A castle was built at “Cenarth Bychan “, probably this site, by Gerald de Windsor, the Earl of Pembroke, in 1108:
“…and he fortified it with ditches and walls and thought to place there for safe keeping his wife and sons and his wealth and all his valuables…”
In 1109 Owain ap Cadwgan abducted Gerald de Windsor’s wife Nest from the castle. He climbed over the castle wall with a company of about fourteen men and set fire to the wooden buildings. Gerald de Windsor escaped at Nest’s insistence by means of the privies.
“…When Owain heard that Nest was in the castle, he went with but a few men in his company to visit her as a kinswoman. And after that he came of a night to the castle and but few men with him, about fourteen, unknown to the keepers of the castle. And then he came to the chamber in which Gerald and Nest were sleeping. And they raised a shout around and about the chamber in which Gerald was, and kindled tapers and set fire to the buildings to burn them. And when he heard the shout, Gerald awoke, not knowing what to do. And then Nest said to him, “Go not out to the door, for thine enemies await thee, but follow me”. And that he did. And she led him to the privy which adjoined the chamber. And there, as is said, he escaped by way of the privy hole. And when Nest knew that he had escaped, she cried out from within and said to the men who were outside, “Why do you cry out in vain? He whom you seek is not here. He has escaped”. And when they did not find them, they seized Nest and her two sons and her daughter and another son of his by a concubine, and they sacked and plundered the castle…’
Nest was the daughter of the Welsh Prince of Deheubarth, Rhys ap Tewdwr. She had spent much of her youth as a virtual hostage at the English Royal court, where she had given birth to the offspring of Prince Henry, later King Henry II. A famed beauty, she had been married off to Gerald, and the couple seem to have had a happy marriage. Gerald de Windsor died circa 1117 and the castle passed to his son, William fitz Gerald. Nest then married Stephen de Mareis, the Castellan of Cardigan.
In 1165 the castle of Cilgerran was captured from the FitzWindsors (William FitzGerald) by Lord Rhys ap Gruffydd, who imprisoned Robert fitz Stephen, the former Constable of Cardigan Castle there. Robert was the son of Stephen and Nest of Cardigan. Rhys was the Prince of Deheubarth and seized full control of his lands from the English that year. In 1166 the garrison of Pembroke attacked Cilgerran castle twice, but failed to capture it. The following account appears in the ‘Brut‘:
“…The ensuing year, the French from Pembroke and the Flemings came to make a powerful attack upon the castle of Cilgerran; and after many of their men had been killed, they returned home empty handed. And a second time they fought against Cilgerran in vain, without getting the castle…”
In 1169 Robert fitz Stephen was freed by Rhys ap Gruffydd and led a force to begin King Henry II ‘s invasion of Ireland. According to some sources King Henry II was entertained here by Lord Rhys in 1172, whilst en route to Ireland. It is reputed that a bard related Arthurian legends to the King at this place. Rhys ap Gruffydd became the Justiciar of South Wales the same year. Rhys ap Gruffydd died in 1197, and in 1199 Gruffydd ap Rhys treacherously took the castle. Upon Gruffydd’s death in 1201 the castle passed to his brother, Maelgwn ap Rhys.
In 1204 William Marshall of Pembroke captured Cilgerran Castle with astonishing speed. According to the ‘Brut‘:
“…The same year, William Marshall came with a vast army to fight against Cilgerran, which he subdued…”
In 1215 the followers of Llywelyn ap Iorwerth captured it. Llywelyn “Fawr” granted it the following year, to Maelgwn ap Rhys. William Marshall jnr. captured the castle in April 1223 and:
“…began to build an ornate castle of mortar and stones…”
He was called away to meet the King soon afterwards, leaving his garrison and workmen to continue their work. On 15th May 1231 John de Cusington was the Constable of Cilgerran, but on 10th June 1231 he was ordered to deliver the castle to John Marshal and Aumeric de St. Amando:
“…to whom the King has granted the said castle…”
After Richard Marshall was treacherously slain in Ireland, the castle passed to his brother, Gilbert Marshall. Gilbert Marshall later imprisoned Maelgwn ap Maelgwn ap Rhys here, for failing to pay fealty to him. Gilbert Marshall died in a tournament in 1241 and the castle passed to Walter Marshall. On 1st July 1241 the constable was ordered to deliver the castle to Hubert Huse following Gilbert Marshall’s death. When Walter Marshall died in 1245, the castle passed to Anselm Marshall and then to Eva Marshall, his sister. Eva Marshall married William de Cantilupe. On 3rd December 1245 Cilgerran was placed in the custody of Nicholas De Meules. On 16th January 1246 Nicholas De Meules was ordered to hand Cilgerran to Robert Walerand. On 21st July 1246 Robert Walerand handed the castle directly to Eva Cantilupe.
