The first timber – earth castle in St Donats was erected in the 11th century during the Norman penetration of the lands of South Wales. The oldest stone building (keep) began to be built at the end of the 12th century on the initiative of the de Hawey family. At the end of the 13th century, the castle became the property of a Stradling family from Switzerland, through the marriage of Sir Peter Stradling and Joan de Hawey. Sir Peter, his wife, and later her second husband John de Pembridge, enlarged the castle at the turn of the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, fortifying the outer ward and expanding the keep and the gatehouse of the upper castle.
At the end of the fourteenth century, Edward Stradling was twice the sheriff in Glamorgan, and his wife Gwenllian Berkerolles inherited the Coity Castle. Their grandson, Edward, married the daughter of Henry VI’s uncle, cardinal Beaufort, and became chamberlain of South Wales in 1423. In 1449, his son Henry was captured by a pirate Colin Dolphyn, during a cruise from Somerset to Wales and had to be bought out. In the sixteenth century, another Edward Stradling founded a library in St Donats, which was reportedly the best in Wales.
During the English Civil War, the Stradlings supported Charles I and for this reason, the family lost their importance after it ended. However, they kept the castle in St Donats until the death of Sir Thomas Stradling, who died in a duel in France in 1738. The property was inherited by his friend Sir John Tyrwhitt, with whom he supposedly made a pact, in which everyone promised his legacy in the event of death.
Under the Tyrwhitt family, the castle entered a period of long fall and gradually fell into disrepair. Partial renovation began only after a hundred years John Whitlock Nicholl Carne, who bought the castle in 1862. Unfortunately, these repairs had little to do with the historical appearance of the castle. The next stage of the reconstruction took place in the years 1901 – 1909, when the new owner, Morgan Williams, made extensive and more thorough renovation, employing well-known architects George Frederick Bodley and Thomas Garner. In 1925, the castle was bought by millionaire William Randolph Hearst, who carried out his next reconstruction, making the stronghold similar to a residential mansion. He made many changes, transforming the original fragments of the castle. Among other bought medieval architectural elements in Great Britain and France and installed them in St. Donats. For example, a painted timber ceiling from the church in Boston, or moved ceiling from the refectory of the Bradenstoke monastery from the early fourteenth century.
The castle was erected on a promontory of a hill with steep rocks on the western and north-western sides. The most accessible eastern side was secured by a dry moat. In the twelfth and thirteenth century, the defensive wall surrounded a polygonal courtyard with a diameter of about 40 meters, which was led by a gatehouse tower. The main building was a rectangular keep, today called the Mansell Tower. At the beginning of the fourteenth century, a defensive wall of outer bailey was built with a gatehouse and the North Tower. It is likely that the fragments of the upper castle with the keep at the head have expanded than. In the fifteenth century, the residential area of the castle increased, as a result of the construction of the north-east and south-east ranges, the Gibbet Tower and the Stradling Hall building on the upper castle (inner ward). At the beginning of the 16th century, the west range and the chambers of the northern range were built.
The castle has survived to modern times, but its appearance is the result of numerous transformations, unfortunately also modern. They are manifested, among others, in new, large windows and in contemporary buildings erected in the castle, such as the Dining Hall or Bradenstoke Hall, erected in order to place a medieval roof truss, moved at the beginning of the 20th century century from the Bradenstoke monastery. Currently, the castle is owned by the private Atlantic College, but its sightseeing is possible on certain days and times.
Lindsay E., The castles of Wales, London 1998.
Website castlewales.com, St Donat’s Castle.
Website wikipedia.org, St Donat’s Castle.