. 74 (Grant to John de Braos in 1228) online copy
  • Maxwell Lyte, H.C. (ed), 1903, Calendar of Patent Rolls Henry III (1225-32) Vol. 2 p. 502 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. 318-9
  • DL44/95 (Survey of 5 Elizabeth) The National Archives reference
  • SP14/49/82 (Survey of 1609) The National Archives reference

Other

  • Phillips, Neil, 2005, Earthwork Castles of Gwent and Ergyng AD 1050-1250 (PhD Thesis University of Sheffield) Download