The place where the Pembroke Castle was erected was already fortified in the Iron Age, and then used in Roman times and in the early medieval period. When in 1093 Welsh king Rhys was killed in a frontier skirmish, Norman baron Roger de Montgomery took the opportunity to occupy south-west Wales. After the conquest, he built the castles at Cardigan and Pembroke, the latter of which was a timber stronghold erected with the use of earthworks of an earlier fort from the Iron Age.
Due to internal conflicts in England, in 1102 Pembroke Castle was occupied by king Henry I, who founded the town at its foot. The castle remained a royal property until 1138, when king Stephen created the earldom and gave it to his follower, Gilbert de Clare. His son and successor, in 1169, used Pembroke as a base to start an invasion of Ireland. This unauthorized action provoked the anger of Henry II, who personally intervened in Ireland and confiscated Pembroke, which was briefly given to the prince (later king) John. In August 1189, king Richard arranged the marriage of Isabel, granddaughter of de Clare, with William Marshal, who received both the castle and the Earldom of Pembroke. He started the construction of a stone castle, erecting a powerful keep. After William Marshall, the castle inherited each of his five sons, of whom the third, Gilbert Marshal, was responsible for enlarging and strengthening the castle between 1234 and 1241. In the end, all the sons of Marshall died childless, and in 1247 the castle was inherited by William de Valence, the half brother of Henry III, who became Earl of Pembroke through marriage to Joan, granddaughter of William Marshall. The Valence family owned Pembroke for the next seventy years.
During the two wars of Welsh independence in the second half of the thirteenth century, the castle became the base of de Valence to fight the Welsh princes. However, when at the end of the century Wales was already pacified, the military significance of the castle clearly decreased. After the death of the son of William de Valence, Aymer de Valence, the second Earl of Pembroke, the castle went through marriage to the Hastings family, which owned it until 1389, until the childless death of John Hastings. Pembroke passed into royal hands again, this time to Richard II.
At the beginning of the 15th century, Owain Glyndŵr began the great uprising of the Welsh. Pembroke avoid the invasion because the then castle’s constable, Francis а Court, paid Glyndŵr a tribute in gold, and the rebellion was suppressed after a few years. In 1452, the castle and earldom were given to Jasper Tudor, the half-brother of king Henry VI. Tudor brought his widowed sister-in-law, Margaret Beaufort, to Pembroke, who in 1457 gave birth to her only child, who would eventually become the king of England, Henry VII.
The rest of the fifteenth century and the sixteenth century passed for Pembroke in peace. It was probably influenced by the reign of the new Tudor dynasty, which as Welsh in origin, affected the ease of hostility of the two nations. The change was brought by the English Civil War in the 17th century. Although most of South Wales was on the king’s side, Pembroke opted for Parliament. It was besieged by royalist troops, but was saved by the relief from nearby Milford Haven. The parliamentary forces then seized the royalist castles of Tenby, Haverfordwest and Carew. In 1648, when the war was over, the leaders of Pembroke changed sides and unwisely raised the royalist uprising. In reaction, Oliver Cromwell captured the castle after the seven-week siege. Its three leaders were found guilty of treason, and Cromwell ordered the destruction of the castle. It was abandoned and allowed to fall into ruin. It was not until 1880 that the first three-year renovation project was undertaken, and then in 1928 General Ivor Philipps acquired the castle and began its general renovation.
The first fortifications were erected on a rocky promontory at the mouth of the Cleddau River to the Mill Lake. These were timber and earth fortifications consisting of a palisade and an earth ramparts, cutting through the semi-circle of the edge of the hill.
At the beginning of the thirteenth century, under the rule of William Marshall, began to erect on a larger scale stone elements of the castle. Above all, a huge, cylindrical keep was built, one of the oldest and the most magnificent in Britain. The inspiration for it was probably similar buildings in France, which William could encounter during the fighting on the continent. It was placed on the highest point of the hill, from which, having almost 23 meters in height, it dominated the entire surroundings. Its diameter was 15 meters and the thickness of the walls at the base of 6 meters. Originally, it had five floors and an entrance on timber stairs at the height of the first floor. Communication with ground level and higher floors was provided by a spiral staircase placed in the wall thickness. The first three floors were warmed by fireplaces, the second and third were illuminated by early gothic biforas. From the second level, you could get through a small bridge to the adjacent porch of the defensive wall. It was a timber connection that could be removed at any time to prevent enemies from getting a keep. The last floor of the tower was crowned with a unique dome with an observation turret mounted on it and two circuits with a battlements. The holes visible in the wall indicate that the top of the keep also had hoardings.
