The Norman castle in Carmarthen was built at the beginning of the 12th century, possibly by sheriff Walter of Gloucester, initially as a earth-timber motte and bailey building. Certainly, it was the royal foundation of Henry I, established for the protection and management of south – west Wales. In the twelfth century, along with other castles of these lands, Carmarthen was often attacked, destroyed and conquered, among others in 1137 by the Welsh prince Owain Gwynedd. By the end of the century, Carmarthen was one of the few castles under Norman control. It was destroyed by Welsh of Llywelyn the Great in 1215, but shortly after recapture in 1223, it was rebuilt by Earl of Pembroke, William Marshall. It was probably during this period that massive stone fortifications were built on the site of the original wood and earth construction. Since then, the castle remained in English hands, except for a short period in 1403, when it was captured by the insurgents of Welsh leader Owain Glyndŵr. During the English Civil War of the 1640s, it was occupied by the king’s followers. Soon after war completion, demolition of castle buildings and fortifications began, and the ones that survived were covered by modern buildings.
The original castle in Carmarthen was a motte and bailey stronghold, consisting of a timber keep – tower on an earth mound. It had two wards: the inner one on the south side, where later mainly residential and administrative buildings were located, as well as the outer, smaller, south-eastern one with an economic function. The expenditure of 170 pounds in 1182-1183 probably served to erect a cylindrical stone tower in the place of an earlier timber one on the top of the mound.
After regaining the castle in 1223, a great reconstruction and extension of the already-masonry castle was undertaken. The timber palisade surrounding the mound was rebuilt into a stone wall, like the fortifications of the inner ward, which were additionally reinforced with three towers. The western entrance to the castle was protected by a gate, consisting of two towers, flanking the passage between them, over which the machicolations were additionally placed.
Another important rebuilding of the castle was in the second half of the 13th century during the times of king Edward I. It included the construction of a stone defensive wall on the eastern, outer ward and the addition of new administrative and residential buildings. We know from the royal documents that the castle had, among others, a large hall, a chapel, kitchen and stable. The western gate was extended by a part inside the castle with two corner communication turrets. At the beginning of the fourteenth century, to obtain more living space, modifications were made to the mound and the keep. Until now, at its foot there was a dry moat (ditch), running also through the inner ward. It was then filled in the area of the inner ward, where the justiciar’s mansion was erected. The buildings at the top of the mound were transformed: the cylindrical tower was removed, leaving a defensive wall with three semi-cylindrical half towers (shell keep). Inside, timber buildings were erected, adjoining the faces of the defensive wall.
Until today, the castle has survived in a vestigial form. Currently, the most distinctive element is the main castle gatehouse consisting of two towers flanking the passage between them. Unfortunately, it back part has not been preserved. To the south of it you can see a not entirely preserved corner tower with prominent spurs. To the north of the gate there are relics of the rebuilt keep.
Kenyon J., The medieval castles of Wales, Cardiff 2010.
Ludlow N., Carmarthen castle, Cardiff 2014.