In 1107, English king Henry I granted lordship over the Gower Peninsula to Henry de Beaumont, Earl of Warwick. Henry, on the other hand, gave lands around the later castle to a Norman knight, who took the name de Penrice. It was he or Henry de Beaumont who built the first timber – earth ringwork, known as the Mounty Brook or Brough Castle.
Around 1237 Robert de Penrice got married to Oxwich heiress, which brought him considerable wealth and probably prompted him to build a new stone castle. This building was erected some distance from the original stronghold, on the other side of the ravine. It was further expanded at the end of the 13th or at the beginning of the 14th century by another Robert de Penrice, to improve living conditions, although it seems that at that time the castle was outshined by other estates belonging to the family, including Oxwich and Llansteffan.
In 1377, the Penrice family temporarily lost the castle, because its then owner, Robert de Penrice, was convicted for a murder of a women in Llansteffan. His son managed to buy back the stronghold in 1391, but when he died in 1410, he did not leave any male heirs, and the castle passed by marriage to Sir Hugh Mansel. He made Penrice his main residence, but his great-grandson, Philip Mansel, gave the castle to Richard Penrice in 1463. The reason for this is unknown, but perhaps it was an attempt to avoid the castle’s confiscation for the support of Mansel granted to the Lancaster family during the War of the Roses. In 1485, the son of Filip Mansel regained his father’s estate, including Penrice. The Mansel family lived in Penrice until the mid-15th century, when they moved to the new, fortified mansion in Oxwich.
During the English Civil War in the mid-17th century, the castle was in a bad condition, although it was occupied by William Benet. It is possible that the armies of Parliament caused additional damages to make it unfit for military action. At the end of the 17th century, the castle was already in ruin.
The oldest element of the stone castle from the 13th century was a cylindrical keep, included in the perimeter of the defensive walls erected on a polygonal plan with a shape similar to a trapezoid. These fortifications included a vast courtyard with a size of about 85 x 55 meters, the largest in the Gower peninsula. The area around the castle descended steeply on the eastern, southern and south-western sides, where the 1.6 – 2 meters thick defensive walls were reinforced with unusual, small, semicircular turrets, protruding entirely in front of the face of the curtains (one of them was also absorbed by the later gatehouse). The entrance to the castle was in the northern corner of the castle.
The keep had a diameter of 9.7 meters and a wall thickness of up to 2.1 meters. It contained an upper room with three windows and a latrine, but without a fireplace, placed above an unlit room on the ground floor. Later, it was extended with an external wall from the courtyard side (chemise), covered with a flat roof and covering the entrance portal to the upper floor. Originally, this portal was accessible via external wooden stairs or a ladder that could be easily removed in case of an danger.
The entrance gate to the courtyard, at the turn of the 13th and 14th centuries, consisted of two three-story towers flanking the passage from the outside and an additional gate tower with dimensions of 8 x8 meters on the inside (at the courtyard). The outer towers were about 7 x 7 meters, four-sided, but had rounded corners. In each of its sides loop holes faced the gate passage, additionally closed with a portcullis lowered in the grooves.
At the same time, in the western part of the castle, on the northern side of the keep, an elongated building was erected with two four-sided projections protruding towards the foreground. The southern of these projections, located right next to the keep, on the first floor level housed a living room (solar) heated by a fireplace. It was illuminated by two windows, it also had access to the latrine in the adjoining annex. The main part of the building on the first floor housed a representative hall, accessible through the late-medieval vestibule in the courtyard, located above the economic ground floor. The second projections probably housed more residential rooms. Along with the construction of the hall and the new gate, fragments of the defensive walls in the northern and eastern corners of the castle were also transformed, both equipped with latrines for the patrolling guard.
The castle has survived to modern times in the form of a ruin with a readable layout. A nearly complete perimeter of the defensive walls has been preserved (except for the fragment at the gate, destroyed during the 17th century civil war and the south-eastern section where an early modern dovecote was built). The ruins of the keep, gatehouse and relics of internal development are also visible. The castle is in private hands, which makes it difficult to explore.
Salter M., The castles of Gwent, Glamorgan & Gower, Malvern 2002.
Website castlesfortsbattles.co.uk, Penrice Castle.
Website castlewales.com, Penrice Castle.