The defensive wall of the 13th century stronghold, that is the later upper castle, closed the inner ward with a plan similar to a triangle. The entrance to it was from the south, through the horseshoe gate tower. The gate’s passage was located in its west side and did not have a portcullis. After entering, it turned sharply to the left, where there were another door leading to the inner ward.
The defensive wall of the upper castle was additionally reinforced in the mid-13th century by the Dungeon Tower, also known as the Prison Tower, on the south-eastern side and the horseshoe North Tower and a small four-sided tower next to it. As it was the site best protected by natural conditions (high scarp, water reservoir) towers from the north did not have to be large. A four-sided latrine block was added to the Prison Tower at the end of the 13th century.
The residential and commercial housing of the upper castle were located in its north-eastern corner. Initially, it was a rectangular building (Norman Hall) from 1150-1170. It is considered to be the oldest stone building in the castle, which was created at the time when the fortifications were timber. In the second half of the thirteenth century, in the time of William de Valence, a small building with a private chamber (solar) was added to its southern wall, and on the north side a two-storey building of the great hall with a crenellation. There was a kitchen on the ground floor, and a great hall on the first floor. It was a place of arranging feasts and greeting guests, the most representative chamber in the castle. In the north – east corner there was also a water gate situated in a cave known as Wogan, lying under the building of the great hall. Used already in prehistoric times, the cave was taken over by Normans, strengthened with a wall with arrowslits and served as a food, beverage and boat store. At the end of the 13th century, on the western side of the building of the great hall, a chancery building was erected, perpendicular to it. There, all administrative and legal issues related to Pembroke County were resolved. Around 1480, the private chamber (solar) got a late-gothic oriel window from the side of the ward.
In the western part of the inner ward there was a rectangular building of the Western Hall, which was attached to the inner face of the upper castle wall. Next to it was probably the not preserved building of the chapel.
The lower castle (outer ward) stretched on the south-eastern side of the upper castle and covered the lower part of the rocky promontory. The entrance was located in the south-eastern, three-story gatehouse. It had an unusual form, because its western part was a D-shaped tower, and the eastern part was only a simple, four-sided block. From the outside, additional protection was provided by a semicircular barbican. The inner side was crowned with two cylindrical communication towers. The passage of the gate, like other ones, was defended by portcullis, doors, arrowslits and machicolation, and on the sides had guard rooms. Above there were three chambers on each level, providing residential quarters.
To the east of the gate, the curtain wall was strengthened by the Barbican Tower and then by the cylindrical Northgate Tower. Town fortifications were connected to it from the eastern side. The north section of the outer bailey from the early fourteenth century was defended by the Mill’s Bastion and the St. Anne’s Bastion. The Mill Tower was in the form of a four-sided construction with a half-round, higher turret. A section west of the gate was defended by a wall reinforced with three towers. It was in order: cylindrical Tower of Henry VII, cylindrical, corner Westgate Tower and erected near the upper castle, Monkton Tower. From the Westgate Tower, the town walls departed towards the south. The Monkton Tower and the St. Anne’s Bastion provided protection for the wicket gates located next to them. The buildings of the outer bailey were mainly timber, utility and economic houses.
The Pembroke Castle is currently one of the best preserved strongholds in Wales. It survived and was restored the entire circuit of the defensive walls with the towers of both the upper and lower castle (inner and outer bailey). Of particular interest is one of the oldest and best preserved keep in the United Kingdom. Of the elements that have not survived to modern times, the most notable is the horseshoe gate tower and the adjoining fragment of the upper bailey wall. The castle is open to visitors throughout the year, from April 1 to September 30 from 9:30 to 18:00 in March and October from 10.00 to 17.00, on Saturdays from 10.00 to 16.00.
Kenyon J., The medieval castles of Wales, Cardiff 2010.
Website castlesfortsbattles.co.uk, Pembroke castle.