Cilgerran – castle


   The first small timber castle was built by Gerald of Windsor around 1110-1115. The first certain mention of an already partially stone stronghold comes from the time of its conquest by the Welsh led by Rhys ap Gruffydd in 1165. The Normans recaptured Cilgerran only in 1204, when William Marshal, the first Earl of Pembroke, drove out son of Rhys, Maelgwn ap Rhys. Marshal decided to make repairs, but they proved ineffective, because the castle was re-conquered after a day-long battle in 1215 by Llywelyn the Great. It was not until the eldest son of Marshal, also William, eventually regained the castle, arriving with large forces from Ireland in 1223. In order to protect against the next Welsh invasions, William began a thorough rebuilding and extension of the castle. Cilgerran was never taken by the Welsh again, though in 1258, when the English forces were defeated nearby, the castle had to repel the princes of Deheubarth.
After the death of Ansel Marshal, the sixth Earl of Pembroke, the castle passed into the hands of the de Cantilupe family in 1245. The change took place again in 1272, after the Cantilupe family expired, the fortress was granted to the Hastings family. At the end of the fourteenth century, the castle once again returned to the Crown of England. Since then, it began to fall into disrepair, recent historical messages about it, leaving information about the damages of the stronghold during the Welsh rebellion of Owain Glyndŵr in the early fifteenth century. Probably then it was finally abandoned.


   The castle was erected on a rocky promontory above the Teifi River, north and east directly on the cliff. It is not known how exactly the first timber building from the 12th century looked like. The earliest stone fragments probably had the form of a shield wall. The castle, which ruins are visible to this day, began to be built at the beginning of the 13th century. From the side of the cliffs it was less fortified, the main fortifications were facing south. It consisted of two defense lines, formed in the upper castle (inner ward) and outer bailey.
The first was built a cylindrical eastern tower at the beginning of the 13th century. After the death of William Marshall the younger, one of his brothers erected a powerful second, also cylindrical tower and four-sided gatehouse. Gatehouse had two floors, a drawbridge and two portcullises. A defensive wall approached it and was flanked by a round western tower. The chapel probably was located on the first floor because there was a piscina or basin for washing dishes, used during the mass. The portcullis would then have to be raised inside the chapel, but other such examples are known, for example in the Caernarfon Castle or in the Marten’s Tower of Chepstow Castle.

   Two large cylindrical towers had three floors above the basement. Because the eastern one was built first, it initially served as a keep, although it was unusual to enter it from ground level. Internal communication was provided by a spiral staircase, and a fireplace was installed on the highest chamber. From the south side, the tower had only shooting holes, from the side of the inner ward there were already larger windows, illuminating the interior. Next to the tower were small door, protected by a portcullis, which led to a dry moat and further to a wicket gate in the outer wall. The western tower originally had only an entrance from the first floor. On the first and second floor there were fireplaces and windows from the inside; the window was also on the third floor, but the room did not have a fireplace.
The inner ward structure was concentrated by the north-west and north-east curtains. After passing the gate to the left, there was a place where the mortar was made for construction, and then there was a kitchen building. The north corner of the castle was occupied by a polygonal tower from the 14th century.
The outer bailey stretching to the south was separated from the upper ward by a dry moat (ditch). Its fortifications consisted of a defensive wall in which two small gatehouses were placed on the south side. On some reconstructions eastern one is shown as a common half tower. Additionally on the outer bailey were located a few buildings, probably of economic purposes.

Current state

   The castle has survived to this day in the form of a ruin, and its best preserved elements are two large cylindrical towers from the 13th century, fragments of the defensive walls that are in contact with them and an inner fragment of the main gatehouse. Of the remaining elements of the castle, mainly foundation parts have been preserved, reaching the highest fragments up to a few meters, for example the south wall of the northern tower. The castle is under the care of the Cadw government agency and made available for free to explore.

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Kenyon J., The medieval castles of Wales, Cardiff 2010.
Website, Cilgerran Castle.