The first timber – earth motte and bailey castle was erected in Newport at the end of the 11th century, probably on the initiative of Wilhelm II Rufus. At the time he was campaigning against the Welsh or he was given land by Robert Fitzhamon, Baron of Gloucester. This first stronghold was created on the Stow Hill, about a kilometer from the later stone structure. In 1172 Newport was attacked by Iorwerth ab Owain Gwynedd, father of Llywelyn ap Iorwerth, but apparently it was rebuilt, because the royal documents from 1185 recorded expenditures on the castle.
Robert Fitzhamon did not have a male heir, so the Newport castle became the property of his eldest daughter, Mabel Fitzhamon. Around 1107 she married Robert de Caen, who was the illegitimate son of king Henry I. Before 1199, the castle was in the possession of prince John (later king), who received it through marriage with Isabella FitzRobert, Countess of Gloucester. In 1217, the castle passed into the hands of Gilbert de Clare, Earl of Gloucester, who kept him until 1314, except for short periods in 1265, during the Second Baron’s War, and in 1296 after Morgan Maredudd ap Llywelyn attack. Gilbert died in the Battle of Bannockburn in 1314, and Newport became the property of the king. Edward II gave it to an unpopular favorite, Hugh Despenser the Elder, which caused the attack of Roger Mortimer, Earl of March, during which the timber castle on Stow Hill was completely destroyed.
The second, this time stone, castle in Newport was erected between 1326 and 1380 by Hugh de Audley, later Earl of Gloucester or by his son-in-law Ralph de Stafford. Situated on the banks of the river Usk, it controlled trade and traffic along this important water route.
In 1400, the Welsh rebellion led by Owain Glyndŵr broke out. The uprising spread quickly and after 1402, and it also covered the areas of South Wales. The castle and the town of Newport were captured by insurgents along with fortifications in nearby Caerleon and Usk. Newport returned to royal hands in 1405, after the collapse of independence struggle. At that time, necessary repairs were made on behalf of Henry IV, and with the restoration of English control in South Wales, its role as an administrative center resumed.
In 1435 subsequent improvements were made by Humphrey Stafford, and after the overthrow of the Yorks after the Battle of Bosworth in 1485, the castle was briefly used as the residence of Jasper Tudor, uncle of Henry VII. It returned to the Crown in 1521, but was neglected and fell into disrepair. Nevertheless, the royalist garrison occupied the castle in 1648 during the English Civil War. A year later, the forces of the Parliament under the command of Oliver Cromwell made an attack and captured the stronghold. From that moment it was abandoned and completely ruined.
The castle was erected on the river Usk, on its west bank, just above the crossing. It received a form on a pentagonal plan with a clearly dominant eastern side, facing the waterfront. This part was to impress and secure traffic on the river through three large towers.
The central tower had an ogival gate portal, through which during the high inflow, small boats had access to the interior. Above there was a vaulted chamber warmed by a fireplace, probably used during audiences and for greeting guests, and from the western side there was a spiral staircase. The western part of the central tower was extended towards the inner ward and probably housed a chapel. The north tower now has two floors above the basement, it was certainly at least one floor higher. A north gate was situated next to it. The south tower had three floors, chambers with fireplaces and a latrine. Originally it was accessible through the gallery leading from the central tower. Like the northern tower, it was strengthened in the basement with prominent spurs.
On the west side, a single defensive wall separated an inner ward with buildings located by the inner faces of the defensive walls. It contained, among others, utility rooms, a kitchen and a great hall. In the southern curtain of the wall there was another gate, and the whole castle was surrounded by a watery moat.
Until now, the ruined, waterfront, east part of the castle has been preserved, consisting of three towers connected by a defensive wall, with windows visible on the once adjoining buildings. The castle is neglected today, not adapted to sightseeing and closed due to the safety of visitors.
Kenyon J., The medieval castles of Wales, Cardiff 2010.
Lindsay E., The castles of Wales, London 1998.
Website castlesfortsbattles.co.uk, Newport castle.