The castle was built in the second half of the 11th century, shortly after the Norman invasion of England in 1066. Skenfrith was then awarded by king William to one of his main supporters, William Fitz Osber, Earl of Hereford. The original builder of the castle is therefore uncertain, it was Fitz Osbern or king William. It is known, however, that it was originally a timber – earth stronghold of the motte and bailey type, which was to confirm the Anglo-Norman rule over the Welshmen. Together with the castles at Grosmont and White Castle, Skenfrith protected the Monnow valley.
In 1075, William’s son, Roger de Breteuil, rebelled against the king, and in 1135 the Welsh population rebelled. As a result, king Stephen reorganized the landholdings in march, including Skenfrith and its sister fortifications in Grosmont and White Castle, back under the control of the Crown.
After a period of peace under the rule of Henry II in the 60s of the 12th century, conflicts in the next decade with the Welshmen broke out again. The Norman families Mortimer and de Braose took over more lands in west Wales, leading to a retaliatory attack on the nearby Abergavenny castle in 1182. In response, the king ordered to strengthen Skenfrith, which was issued in 1186, 43 pounds. Subsequent work was carried out in 1190.
In 1201, king John handed over Three Castles (Skenfrith, Grosmont, and White) to Hubert de Burgh. He was a small landowner who became a chamberlain when John was a prince, and when John inherited the throne, he became a powerful royal official. Hubert began to improve his strongholds, but was captured during fights in France. While he was in captivity, king John handed over Three Castles to William de Braose, rival of Hubert. William soon fell into royal disgrace and lost his lands in 1207, but the son of de Braos, also known as William, managed to regain it during the First Baron’s War. After his release, Hubert became Earl of Kent, entered into royal favors and managed again to receive Three Castles in 1219, during the reign of king Henry III. During Hubert’s rule, Skenfrith was completely rebuilt, the old stronghold was razed, and a new stone-built castle was erected in its place.
Hubert lost authority in 1232 and was deprived of castles that were transferred under the command of Walerund Teutonicus, the royal servant. Walerund, during his reign at Skenfrith, built a new chapel at the castle in 1244 and repaired the roof of the fortress. In 1254, the castle and its sister strongholds were granted to the eldest son of king Henry, the later king, Edward.
Despite numerous Anglo-Welsh wars and a periodic threat, during which the castle was hastily reinforced, Skenfrith was never attacked. After the invasion of Edward I and the conquest of Wales in 1282-1283, the castle’s military significance diminished and no modernization was carried out. It was not until the Welsh uprising in the early 15th century, that Skenfrith was prepared for defense. Eventually, the rebellion was defeated after a few years, and the unused castle until the sixteenth century fell into disrepair.
The castle from the beginning of the 13th century was built along the Monnow river on an irregularly shaped square plan. It was erected from Old Red Sandstone. The length of the eastern, longest curtain wall was 80 meters, north and west 60 meters, and southern only 40 meters. Originally, the castle was surrounded by a moat, which bed was lined with stones and filled with water from a nearby river. The moat was 2.7 meters deep and 14 meters wide. The entrance to the castle was in the middle of the northern curtain in a rather straight gatehouse with a portcullis and a drawbridge. On the west side there was also a water wicket water gate. The defensive walls were crowned with a parapet with a battlement and, at least on some sections, with hoardings. The corners were reinforced with cylindrical and semicircular towers, and the western curtain was additionally given a semi-circular tower in the late 13th century, also serving as a latrine.
The internal structure was formed by a range attached to the eastern curtain wall (hall). Originally it consisted of a long room at the northern end and a smaller chamber in the south. The northern part was divided by a partition wall at the end of the 13th century. The main hall was on the first floor, above the room with a fireplace on the ground floor. The south end of the building had a water tank. On the opposite side of the eastern range there was a rectangular, late-medieval building of the kitchen, and at the north curtain perhaps there was a chapel.
The main element of the castle was a centrally located on the inner ward, a cylindrical keep, erected around 1230. It stood on a light, 2 meter high hill. It had three floors with an entrance leading through timber stairs, straight to the first floor. From there, a spiral, stone staircase led above to a private chamber, warmed by a fireplace and equipped with a latrine. From the outside, the staircase bulged slightly from the cylindrical shape of the keep. For the economic ground floor, probably got by a ladder through the hatch in the floor. Keep was crowned with hoardings.
The castle has been preserved to modern times in the form of a ruin. The defensive walls have survived on almost the entire perimeter and currently reach up to a height of 5 meters. Three of the four corner towers and the west latrine tower are visible. The most valuable element, however, is a well-preserved cylindrical keep. Unfortunately, there is no longer an entrance gatehouse, nor internal development, which is proven only by relics of foundations. The ruins of the castle are open to visitors.
Kenyon J., The medieval castles of Wales, Cardiff 2010.
Website castlesfortsbattles.co.uk, Skenfrith Castle.
Website wikipedia.org, Skenfrith Castle.