The first castle in Llawhaden in the form of a timber-earth defensive circuit (ringwork), was built by the Norman bishop Bernard from nearby St David, at the beginning of the twelfth century. It was a defensive building, but also a center for managing church properties in the region. The castle also provided adequate accommodation for the higher clergy. In 1192, Llawhaden was attacked and destroyed by the Welsh of Lord Rhys, which caused a short-term abandonment of the stronghold. When the castle was re-occupied at the beginning of the 13th century, it was extended, in particular by replacing timber fortifications with a stone defensive wall.
At the end of the 13th century, bishop Bek founded a borough in Llawhaden, hoping to increase the economic strength of the settlement and nearby territories. The castle, however, began to be expanded from 1362 by bishop Adam de Houghton. The defensive walls were raised, polygonal towers and residential buildings were added, and at the end of the 14th century a new gatehouse was built.
At the beginning of the 15th century, the castle was occupied by garrison for the last time in the face of the Welsh rebellion of Owain Glyndŵr, but during this period it had little military significance. In the 16th century, the castle fell under the rule of bishop William Barlow, who sold lead from the roofs of the castle to pay for the dowry of one of his daughters. It caused damages to the rest of the building, and as a result its complete abandonment and falling into ruin.
On the west side of the inner ward there was a bakery building from the end of the fifteenth century, and the south and the east side of the courtyard occupied a sequence of buildings adjacent to the defensive wall. Above the vaulted ground floor, they housed bishop’s rooms, guest rooms and a chapel. The main entrance to this range was located in a tall, slender, five-story vestibule, whose entrance portal was flanked by two carved heads. On the top floors of the vestibule there were also small chambers. It was the highest element of the castle, from which there was a view of the whole area. The chapel was located on the first floor of the building next to the polygonal east tower, in which the basement was a prison, and in the ground floor a latrine. The room on the first floor of the tower could serve as a priest’s apartment, as there was a fireplace and a latrine, or the sacristy of the chapel. On the even higher floor of the tower was another chamber, probably serving administrative purposes. In the south range there were two main chambers on the first floor and two on the second floor. They were all warmed by fireplaces. They were located next to a polygonal south tower called Closet Tower. In addition to the function indicated by its name, it also had small sleeping rooms.
The castle has survived to modern times in the form of an advanced ruin. The southern range with two polygonal towers and a five-story vestibule have been preserved in the best condition. A characteristic element of the castle is the partly preserved, external wall of the main castle gatehouse from the end of the 14th century. The northern range is in a worse condition, although its lower parts are visible, including entrance portals and some windows. The north-western part of the castle was the least fortunate, after which a defensive wall, a cylindrical tower from the 13th century and a bakery building from the 15th century only provide foundations. The castle is managed by the governmental agency Cadw and made available for free for sightseeing.
Kenyon J., The medieval castles of Wales, Cardiff 2010.
Website castlesfortsbattles.co.uk, Llawhaden castle.