A timber castle existed at Usk for some time before 1136. In that year the Welsh Lord Morgan ap Owain seized Usk Castle after he had killed Richard de Clare, Lord of Usk. Richard’s nephew, Richard Strongbow de Clare, recovered the castle in 1165 and built the stone keep as a tower gatehouse.
The Archbishop of Canterbury recruited many men for the third crusade at Usk Castle on 11 March 1188 while touring Wales. He was accompanied by Gerald of Wales, who recorded the journey in detail. At Usk Castle the crowd was also addressed by William, Bishop of Llandaff, with Alexander, archdeacon of Bangor, interpreting for Welsh speakers. Gerald noted that thieves and murderers were among those converted here.
A key figure in the castle’s development was William Marshall (1147-1219), younger son of a Berkshire knight. He married the heiress Isabella de Clare, the only daughter of Richard Strongbow. Marshall thus became first Earl of Pembroke and from 1213 refortified Usk Castle with a curtain wall, corner towers and a large round garrison tower.
In 1289 Gilbert II de Clare – best known as builder of Caerphilly’s huge castle – rebuilt the north tower as a D-shaped treasury. His daughter Elizabeth, widow of John de Burgh, inherited the castle. In 1318 work began on the great hall, solar tower, chapel and outer gatehouse.
In May 1405, during the Welsh uprising, Owain Glyndŵr’s forces – including Owain’s brother Tudor and eldest son Gruffydd – attacked Usk Castle, which was garrisoned by soldiers of the king. The Welsh were repulsed and defeated nearby at the battle of Pwll Melyn (Yellow Pool). Three hundred captives, including Tudor, were beheaded.
King Henry VII married Elizabeth of York, daughter of Edward IV, in 1486 and Usk Castle was kept in royal hands. Under Henry VIII, Usk formed part of the dowries of Anne Boleyn and of his last queen, Katherine Parr. Edward VI granted Usk to Sir William Herbert, second Earl of Pembroke. In 1551 his steward stripped the castle of stone to build the Great House in Usk, leaving the castle in a ruinous state.
The drawing of the castle, dwarfing the town buildings, was included in Thomas Pennant’s books about his travels in Wales in the 1770s. It’s shown here courtesy of the National Library of Wales. The photos (courtesy of Jon Prince) show the Keep and the view over what was the main hall.
The castle has been owned by the same family since the 1930s and is used for a variety of events including weddings and re-enactments. It is open to visitors almost every day. For a calendar, follow the link to the castle’s website below.
With thanks to Stella Collard, of Usk Castle Friends, and to Jon Prince
Postcode: NP15 1SD View Location Map