Following the death of William Cantilupe in 1254, the castle passed to his two-year-old son, George Cantilupe. On 2nd August 1255 the Constable was ordered to hand the castle to Prince Edward. Prince Llywelyn ap Gruffydd ravaged the surrounding countryside in 1257 and the Welsh successfully resisted a treacherous attack by Patrick of Chaworth in 1258. The castle was attacked and damaged, but was not taken. Patrick of Chaworth was amongst the slain. Nicholas Fitz Martin of Newport in Cemais had custody of the castle and lordship of Cilgerran until 15th March 1265 when he handed them over to Guy de Brown. In 1273 George Cantilupe came of age and inherited the castle, but died later that year, after which the castle went to his sister’s son, John de Hastings – another minor. On 28th October 1273 Henry de Bray was appointed Constable of Cilgerran. An inquisition stated that during Nicholas fitz Martin’s custody, damage caused to the castle buildings required repairs worth £66 (100 marks). The castle, was said to be:
“…defective in towers and in all other buildings, as well as in walls and other things…”
It was transferred from Henry de Bray to William de Valence on 13th May 1275. William de Valence was confirmed as Constable in 1282, yielding £46 annually for the position. The castle had already been stripped of furnishings by that date.
In 1283 John de Hastings came of age and in 1287 he was referred to as the Lord of Cilgerran. On 15th March 1308 John de Hastings granted Cilgerran to his son, John de Hastings. John Hastings the elder died in 1313. John Hastings the younger was still the Lord of Cilgerran in 1318-19. John de Hastings died in 1325 and his property was escheated to King Edward II. In January 1325 John de Arden became the Constable of Cilgerran. In April 1325 Hugh Despenser the younger became the Constable. In September 1325 Juliana le Blount and Thomas le Blount were assigned Cilgerran as dower. The castle was said to be “…worth nothing…” in rent in 1326, because it lay “…in ruins…” John de Hastings held the property in 1340 and inherited it in 1347 upon the death of his father, Lawrence Hastings. In 1367 Juliana le Blount died. In 1368 Cilgerran passed to another John de Hastings. In 1370 John Dantesswyllt was the Constable of Cilgerran. John de Hastings died in 1375, leaving his estates to his three-year-old son, John de Hastings. In July 1377 Walter Mille became the steward and Constable of Cilgerran. In 1377, shortly before his death, King Edward III ordered that the castle should be surveyed, repaired and refortified. In March 1378 the estate was to be placed in the custody of William Beauchamp, who held the lordship until John de Hastings came of age on 22nd February 1387. On 3rd March 1378 David Cradoc became the Lord of Cilgerran.
It was noted in 1387 that the castle had suffered damage whilst in the custody of William Beauchamp. Repairs were conducted from 1388-90. On 30th December 1389 John de Hastings died, wounded in a joust at Woodstock. After the Hastings family died out in this manner, Cilgerran castle passed directly to the Crown. Minor repairs in 1390 cost 6s. 6d. That year Richard Chelmeswyth became the Constable and forester of Cilgerran. In June 1393 Geoffrey Bluet was the receiver of the lordship. In 1397 Queen Isabel controlled Cilgerran, with Thomas Percy acting as her custodian. Before his death on 26th November 1399, Thomas Ponynges and his wife, Philipa, had petitioned the King for the lands held by her first husband, John de Hastings, deceased. Thomas Ponynges was her third husband.
On 31st March 1402 Thomas Percy, who was the Lord of Cilgerran on 5th July, was licensed to buy military equipment in order to provision this and other castles against the Glyndwr rebels. Glyndwr supporters briefly held the castle in 1405 and some damage was inflicted upon it. Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester, the brother of the King, received the castle in 1413. For 1434-35 William Burghill was his receiver for the lordship. Upon the Duke’s death in 1443, the King decreed that Cilgerran would pass to William, Earl of Suffolk and his heirs. By Act of Parliament in 1450, for the purposes of maintaining the King’s Household, an assignment of £100 was made out of the farm of the castle and lordship to Sir John Beauchamp of Powick. On 16th December 1450, Gruffydd ap Dafydd and William John leased the lordships of Cilgerran, Dyffryn Broyan and Emlyn Is Cuch for 12 years. Gruffydd ap Nicholas entered the partnership the following year.
