Nevern Castle was originally a Welsh stronghold, conquered at the beginning of the 12th century by the Norman lord Robert FitzMartin, during the conquest of the Pembrokeshire lands. He made Nevern the headquarter of his Cemais barony. Norman control over Pembrokeshire broke down in 1136, when the Welsh victory at the Battle of Crug Mawr. Nevern remained in Welsh hands and passed into the hands of prince Rhys ap Grufford in 1156. He made an agreement with king Henry II, confirming his right to the lands of Deheubarth, but he had to give up the estates in Pembrokeshire. At that time, Robert FitzMartin was dead, but his son, William, married Angharad, daughter of Rhys, and probably the castle was returned to him at that time. In 1191 Rhys used the absence of William FitzMartin, who went to the Holy Land together with the Third Crusade, and took over the castle from his son-in-law. The reasons for this are unclear, but certainly caused family problems. In 1194, Rhys was imprisoned in the castle by his sons, and a year later one of them, Hywel Sais, destroyed the stronghold so that it would not fall into the hands of the Anglo-Normans. The castle was never rebuilt afterwards.
The castle was erected on a hill formed by the Gamman ravine. It was in the shape of a polygon close to a triangle, surrounded by timber and earth fortifications. After Robert FitzMartin was captured at the beginning of the 12th century, a 8 meter artificial mound (motte) was erected on the north-west corner where a timber tower was erected, probably of a keep function. The western and northern side of the castle was secured by external fortifications made of wood and earth, around which the road to the castle gate ran, forcing to cross the three corners before entering the castle (alternatively it was an ordinary doubled ditch with earth ramparts, and the entry road led across them).
In the second half of the 12th century, the stronghold was rebuilt, partially using stone. In the north-eastern part, a stone upper castle was created, separated from the rest of the complex by a ditch cut into the rock with a width and height of about 8 meters, over which the bridge was placed. It consisted of a perimeter of the walls separating a small, oval courtyard, about 25 x 20 meters, and a four-sided tower with the sides of about 9 meters. The original timber keep on the north-west side was rebuilt to the stone one, which was given the form of a cylindrical tower. A new stone tower was also erected in the southern corner of the castle. The entrance to the castle was still on the western side, but it no longer had the form of multiple turns, but led straight to the west, through a timber gatehouse and external stone-and-wood fortifications.
In the southern part of the ward, at least three stone buildings were erected, made of slate embedded in a clay basis. The entrances to these buildings were made of well-carved square blocks of hard sandstone. While the technique of slate and clay building is traditional in Wales, exactly square stone blocks suggest an Anglo-Norman mason. It is therefore a fusion of Welsh and Anglo-Norman construction technologies.
The castle has not survived to the present day, only the earth’s ramparts and moats, fragments of masonry foundations and an earth mound (motte) are visible. The castle area is open to visitors.
Davis P.R., Castles of the Welsh Princes, Talybont 2011.
Davis P.R., Towers of Defiance. The Castles & Fortifications of the Princes of Wales, Talybont 2021.
Salter M., The castles of South-West Wales, Malvern 1996.
Website castlesfortsbattles.co.uk, Nevern castle.
Website neverncastle.com, History.