In the 11th century, the area around the village of Raglan was given to the Norman lord William Fitz Osbern, Earl of Hereford. Perhaps he built a small, timber-and-earth motte and bailey structure, as the Raglan location was of strategic importance. From the end of the 12th century to the end of the 14th century, nearby lands belonged to the Bloet family, who built a court in Raglan during this period. The present, stone castle began to build Sir William ap Thomas, the younger son of a minor Welsh family, who was promoted in the political hierarchy in the first half of the fifteenth century. In 1432 he bought the court in Raglan and began construction works.
William’s son resigned from the Welsh version of his name, calling himself William Herbert. The importance of his and his family grew during the War of the Roses and the Hundred Years War in France. Fortune was also brought by trade of Gascony wine. He was also the first Welshman to receive the earl title. In the 60s of the 15th century William used his growing wealth to rebuild the castle on a much larger scale and symbolically show his wealth, influence and greatness of the family in architecture.
William Herbert, as a supporter of the York family, was executed in 1469 after the Battle of Edgecote Moor. Construction work could then be stopped, but it was continued by William’s son, also known as William Herbert, in the late 70s of the 15th century. In 1492, the castle passed into the hands of Elizabeth Somerset, the daughter of William Herbert, who married Sir Charles Somerset, handing Raglan to a new lineage of the family. His son Henry and grandson Edward, continued to expand the castle in the 16th century, eventually turning it into a renaissance residence.
In the forties of the 17th century, during the English Civil War, the castle was owned by Henry, Earl of Worcester, who was a staunch royalist. Despite the defeat of the royal army at the Battle of Naseby in 1645, he remained loyal to the king and placed in Reglan, at his own expense, a garrison of up to 800 soldiers. In addition, the castle was reinforced with earth bastions, trees were removed outside the gates of the castle, and neighboring buildings were destroyed to avoid their use by enemies. The army of Parliament arrived in June 1646, and as Henry refused to surrender, the castle was surrounded and the siege began. The garrison of the castle lasted until August 16, 1646, when Reglan was surrendered. The winners decided to destroy the castle to prevent its military re-use.
The castle was built of light sandstone from Redbrook, later also Old Red Sandstone and limestone from Bath for architectural finishes and details were used. The oldest and main element of the castle was a Great Tower built on a hexagon plan. It had five floors with a single room on each floor. It was crowned with battlement on the machicolations and a smaller observation turret. The entrance to the tower led through two drawbridges located next to each other: a smaller carried by one arm, used for everyday use and a larger one lifted by two arms, used during major events. In the 60s of the 15th century, a timber bridge was replaced with a stone bridge, and a stone annex was erected instead of drawbridges. The stairs placed in the wall thickness led to the kitchen with a fireplace and a well, as well as to arrowslits and private rooms above. They were all equipped with fireplaces, windows and latrines. The tower from around 1460 was surrounded by a low zwinger wall, equipped with corner turrets. One of them had a latrine and the other had a gate that was opened to the moat that surrounded the tower.
The main entrance to the castle led over the drawbridge, through the Great Gate on the east side. It consisted of twin, five-sided towers, flanking the passage between them. The passage was originally vaulted and additionally protected by two doors and two portcullises. There were guard rooms on the sides. Both the gate and gate towers were crowned with machicolations and battlements. The upper two floors occupied the chambers of the castle’s constable. Directly to the west of the gate was the castle library, once known from the large collection of Welsh literature.
Behind the Great Gate stretched a large Pitched Stone Court with kitchens, brewhouses and other utility rooms, and the building of the great hall and buttery on the west side. The north – east range and the building of the great hall were considerably expanded during the renaissance reconstruction of the 16th century. The great hall was originally 13 meters high, the roof was made of Irish oak and hall was equipped with carved wooden panels and a gallery for minstrels. The eastern corner of the ward was protected by a huge, six-sided Closet Tower, and the north corner by an even larger, also six-sided, Kitchen Tower. Between them, in the 16th century, another, five-sided tower was added. The Kitchen Tower, apart from the defensive function, contained rooms for the service on the first floor, a kitchen and a room for preparing meals on the ground floor, and a pantry in the basement.
By a corridor placed in the building of the great hall, you could get to the ward on the western side of the castle (Fountain Court). It owed its name to a fountain that was once in the middle of it. It was surrounded by buildings erected in the second half of the fifteenth century, serving mainly residential purposes, with the main entrance through a staircase in the western corner. The residential range was two-storey and adjoined the inner faces of the defensive walls from the east, south and west. The northern part of the ward was occupied by the chapel, over which a long, 38-meter gallery was added in the 16th century. It was lined with paneling, tapestries and paintings, aimed at making possible for families and guests to relax. In the east corner there was a living room and dining room on the first floor. These were rooms more private than the great hall, where larger celebrations, feasts and parties were organized. The defense of the Fountain Court was provided by three towers, two on the west side and one on the south side, next to the gate. This entrance was located in a four-sided gatehouse called the South Gate, which was yet from the first half of the fifteenth century and was originally the main entrance to the castle. The visitor had to circle the Great Tower and the moat before he could cross the South Gate, through the ward and then enter the tower.
The late medieval castle at Raglan had little features in common with other Welsh fortresses. A large keep located outside the outer bailey fortifications, two parallel drawbridges, prominent machicolations and a high standard of stone carved decorations suggest continental influences. The fact that both William ap Thomas and his son fought in France, may serve as a clue as to the source of inspiration for the construction of the castle.
The castle, which is currently the best example of a late medieval castle and renaissance residence in Wales, has survived to modern times in the form of a ruin. Over the centuries, the north-east range of the sixteenth century and the housing development surrounding the Fountain Court suffered the greatest losses. Unfortunately, one of the oldest elements of the castle, the Great Tower, lost the eastern wall and the highest storey. The towers of the Great Gate and the Closet Tower, still having defensive machicolations and decorative gargoyles, have been preserved in good condition. The powerful Kitchen Tower, though without internal divisions and the towers surrounding the Fountain Court, also have survived. The castle is open to the public and open from March 1 to June 30, daily from 9.30 to 17.00, from July 1 to August 31 daily from 9.30 to 18.00, from September 1 to October 31, every day from 9.30 to 17.00 and from 1 November to February 28 from Monday to Saturday 10.00 – 16.00 and on Sundays between 11.00 and 16.00.
Kenyon J., The medieval castles of Wales, Cardiff 2010.
Werbsite castlesfortsbattles.co.uk, Raglan castle.
Werbsite wikipedia.org, Raglan castle.