Jasper Tudor, the uncle of Henry Tudor, received custody of Cilgerran in 1452 and held it until 1461, together with the town and lordship. These were confirmed and granted by an Act of Parliament in 1454, as was his annual rent. In 1482 an agreement was made between William, Earl of Huntingdon, and Edward, Prince of Wales, that the heir to the throne, in return for diverse properties, would receive the castle, town and lordship of Cilgerran with appurtenances. When Henry Tudor succeeded to the throne in 1485, his uncle Jasper Tudor was given Cilgerran again. He held it until 1495. In that year, it was confirmed his possession, King Henry VII nullified the decree of 1482, which had placed it in the hands of the King’s heir.
In January 1496 William Vaughan became the Lord of Cilgerran, farming the lordship for £48. 13s. per annum. If he paid up each Michaelmas, his bond of 100 marks would be cancelled. On 26th May 1509 William Vaughan became the Constable of Cilgerran until 1526. In April 1534 the Act of Union abolished the Marcher lordships, and Cilgerran became part of the new County of Pembrokeshire. In 1548 Dr. Thomas Phaer of Forest was given the post of constable of Cilgerran. He died in 1560. In 1592 Thomas Revell of Forest farmed the castle and demesnes. It is unclear whether or not Cilgerran Castle was garrisoned during the 1640′s, when the Civil War reached its’ peak.
By 1685 the ruins had passed to the Pryse family of Gogerddan. The Buck brothers produced an engraving of the castle in 1740 which, on comparison with the existing remains, appears fairly accurate. Richard Wilson made a painting of the ruins in 1773. The castle was mentioned in “Wyndham’s Tour” of 1781. References in 1787 to “…The Red Tower…”, “…the White Tower...” and “…Outward Green…” refer to portions of the site. In 1791 the Outer Bailey was being used as a tennis court, maintained by Alban Thomas. In 1793 Sir Richard Colt Hoare wrote:
“…The castle belongs to Mr. Lovedene and is a considerable building. Two large round towers remain with a staircase entire…”
In 1798 Rev. Richard Warner and Henry Skrine mentioned the ivy-clad ruins. Richard Fenton visited and described the ruins in 1810. Joseph Turner painted a view of the ruins in 1830. In 1833 Samuel Lewis commented:
“…The ruins of the castle rank among the most striking, extensive, and picturesque remains of the ancient fortresses in South Wales…”
Rev. Joseph Romilly visited in 1837 and remarked that:
“…the situation is a delightfull one, but the ruins have very little interest. George however and Edward and I clambered up the tower and every accessible part…”
In 1850 it was estimated that £100-£200 would be sufficient to guarantee the survival of the ruins, if properly managed. The Cambrian Archaeological Association visited the site on 18th August 1859 and described the ruins thus in the ‘Pembrokeshire Herald’ on 2nd September 1859:
“…From the churchyard the excursionists proceeded to the castle, respecting which, the notes read by Mr Moggridge went to show that it once had another vallum, flanked with bastions; that the inner ward was large, having the state apartments and keep; that there are five entrances (Pumporth), besides a sally port on each side…Cilgerran, in which we are now assembled, may be called, technicallv, an Edwardian Castle, though probably earlier than Edward I. It is a very interesting specimen, because it does not exhibit the usual symmetry of those buildings, but is adapted by the engineer to the character of the ground, which you will observe forms naturally a very strong position. The Church brook on the north east front, flowing down a very deep and steep ravine here joins the Teifi, which, occupying a similar but larger ravine, forms the north-west front. Two sides of the castle are thus well protected by nature, and it was therefore to the defence of the other two that the engineer turned his chief attention. Commencing with the Inner bailey, or court, in which we now stand, and which is of an irregularly square plan, we have, on the northern, side, abutting upon the cliff, the Gate-house, a rectangular building, of which the northern half, including half the archway, has been removed. A rude groove may be seen, and part of a Portcullis chamber above. The Gate-house is connected by a short curtain wall with the south-west tower; a very fine cylindrical shell, containing four floors not vaulted, and a battlement platform. It is entered from the court by a plain door way, on the right of which is a well stair leading to each floor, to the Gate-house curtain, and to the battlement of the tower itself. The ground and first floor contain fire places, and the exterior loops are replaced towards. court by window openings. One of these is divided two lights by a rude pier, either an after-thought by the builder, or of later date. From this tower the curtain still of great height and thickness, passes on to the second similar tower. At its junction with this, the south-east tower, is a postern in the wall, and near the summit a relieving arch—an indication that this part of the curtain belongs rather to the south-east than to the south-west tower. The south-east tower resembles generally that already described. It has also a door to the court well stair, though on the left hand, ascending to all floors and to the curtain. There are are no