Monday, 30 December 2013

Raglan Castle

Up on the tower
As well as having its own lovely castle, Usk is within easy driving distance of many other wonderful castles. I shall hopefully be writing about some more of these in 2014.

Here I take a look back to a visit to Raglan Castle with Jez and my two grandchildren Cerys and Robert last August, with a potted history of this impressive, moated ruin only a few miles from Usk. Raglan Castle is located in stunning Monmouthshire countryside with outstanding views all around, it is well worth a visit.

I've provided some links at the bottom to some 'expert' articles on the history of Raglan Castle and directions.


Raglan Castle in the 15th Century - pic from Cadw guidebook

Raglan is actually one of the latest castles to be built in Wales. Building began in 1430 probably on the site of a much smaller and earlier Norman castle. It was built as a lavish proclamation of wealth by Sir William ap Thomas, the Blue Knight of Gwent who fought at Agincourt with Henry V in 1415. William ap Thomas constructed the Great Tower which became known as the Yellow Tower of Gwent - built as it was from yellowish coloured sandstone quarried near Redbrook on the River Wye.

The residents of Raglan Castle had a clear view
across the countryside

Hand to hand combat on the Castle Green!
When William ap Thomas died in 1445 the castle passed to his son Sir William Herbert a supporter of the House of York. William Herbert fought  at the Battle of Mortimer's Cross in Herefordshire on the side of the future King Edward IV. In 1462, he became a Knight of the Garter, and in 1467 was chief justice of North Wales. In 1468, Sir William Herbert received the ultimate reward for his loyalty when King Edward IV dubbed him the Earl of Pembroke for capturing Harlech Castle, the last Lancastrian stronghold in Wales. William Herbert continued the work of his father in adding to the structure of Raglan Castle building an impressive gatehouse, stately apartments and adding machicolations on the gatehouse and Closet Tower. The machicolations, gave the castle a French appearance and allowed defenders of the castle to drop objects onto attackers below. These Tudor additions by William Herbert were in a reddish coloured sandstone, which from a distance still give the castle a bit of a reddish glow. Construction of Raglan was finally completed in 1525.

Looking down on the serfs
Newly restored stone staircase at Raglan
More than six decades later in 1589, during the time of William Somerset, third Earl of Worcester, the castle entered its last major phase of construction. Additions consisted of a new hammer-beam roof to the hall and long gallery on the second floor overlooking the Fountain Court. During the English Civil War in 1646, Raglan Castle was besieged by parliamentarian forces led by Sir Thomas Fairfax. The castle was surrounded and mortar batteries (short bell shaped cannons) including the famous 'Roaring Meg' (now sited at Goodrich Castle - I will write more about this in a later post) were dug into place. Henry Somerset who attempted to defend the castle and did so for thirteen weeks, knew his efforts were futile and surrendered to Fairfax. As a result of the siege, the castle was heavily damaged, and began a period of disrepair. Descendants of the Somerset family still live in the village of Raglan and at Cefn Tilla Court between Usk and Raglan today.

In 1938, Raglan Castle was placed in the guardianship of the Commissioners of HM Works by the 10th Duke of Beaufort. For two decades following the end of World War II, extensive conservation efforts were conducted to maintain the castle. Today, it is maintained by CADW (Welsh Historic Monuments). 

The impressive scale of Raglan Castle

Diagram plan of Raglan Castle  from Cadw guidebook
In its day Raglan Castle was the height of fashionable Tudor and Elizabethan splendour, built with no cost spared. It has a unique hexaganol design with a banqueting hall and comfortable (by Tudor standards) apartments with fireplaces and beautiful mullioned windows. It still has several rooms worth visiting including the Great Gatehouse, Hall, Long Gallery and South Gate.

For more information and directions to Raglan Castle

Cadw - Raglan Castle

Castles of Wales - this site has some of the best detailed history and photos

Great Castles of Wales

The views from Raglan Castle across the Monmouthshire countryside are truly stunning

Looking towards the village of Raglan

Of course no visit would be complete without a
'Medieval Banquet'

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