The Normans began penetrating southwestern Wales at the end of the 11th century when Roger de Montgomery, Earl of Shrewsbury occupied Pembrokeshire, and Henry de Beaumont, Earl of Warwick conquered the Gower Peninsula. Over the next decades, the Normans sought to expand their territory, which they strengthened by building castles in essential places. Laugharne Castle was one of those strongholds erected at the beginning of the 12th century to secure the crossing of the Taf river. It was mentioned for the first time in documents in 1116, when a man named Bleddyn ap Cedifor, a native Welshman who took the invaders side and got in exchange the administration of Laugharne.
The castle remained in the hands of the Anglo – Normans throughout the period of anarchy and Welsh – Norman skirmishes, after the death of king Henry in 1135. After accession the throne of Henry II in 1154, the situation improved and after fifteen years the king reached an agreement with Rhys ap Gruffydd, the ruler of the Welsh Deheubarth. Some negotiations took place in Laugharne Castle, but the long-reaching agreement collapsed in 1189 with the death of kng Henry II. Rhys invaded English castles in south-west Wales, including capturing and burning Laugharne. Only the strongholds in Carmarthan and Pembroke resisted invasions.
As a result of the destruction, the castle was thoroughly rebuilt in the second half of the 12th century. However, already in 1215 it was attacked by Llywelyn ap Iorwerth and again burnt. The destroyed structure remained in the hands of the Welsh until William Marshal, the second Earl of Pembroke in 1231, regained it. Before 1247, the castle passed into the hands of Guy de Brian, whose family had extensive estates in south-west England, but he himself went to Pembrokeshire to seek new opportunities. Laugharne owed him a thorough reconstruction in the mid-13th century. Strengthening the fortifications, however, was not enough, because the Welsh, united under the leadership of Llywelyn ap Gruffudd, captured the castle and imprisoned Guy in 1258. Laugharne only regained his son, also named Guy, during the Anglo – Welsh war in the 70s of the thirteenth century. The expansion and defense program of the castle from the end of the 13th century and the 14th century apparently brought results, as Laugharne remained unconquered during the Welsh uprising of Owain Glyndŵr at the beginning of the 15th century. Later, the castle became the subject of a long-standing property dispute, which was finally settled in 1488, when Laugharne passed into the hands of Henry Percy, Northumberland earl. While in 1575, it became the property of John Perrot, who began rebuilding the castle for a renaissance residence in the style of Tudor. The modifications from this period were mainly focused on improving living conditions and for this reason, among others, huge rectangular windows were pierced in the gate and towers.
During the English Civil War the castle was first taken over by the forces of Parliament, and then in 1644, captured by royalists. In the same year, Parliamentary troops under the command of General Major Rowland besieged Laugharne, which , after a week’s fire, was surrendered by the commander of the garrison. Since then, the castle has been in ruin and has never been rebuilt.
The original castle from the 12th century was a relatively simple building, protected from the south and west by the river, and from the land by a ditch and an earth rampart crowned with a timber palisade. Inside, the central point was a fortified circuit with a shaft and a dry moat (ringwork).
In the second half of the 12th century, the defensive wall of the inner ward was rebuilt into a stone one, and a large rectangular building was erected inside the perimeter. In the middle of the thirteenth century, the inner ward was reinforced with two large, round towers on the north side and a new range was built on the south side, which replaced the destroyed, earlier ones. The north-west tower was slightly larger, it had three floors and basement, it flanked the gate and probably initially served as a keep. The north-east tower had a basement and two storeys. The south range contained a kitchen on the ground floor and a great hall on the first floor.
Towards the end of the 13th century, in order to avoid another loss of the castle, Guy de Brian II strengthened the north – west gate of the upper castle (inner ward), erecting two towers flanking the passage between them, and adding a lofty, cylindrical tower with spurs to the south – west side of the castle and a smaller latrine bay next to. Fortification of the northern, outer ward, which until now were made of wood, was rebuilt into stone and reinforced with a twin-tower gatehouse on the north side. It had two rooms on the ground floor on the sides for the guards and a room on the first floor. Work continued in the fourteenth century by the grandson of Guy de Brian, who raised the walls and towers and added a new tower on the south-eastern side.
The last modifications brought renaissance rebuilding from the 16th century. In addition to piercing large, rectangular windows in towers and gates, a new range was built with a narrow semicircular tower between the cylindrical northern towers of the upper castle.
The castle has survived to modern times in the form of a ruin. Almost the entire outer perimeter of the defensive walls has been preserved along with the northern gate, ruined during the English Civil War, the north-west and south-west towers. The second of the great cylindrical towers, north-eastern, has only been preserved in half. Also from the main entrance gatehouse to the inner ward is visible only, rebuilt in the sixteenth century, the outer, northern facade. Also only the outer wall survived from the southern range. The castle is open from March 24 to November 4, from 10:00 to 17:00.
Kenyon J., The medieval castles of Wales, Cardiff 2010.
Website castlesfortsbattles.co.uk, Laugharne castle.