Norman castle at Abergavenny

button-theme-crimeLink to French translationNorman castle at Abergavenny

abergavenny_castle_in_1100Abergavenny Castle was established c.1087 by Hamelin de Ballon, the Normans’ first Lord of Abergavenny. It originally consisted of a motte – a mound with a wooden tower to impress on the Welsh who was in charge – and a bailey around it where wooden dwellings were erected for the soldiers and servants. The painting by Frances Baines is part of the Abergavenny Millennium Mural and shows how the area might have looked c.1100.

If you go to the top of the steps by the entrance to the museum, you’ll see that the Normans would have had a good view of any enemies approaching, especially over the Usk river. At that time, a ford crossed the river where the water’s shallow.

In 1175 the castle was the site of an infamous massacre after William de Braose, lord at the time, invited the local Welsh lord, Seisyllt ap Dyfnwal, with his relatives and retainers to a Christmas meal. As was customary, the guests left their weapons outside, only to be overcome and killed.
To hear how to pronounce Seisyll ap Dyfnwal, press play:or, download mp3 (22KB)

The massacre features in the record Gerald of Wales kept of his journey through Wales with the Archbishop of Canterbury in 1188 to recruit for the third crusade. Many men signed up in Abergavenny including a noble called Arthenus, who said he hadn’t consulted his wife about going away to fight because it was “man’s work”!

According to Gerald, the massacre was ordered by King Henry II and de Braose did none of the killing. Instead, a plan was enacted where de Braose was pushed into the castle moat during the melee, captured by the Welsh and released by his own men.

The Welshmen’s descendants took revenge, overcoming the castle defences in 1182. However, de Braose was not there that day. Welsh archers were famed for their skills and often employed as mercenaries. Gerald wrote that during the revenge attack, arrows from Welsh bows penetrated the tower’s oak door, almost as thick as a man’s arm.

The castle was destroyed in 1233 by Welsh forces led by Richard Marshal, Earl of Pembroke. It was rebuilt in stone over the following decades, including a great hall and two towers.

The entrance gate you can see dates from further rebuilding in the early 15th century, when Owain Glynd┼Ár was leading an uprising across Wales. His forces invaded and burnt much of Abergavenny but didn't get into the castle.

The castle was caught up in further turbulence during the Civil War, as you can read here.

With thanks to Gill Wakley, of Abergavenny Local History Society, and Frances Baines

Postcode: NP7 5EE    View Location Map

Website of Abergavenny Museum

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