fire-places here, and the internal windows are in pairs, so it would appear that this tower, though evidently part of the general plan, may possibly be a few years older than the other. From this tower the curtain extends north-eastwards, until it terminates in a sort of polygonal head upon the river cliff, where the breast wall commences. This breast wall, now much ruined, extends, along the river, or north-east front, as far as the angle which was occupied by a rectangular building, the ruins of which shew better masonry than the rest, and may have been the hall. It commanded a view of the two ravines, and over the adjacent country beyond. After this building the breast wall is continued along the north west face, capping the cliff, until it joins the Gate-house and thus completes the circuit of the river defences. In it is what may have been a sally port, and, nearer to the Gate-house, a considerable sewer. The outer bailey covers out the two landward faces, extending from cliff to cliff. It is traversed by a causeway, leading from the Gate house towards the village, and which runs along the edge of the north-west cliff, from which it was protected by a slight parapet. This bailey includes a dry moat from which the two drum towers rise, and a sort of platform sward, outside of which was probably an outer line of wall. South-eastward, this bailey is terminated by a curtain wall, which extends from the south-east drum tower close to the postern, traverses the moat and bailey and seems to have been returned southwards, to unite with the outer wall It also contains a postern, by which, in connexion with the other door, a communication was secured with a road which led from the main entrance, sweeping under the outer walls down to the Teify. On part of which this curtain was intended to command. On this side a formidable slate quarry has been opened which threatens to undermine the castle, and which should be stopped in this direction. The masonry of Cilgerran is not unlike that of the coarser part of Caerphilly, being of a rude character, with very little ashlar even about the loops and windows, and in which the quality is replaced by quantity, the walls being of unusual thickness- The drum towers do not, as usual in Wales, have square bases, but, as at Caerphilly, are wholly cylindrical. The battlements have very slight projection, resting upon plain corbels. No chapel, or very distinct state apartments, have been traced, nor is there any well. This castle seems to have been constructed rather for defence than for the residence of a great baron, but it is of considerable interest, both from the important part in played in local history, and from its general plan, containing only two principal towers, and those placed very near together. Perhaps it may be attributed, in its present form, to the middle of the 13th century; but as this opinion, and indeed the whole description of the building were formed and acquired during a quarter of an hour’s inspection of the castle, the lecturer stated it with some diffidence. At the conclusion of the lecture, which occupied about fifteen minutes, and delivered partly in the inner court and partly outside the castle, and in a style as fluent as it was captivating, the Bishop, as president of the Association, thanked the speaker for his exertions…”
On 29th July 1863 a section of the bailey curtain wall, measuring 56 feet long by 20 feet high, abutting the South West Tower, collapsed due to undermining caused by slate quarrying. The collapsed section was “made good” the following year at the expense of Col. Lewes, largely due to the efforts of Rev. Henry James Vincent, Vicar of St. Dogmaels.
In 1866 John Roland Phillips described the ruins, including ‘Capel Bach’. He refers to a portion of the ditch formerly used as a cattle pound. On 24th August 1888 an Eisteddfod was held in the grounds. A description and photograph of the ruins appeared in the 1899 Cardigan Guide. In 1904 the following comment was made in ‘Archaeologia Cambrensis:
“…Cilgerran Castle, — This ancient building, visited in August by the Cambrian Archaeological Association, is in a most dilapidated and degraded condition, the staircases and chambers being in a most filthy condition: the attention of the owner should be called to it as soon as possible…”
On 15th August 1900 an Eisteddfod was held here. In November 1904 a meeting was held at Cilgerran to discuss the preservation of the castle. In 1909 the castle was being used as a public convenience and a hen-roost. On 14th June 1916 a sale was held here in aid of ‘Our Boys’. On 7th August 1916 the National Masque entertainment was held here. On 5th August 1918 the first Cilgerran Annual Horticultural Show was held here. On 3rd August 1920 a competitive concert was held here.
On 12th February 1925 the Cilgerran Council elected to clean up the castle. On 1st May 1925 the Cilgerran Castle Committee intended removing soil from inside the towers and making a new entrance gate. A pillar and wall were discovered in one tower. By 18th May 1928 entrance gates had been erected at the two towers, and the grounds cleared. On 9th May 1930 it was decided to purchase a War Memorial plaque for the castle. On 27th May 1931 the castle was re-opened to the public by Sir Lewis Loveden Pryse, following renovations, which included a new entrance arch to the inner bailey.
