The first castle in Abergavenny, at that time timber, was erected around 1087 by the Norman Lord Hamelin de Ballon. In the 1160s, another owner of the castle, Henry Fitzmiles, Lord Abergavenny, was killed by the Welsh ruler of Gwent, Seisyll ap Dyfnwal. Without the male heir, Henry’s estate together with the castle, passed to his daughter Bertha’s husband, William de Braose, who rebuilt and expanded his new seat.
In 1175, during Christmas, De Braose called Seisyll and his son Geoffrey along with other minor Welsh rulers of the Gwent to the castle, faking the desire for reconciliation, but after their arrival he ordered to kill all the men in the great hall of the castle. This act, as well as covering the lands of the murdered, resulted in the sanctions of the English Crown, which wanted to calm down the Welsh-English border. As a result William had to withdraw from political life and hand over his property to his son.
In 1182, Hywel ap Iorwerth, Lord of Caerleon, along with relatives of Seisyll, set fire to the stronghold at Abergavenny. De Braos was not at the castle at the time, but most of his crew were taken to prison. During the further Welsh – English struggles of the first half of the thirteenth century, the castle often passed from hand to hand. Eventually, in 1233, it was destroyed by Richard Marshal, earl of Pembroke and Welsh princes. After this incident, it was rebuilt, and instead of a wooden one, a stone keep was erected. Further extensions were carried out in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries on the initiative of the Hastings family, but from the fifteenth century, no lord lived permanently in Abergavenny. In 1404, the town was plundered during the Welsh rebellion of Owain Glyndŵr, but the castle itself withstood the siege and was not captured.
During the English Civil War of the seventeenth century, king Charles I ordered the slighting of the castle, because of fear of being occupated by the army of Parliament. Towards the end of the 18th century, when the ruins began to attract the first tourists on the wave of romanticism, Henry Nevill, the second Earl of Abergavenny, built a hunting lodge on the top of the hill in 1819, where originally was a medieval keep.
The original Abergavenny castle was a typical timber motte and bailey structure with a tower surrounded by a palisade at the top of the mound and a fortified bailey on the north-west side. As early as in the 12th century, initially timber building of the great hall was added, and at the end of the 13th century, the castle was reinforced with a circumferential wall and two corner towers: cylindrical and polygonal. Around 1400, at the place of a simple gate opened up in the wall, a new gatehouse building was erected with a drawbridge and a guard room on the first floor. The outer belt of defense of the castle was a dry moat.
Keep on the mound was a cylindrical, from about 1233 a stone tower with ogival entrance portal, gothic windows and arrowslits. The entrance was at the height of the first floor and a wooden staircase led to it.
The main, rectangular building of the castle (stone hall) was located between the mound and the gate and touched one side with a defensive wall. It consisted of a large room on the first floor and storage rooms below. In the room, meals were served on the elevation to the Lord, and from the opposite side there was a spiral staircase leading to a kitchen, located probably in a separate building.
Large fragments of defensive walls, ruins of a polygonal and round tower and relics of a gatehouse have survived to modern times. On the oldest part of the castle, that is on the mound from the 12th century, there is now a nineteenth-century building, built on medieval foundations. A local museum functions in it.
Kenyon J., The medieval castles of Wales, Cardiff 2010.