The Tretower Castle was erected after the conquest of the Welsh kingdom of Bycheiniog in the last years of the 11th century, by Picard, one of the Norman invaders. Probably around 1150, the son of Picard, Roger Picard I, replaced the original timber – earth motte and bailey structure with a stone-walled fortified circuit (shell keep). Like many Norman castles in marches, Tretower was entangled in the local policy of border wars. In 1233 it was attacked by Richard Marshal, Earl of Pembroke, who allied with the Welsh ruler, Llywelyn ap Iorwerth. The castle was seriously damaged and had to be repaired by Roger Picard. During the reconstruction, Roger built an impressive circular keep and fortified a stone outer ward.
At the beginning of the 15th century, the Picard family died out and after several changes of owners, the castle passed through marriage to a Berkeley family, whose main residence was in the Berkeley Castle. In 1429, the castle was sold to William ap Thomas, whose son, William Herbert, became Earl of Pembroke. In Tretower lived the half brother of Herbert, Roger Vaughan, who extended the court at the foot of the castle. Both Herbert and Vaughan were killed during the War of Roses between 1469 and 1471. The Vaughan family remained followers of Yorks, but in 1485, after the death of Richard III York in the Battle of Bosworth, they rebelled against the new king Henry VII. Henry pardoned the Vaughans in 1487, so that they could return to the castle and the Tretower court. They had a stronghold until the beginning of the 18th century, after which the castle changed owners several times, it was abandoned, and its ruin was finally taken over by the government.
The original castle from the 11th century was a timber structure erected on an earth mound (motte and bailey). In the mid-twelfth century it was rebuilt, as a result of which the mound was leveled and a stone ring of defensive walls was built in a plan similar to a circular one. In the inner ward, at the southern and western sides of the walls, a residential building (solar), kitchen with a hearth and a two-story building of the great hall were built. The entrance to the castle was placed in the four-sided gatehouse from the eastern side. It had a deep pit inside, therefore the existence of a drawbridge is highly probable.
At the beginning of the 13th century most of the buildings inside the circuit were dismantled to make room for a powerful, cylindrical keep. Only the kitchen building was left, which continued to function. The entrance to the keep led through timber, external stairs straight to the first floor. It was also connected from the second floor by a timber porch with a crown of defensive walls. Keep had four floors, and the communication was provided by stairs placed in the wall thickness. To get down to the ground floor, originally you had to enter the window niche in front of the main entrance and go down the stairs. To enter the second floor, you had to go through two doorways, between which the next stairs led to the upper floors. The first and second floor were warmed by fireplaces and illuminated with ogival windows. The top floor also had two brightening windows. The tower was crowned with a hoardings.
In the 13th century rebuilnding of the outer ward was also made. The stone defensive walls of the trapezoidal shape were erected, strengthened in two of the most protruding corners with semi-circular towers. The gate was probably on the south-eastern side.
The castle has survived to modern times in the form of a ruin. A 13th-century keep, a large part of the defensive wall surrounding it and a fragment of the outer ward’s wall, have survived. Unfortunately, there are no significant fragments of the gatehouse, the towers of the outer ward and its entrance gate also have not survived. The castle is open to visitors from March 24 to November 4 from 10:00 to 17:00.
Kenyon J., The medieval castles of Wales, Cardiff 2010.
Website castlesfortsbattles.co.uk, Tretower Castle.