On 23rd March 1934 the ruins were registered as a Scheduled Ancient Monument. In June 1934 reference was made to a fallen wall on the Pumporth side. On 10th April 1936 the Cilgerran Castle Committee was in negotiations with the Office of Works, who requested that £2000 worth of repairs be conducted before they would take on the site. On 26th August 1936 a fete was held at Rhosygilwen to raise funds for the castle. On 25th February 1938 it was confirmed that the castle was to be offered to the National Trust. On 18th March 1938, H. M. Office of Works announced their intention to restore the ruins. The site was donated to the state by Mrs. Colby, who had purchased it from Sir Lewes Pryse for that purpose. She insisted on the provision of a memorial plaque to John Vaughan Colby – her late husband. On 24th May 1944 and again on 1st August 1945, a day of boxing matches was held in the castle grounds to raise money for ‘Our Boys’ fund.
By 18th July 1947, restoration work had commenced with the removal of the ivy. By 25th February 1949, numerous coins and the foundations of walls, demolished by the gentry years earlier, to create a tennis court here, were amongst the discoveries during the excavations. On 23rd January 1953 restoration work was still in progress. A booklet was written in 1953 by Oscar Lloyd-Jones, giving a history and description of the castle. In December 1955 four arrow-heads were discovered during excavations here. In January 1956 a 700-year-old coin and a 500-year-old coin were found during excavations. A guidebook was written in 1957 by O. E. Craster. In April 1957 a War Memorial Plaque was dedicated at the entrance. In September 1961 it was proposed to build a wooden structure to give access to the wall-walk between the two towers. On 13th June 1969 the castle was to be floodlit as part of the celebrations to mark the Investiture of the Prince of Wales.
Today the monument is jointly managed by CADW and the National Trust.
In 1994 the ruins were described by CADW:
“…The ruins chiefly surround the inner ward, with two massive early C13 circular towers on the S side joined by curtain wall. To the W was the early C13 gatehouse of which the outer part has gone. The chapel may have been on the first floor. The W curtain wall over the steep drop to the Afon Plysgog is said to date to the later C13, and the partial remains of a NW tower possibly to the later C14. Insubstantial remains close the N side above the Teifi…”
Calendar of Patent Rolls 1307-13
NLW Bronwydd MS 828
‘The South View of Cilgerran Castle’ Samuel & Nathaniel Buck, 1740
A Tour Through Monmouthshire & Wales, H P Wyndham, 2nd ed., 1781
Illustration by S. H. Grimm from ‘A Tour Through Monmouthshire & Wales’, H P Wyndham, 2nd ed.,1781
Cilgerran Castle study, J. M. W. Turner 1798
A Second Walk Through Wales, Rev. Richard Warner 1799
Two Successive Tours, Henry Skrine 1812
Archaeologia Cambrensis 1851; 1860
A History of Cilgerran, John Roland Phillips 1867
Cardigan & Tivy-Side Advertiser 1888; 1904; 1916; 1918; 1925; 1928; 1930-31; 1933-34; 1936; 1938; 1944-45; 1947; 1949; 1953; 1956-57; 1969; 1971; 1983; 1994; 2000-01; 2005-06; 2009-10
A Guide to Cardigan & District, William Edward Yerward James 1899
Programme – Kilgerran Chair Eisteddfod 15/08/1900
A History of Wales, J E Lloyd 1912
A Calendar of Public Records Relating to Pembrokeshire Volume II, Henry Owen 1914
Kelly’s Directory of South Wales 1926
Brut Y Tywysogion: Peniarth MS20, T Jones 1952
Cilgerran Castle, Oscar Lloyd Jones B A, M R S T 1953
Cilgerran Castle, O E Craster, 1st ed., 1957
Cilgerran Castle, O E Craster, 1964 ed., 1964
Brenhinedd y Saesson, T Jones 1971
The Principality of Wales in the Later Middle Ages, Ralph A Griffiths 1972
Cilgerran Castle, O E Craster, 9th impression 1976
The Extent of Cemais 1594 ed. B E & K A Howells 1977
Two Castles in Cardigan, Canon Seamus Cunnane 1983
Cilgerran Castle, John Hilling, CADW 1992
A Guide to Ancient & Historic Wales – Dyfed, Dr Sian Rees, CADW 1992
The Place Names of Pembrokeshire, B G Charles 1993
The Description of Pembrokeshire, George Owen, ed. Dilwyn Miles 1994
Buildings of Architectural or Historic Interest – Cilgerran, Julian Orbach, CADW 1994
Conquerers & Conquered in Medieval Wales, Ralph A Griffiths 1994
Cilgerran Castle leaflet, CADW 1996; 1999; 2003; 2005; 2008; 2009; 2010.
Romilly’s Visits to Wales 1827-54, M G R Morris 1998
Castell Malgwyn, Andrew Lester 2002.
© Glen K Johnson 17/10/2015