At the beginning of the 12th century, English king Henry I gave authority over the Gower Peninsula to Henry de Beaumont, Earl of Warwick, who erected a timber and earth stronghold in Swansea, probably in the form of motte and bailey. At the same time as its construction, the Normans built many other fortifications on the peninsula, including Loughor, Oystermouth, Penrice, Penmaen and Pennard. Already in 1116 Swansea was attacked, and the Welshmen managed to destroy the outer walls. After the reconstruction, the castle avoided further attacks for the next seventy years, despite ongoing fights in the region. In 1136, it was a safe haven for Normans fleeing from lost territories. After a brief period of peace during the reign of Henry II, who entered into an agreement with Lord Rhys, Welsh prince of Deheubarth, the battles resumed when Richard I ascend the throne. Swansea was again attacked in 1189 and 1192, although in both cases it resisted the attackers and it has not been captured. In the last invasion, the siege lasted for 10 weeks.
In 1203, king John granted Lordship of Gower to William de Braose, although quickly confiscated his property when began to suspect him of disloyalty. William fled abroad, but his wife and eldest son were captured and starved to death. In Wales, the survivors of the de Braose family have entered into an open conflict against the Crown in collaboration with the Welsh prince, Llywelyn ap Iorwerth. In 1212, on behalf of William, Rhys Gryg, son of Lord Rhys, attacked the castle in Swansea without success. The death of king John in 1216 and the policy of reconciliation of his successor, Henry III, led to peace with the de Braose family. However, this change resulted in another attack by Rhys Gryg on Swansea in 1217 and the capture of the castle. The de Braose family regained control of Swansea in 1220, as part of an agreement between Llywelyn ap Iorwerth and Henry III. During the period of the peace that followed, the castle was rebuilt into a stone, probably between 1221 and 1284.
After the Welsh Wars of Independence from 1276-1277 and 1282-1283, the political situation changed radically. Edward I defeated the last independent prince of Wales and conquered his lands. Due to the reduced threat, the rebuilt Swansea castle began to serve as a comfortable residence. Nevertheless, it retained the ability to defend itself and in 1287 successfully repulsed Rhys ap Maredudd’s attack, although the town itself and the nearby Oystermouth Castle were plundered. After capture, Rhys was detained in Swansea before his execution.
At the beginning of the 14th century, the town grew considerably and it was decided to secure it with stone fortifications. It were probably built before 1332, and the castle was quite unusual inside the fortified circuit. In 1331 Lordship of Gower passed through marriage to John de Mowbray. He joined Thomas, Earl of Lancaster, rebellion and fought on his side with the king’s forces at the Battle of Boroughbridge in 1322. He was captured after the battle and executed in the same year, and his property was lost to the Crown. After king Edward III ascend the throne, Swansea was returned to the Mowbray family, although they rarely visited the castle.
In 1400, a great Welsh uprising broke out under the leadership of Owain Glyndŵr. His forces occupied most of the Gower peninsula between 1403 and 1405, but the Swansea castle was most probably not attacked, and the rebellion was suppressed in 1410. The castle was then maintained by the Herbert family. They made small improvements for artillery, during the War of the Roses, although the castle eventually did not take part in the battles.
In subsequent years, the owners were less and less at the castle, which was systematically losing its importance. When the English Civil War broke out in 1642, it was in such bad condition, that none of the parties used it in battles. In the seventies of the seventeenth century, the square tower of the castle was used as a bottle factory, and in 1700 the town hall was established in the castle courtyard. Then, the castle was used by the army as a prison. In the 1840s, the course of the Tawe River was changed, which stopped running near the ruins of the castle.
The original timber – earth castle was erected on a rectangular plan with rounded corners and protected from the east by the Tate River. Inside the fortified circumference, about 52 meters in diameter, there was an earth mound (motte) on which a keep was probably erected.
At the end of the thirteenth century, began to rebuild the castle in stone, enlarging at the same time with a new, outer ring of defensive walls on a rectangular plan, with longer curtains on the north-south line. The circumference was reinforced with four corner towers, the gates were placed in the northern and southern curtains. In the south-eastern corner of the circuit, the so-called New Castle was erected. It consisted of a two-storey building of a great hall, cylindrical latrine tower located in its western part and a four-sided Solar Tower located on its eastern side. Next, after the curtain of the walls was turned north, there was another four-sided tower. The hallmark of the castle was the row of arcades, made of white Sutton Stone around 1330. Below there were ogival windows of the great hall, and high transverse slits illuminating the lowest floor. Similar arcades can still be found in the episcopal palace in St Davids and in Lamphey, but there is no evidence that bishop Henry de Gower was responsible for the works at Swansea. The main entrance to the great hall was on the first floor and led through an external staircase from the side of the ward. Next to it was a late medieval cylindrical tower with a staircase. It connected a great hall with two or three vaulted rooms (pantries, warehouses) in the ground floor.
Until today only the ruin of the so-called New Castle from the turn of the 13th and 14th centuries has been preserved. You can see the outer walls of the building of the great hall, the communication tower in the former ward, the four-sided Solar Tower, cylindrical latrine tower and four-sided, much rebuilt tower on the north-eastern side. Fortunately, the 14th-century arcades have survived on the outer wall of the castle and on the quadrilateral tower. In the tangle of modern buildings, you can still find relics of the outer ring of fortifications. Unfortunately, the castle was surrounded by modern skyscrapers, badly corresponding to the medieval buildings. Visiting the interiors is not possible, although some interesting vaulted rooms and portals have been preserved.
Kenyon J., The medieval castles of Wales, Cardiff 2010.
Website castlesfortsbattles.co.uk, Swansea Castle.