The first castle on the hill near the Cennen River was built in the second half of the 12th century on the initiative of the Welsh prince of Deheubarth, Rhys ap Gruffudd. In 1248, his grand-daughter, Matilda de Braose, allegedly in spite of her son, granted the castle to the English Normans. However, before the English occupied the stronghold, Rhys Fychan ap Rhys Mechyll took control of it. Over the next thirty years, the castle often changed the owner due to Rhys’s conflict with uncle Maredudd, who fought for the reign of the Deheubarth kingdom.
In 1276, the Welsh-English war broke out between king Edward I and Llywelyn ap Gruffudd. Edward invaded in 1277, and the army under the command of Payn de Chaworth won Carreg Cennen for the English Crown. After deploying the English garrison, Edward handed the castle over to John Giffard. As the royal documents do not suggest any royal expenses for Carreg Cennen, probably John or his son of the same name, built a castle, the ruins of which are visible today.
Carreg Cennan remained the property of the Giffard family until 1322. Then it passed into the hands of various owners, including the royal favorite Hugh Despenser, before it became the property of John of Gaunt. His property, in turn, passed into the hands of his son, Henry Bolingbroke, who was crowned as Henry IV in 1399. As a result, the castle became one of the targets of the attacks during the rebellion of Owain Glyndŵr in 1403. Despite defeating the initial attack of 800 Welshmen, the month-long siege led to the surrender of the castle by the constable John Skidmore. The castle suffered quite serious damages, since the records from 1414-1421 described in detail the expenses for repairs.
During the Wars of the Roses, in the second half of the fifteenth century, Carreg Cennen was garrisoned by the Lancaster family troops. In 1462, it was captured by the Yorks, who, using of about five hundred people, spent four months working on its demolition, to prevent the enemies from re-garrison the castle. From that moment it was in ruin.
The castle from the end of the 13th century, the beginning of the 14th century consisted of a fortified outer bailey and inner ward located on the top, integrated into the limestone rocks. It was created on a plan similar to a square with the southern curtain slightly bent. From the southern and western sides, and partly in the north, it was protected by a steep hill edge, while the eastern and northern parts were protected by an outer ward. The north – west corner was reinforced with a cylindrical tower, the north – east corner with a polygonal tower, and the south – eastern corner with a four – sided tower with the “royal chamber”. In the middle of the eastern curtain was erected a smaller four-sided tower in which the chapel was placed. The main economic and residential range was adjacent to the inner wall of the eastern curtain. It was in it from the north: a kitchen, a great hall and a room on a square plan. On the inner ward you can see relics of bread ovens and rainwater tank. The basic container for water in the castle, however, was a clay ditch just in front of the main gate. A natural cave with a smaller, reserve water source has been integrated into the castle’s buildings.
The entrance to the upper (inner) ward was led by a monumental gatehouse complex on the north side. It consisted of two, three-story towers flanking the passage between them. In front of the towers, on the bend of the road, another lower tower was placed from which the foregate neck led towards the east, and then it turned once again, this time to the south. In addition, the gate complex included three drawbridges, two portcullises and numerous arrowslits. Probably the main gate was also used as a living quarters, as it contained several basic elements for dwelling-place, such as a fireplaces and latrines.
The castle has survived to the present day in the form of a ruin with a legible medieval layout. It is under the care of the Cadw government agency and is open daily from 9.30 to 18.30 between April and October and from 9.30 to 16.00 between November and March.
Kenyon J., The medieval castles of Wales, Cardiff 2010.
Website castlesfortsbattles.co.uk, Carreg Cennen Castle.