The castle was erected on a site considered strategically important since the Iron Age, because research has shown that the earliest fortifications were built at that time. The oldest medieval fortifications were built at the beginning of the 12th century by Gerald de Windsor, constable of Pembroke Castle. He married around 1100 to Nest, princess of Deheubarth, daughter of Rhys ap Tewdwer, who had brought him Carew as part of a dowry. Gerald decided to build his seat in these lands, which was yet made of wood and earth. It was first recorded in written sources as “domus de Carrio” in 1212.
The castle was expanded by the descendants of Gerald: William in the second half of the 12th century, for whom a stone tower house was built, and especially Sir Nicholas in the second half of the 13th century and his son of the same name at the turn of the 13th and 14th centuries, who began to call themselves de Carew.
In the fourteenth century, the castle was avoided by the turmoil of war, but the line gradually declined. Eventually, in 1480, Edmund Carew sold back the stronghold to Rhys ap Thomas, one of the leading followers of the Tudor dynasty and king Henry VII. The new owner undertook the rebuilding, transforming the medieval castle into a more comfortable late-Gothic residence. In 1531 Rhys grandson, Rhys ap Gruffudd, fell out of favor and was executed by king Henry VIII for treason. In this way, the castle returned to the Crown, and then in 1558 was taken over by Sir John Perrot, the Lord Deputy of Ireland, who carried out the last significant modification of the castle. To enlarge his seat, he erected the entire Renaissance northern range of the castle. Perrot died in 1592 before the end of work, after he was imprisoned in the Tower of London on charges of treason. Once again, the castle returned to the Crown, and then it was bought by the de Carew family in 1607.
During the civil war of the 17th century, the castle was fortified by royalists. After passing three times from hands to hands and partially destroying the southern wall, after the end of hostilities, it was returned to the owners. The Carew family lived in the east range until 1686. Later, the castle was abandoned and fell into disrepair. Repair work began to be carried out only from 1984.
The castle was situated on a small elevation on the southern bank of the Carew River. At the end of the 12th century, it had the form of a four-sided residential tower, incorporated into the extended castle complex. It is not known whether it had a stone form from the very beginning or it was preceded by a wooden structure. The fortifications around the tower were certainly wooden.
At the turn of the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, a stone defensive wall was built on a square plan into which an old tower house was incorporated from the eastern side. The defense was provided by two corner cylindrical towers on the west side, a south-east corner tower of a semicircular shape and a north-east polygonal tower with a castle chapel on the first floor. Probably in the center of the southern curtain there was originally one more tower, presumably of a semicircular form, inside which was a kitchen. The northern side of the castle, as the safest (facing the river), was probably protected only by the curtain of the wall.
The western towers were equipped with characteristic prominent spurs, acting as buttresses and limiting the blind fields of fire. Both had a diameter of about 10.5 meters, but were located irregularly, because the north-west one was placed at an angle of 40 degrees in relation to the hall building. In this way, the postern that functioned in the lower part of the tower was masked. Both towers were crowned (similarly to the adjacent hall building) with a parapet placed on consoles, behind which a defensive gallery functioned. Above it, additional guard turrets protruded as an extension of the staircases. The interiors of both towers had a vaulted ground floor and two upper floors that could be used as living quarters, because they were equipped with fireplaces and latrines. The south-east tower was equipped with a shallow projection to house the latrines, but its characteristic feature was an exceptionally high parapet, pierced by arrowslits. As in other towers, it was mounted on corbels protruding from the face of the walls.
The building of the great hall occupied the entire length of the western curtain of the wall, between the two corner towers. It had dimensions of 25 x 8 meters and very thick walls up to 3 meters on three sides (except for the thinner wall facing the courtyard). On the first floor level, it housed a representative great hall, covered with an open roof truss and set above the vaulted undercroft on the ground floor. In the great hall there was a gallery for the minstrels to the south, three larger windows facing the west side, and two fireplaces. At the beginning of the 16th century, the entrance to the hall was preceded by a small vestibule at the courtyard, and a window bay was located in the northern part of the eastern wall.
Another building, the so-called lesser hall, was located in the north-eastern corner of the courtyard, between the corner tower and the former tower house. It had two floors: a vaulted ground floor of an economic function and an upper chamber. The latter was connected by a passage with the chapel in the north-east tower and with the living room for the priest with latrines, located in the annex on the north side. The chapel itself was covered with a rib vault and provided with a stone piscine embedded in the wall.
The entrance to the inner courtyard led through a gate located south of the original tower from the end of the 12th century, while the old tower itself originally served as a gate, later having a passage in the ground floor bricked-up. The newer gate from the 13th century was not a very sophisticated structure. It was equipped only with two-leaf doors closed with a bar, a portcullis and three so-called murder holes (loop holes in the vault). Probably such barriers were considered sufficient, the more so because from the east there was a zwinger 15 meters wide with an outer wall and a four-sided gatehouse (6 x 5.5 meters) preceded by a ditch about 6.6 meters wide. These fortifications separated the castle from the outer bailey, also fortified with a stone wall with a gatehouse in the east.
The castle has survived to modern times in the form of a well-preserved ruin with a readable full layout. Only a fragment of the southern wall has no original height today. Most of the buildings do not have roofs, currently only the Lesser Hall is roofed. The medieval appearance of the castle was partially blurred by the sixteenth-century rebuilding, especially the addition of the northern wing with large windows in the Elizabethan Renaissance style. The castle is open to visitors. It is leased to the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park, which administers the site.
Kenyon J., The medieval castles of Wales, Cardiff 2010.
Lindsay E., The castles of Wales, London 1998.
Salter M., The castles of South-West Wales, Malvern 1996.