The first castle in Caldicot was probably founded around 1100 on the initiative of Walter Fitz Roger, the sheriff of Gloucester, who built timber and earth motte and bailey fortifications. After the death of his son, Milo Fitz Walter and the childless life of his five sons, the castle passed into the hands of Humphrey II de Bohun, earl of Hereford, who married Margaret, the eldest daughter of Milo. It was probably one of their descendants, Humphrey de Bohun, the second Earl of Hereford, who started the construction of a stone castle after 1221.
The Bohuns became a powerful family and had Caldicot for over two centuries. When Humphrey de Bohun, 7th Earl of Hereford, died in 1373 without a male heir, his property passed into the hands of his daughters, Eleanor (Alianore) and Mary, and then by Mary’s marriage, under the rule of Thomas of Woodstock, the later duke of Gloucester. As he was the uncle of the English king Richard II and played an important role on the royal court, he rarely stayed at Caldicot Castle. It was only social riots and peasant revolts that encouraged Thomas to spend more time in his Welsh estates. In 1381 he ordered, among other things, the extension of the southern gate, which became the main residence in the castle, and the tower called Woodstock. As time passed, the relationship between the king and his uncle became tense. In 1397, Thomas was kidnapped and murdered, and his property was confiscated and eventually passed into the hands of the Crown.
In 1399, Henry Bolingbroke overthrew Richard‘s reign and took over the throne of England as Henry IV. From then on, Caldicot was incorporated into the extensive estate of the Lancasters. In the fifteenth century, the castle was owned by Henry Monmouth (later Henry V), and then widow of him, Catherine Valois. From then on, it was leased to various owners and became increasingly neglected. During the 17th century civil war, was occupied by a royalist garrison, which contributed to its partial demolition at the end of the 1640s by Parliament. Until the mid-nineteenth century, the picturesque ruins were occasionally used by the local village community. In 1885, the castle was sold to Joseph Richard Cobb, who began renovating it and transformed into a family home. It remained until 1963, when it was bought by a government institution.
The castle from the 13th century was built on a small elevation in the bend of the Nedern Brook, on its west side. Its plan had a shape similar to an oval. It consisted of a defensive wall reinforced with a horseshoe-shaped south-east tower and a cylindrical south-west tower. Both towers were topped with hoarding, as evidenced by corbels protruding from the face of the walls. The entrance gate to the castle was initially located in the western curtain, placed in the Bohun Tower in the shape of an elongated horseshoe. The economic outer bailey was located west of the castle.
The oldest stone element was a cylindrical keep, located on the north-west side of the complex, on a small earth mound. This mound was surrounded by a dry moat, also dug from the side of the courtyard, defined by the later perimeter of the walls. The keep resembled similar structures from the Bronllys or Tretower, except for a small, semicircular turret rising from the west side of the building. This turret housed a prison chamber on the lower part and a room in the upper part, between which it was filled with a mass of full wall. The keep itself received massive 2.7 meters thick walls, three floors above the ground floor (perhaps serving as a prison, most likely a pantry or warehouse) and was equipped with a well. The main chamber was on the second floor; it was well lit, had a fireplace, and the door led to a wooden projection – a latrine. To this day, stone corbels and a portal are still visible. The other two floors were also used as living quarters on a daily basis, as they were heated with fireplaces. Vertical internal communication was made possible by a spiral staircase embedded in the wall thickness. At the level of the top floor, the keep was surrounded by a wooden hoarding porch, accessible by a pointed portal from the top floor.
In the first half of the fourteenth century, Humphrey de Bohun (1337–1361) erected the southern gatehouse. In the second half of the fourteenth century, it was rebuilt and enlarged, receiving, in addition to defensive functions, also residential role. It consisted of the main, rectangular gatehouse, flanked from the east and west by two slender four-sided turrets. The centrally located passage was equipped with a drawbridge over the ditch, two portcullises, two doors and three openings for firing, the so-called murder holes. On the upper floor there were living rooms, connected by long corridors in the thickness of the walls with side towers.
In the 40s of the fourteenth century, a wooden building of the representative hall (great hall) was erected at the southern curtain of the wall. In the second half of the fourteenth century, the north-eastern tower was also added, known as the Woodstock Tower after its founder. It received a horseshoe shape, a gate portal and three floors equipped with chambers, each of which was heated by a fireplace. Its defense was raised by machicolation, placed only from the outside.
The castle survived to the present day in very good condition, mainly thanks to the reconstruction from the late nineteenth century. Fortunately, it did not interfere strongly with the medieval, historic substance, thanks to which the original character of the castle was preserved. Currently, you can see practically the entire perimeter of the castle walls, a cylindrical keep, three towers, a west gate with no surviving inner part and a south gate which has undergone the largest reconstruction. The castle together with a small museum is available for free for sightseeing, and there are often outdoor and occasional events.
Kenyon J., The medieval castles of Wales, Cardiff 2010.
Lindsay E., The castles of Wales, London 1998.
Website castlewales.com, Caldicot Castle.