Caerphilly Castle

Caerphilly Castle (Welsh: Castell Caerffili) is a medieval castle that dominates the centre of the town of Caerphilly in south Wales. It is the largest castle in Wales and the second largest in Britain after Windsor Castle. Built mainly between 1268 and 1271 to stop Llywelyn ap Gruffudd's southward ambitions, it is an early example of a concentric castle with extensive water defences.

The castle deteriorated during several centuries of disuse. Its owners since 1766, the Marquesses of Bute undertook extensive restoration. During the 1930s, surrounding streets were levelled to restore the dominant view which had been obscured by town development. In 1950, the castle and grounds were handed over to the British government.


The tip of a natural gravel bank was extended south to create a dam across the Nant Gledyr, leading to the formation of a large defensive lake south of the main castle. The dam was fortified on both sides and had a gatehouse to the south leading out to the town of Caerphilly.

The central island was the site of the main structure of the castle, comprising a retaining wall (the middle ward) with gatehouses east and west, and an inner ward with east and west gatehouses and circular corner towers.

To the west, a further ditch separated the spur forming a stone-revetted western island; the defences of which appear never to have been completed.

To the north a ditch and bank formed a defensive moat.

In the final phase the dam was extended north to form another lake to the north of the moat and bank, and a further moat and bank to the west, while an outer gatehouse and outwork in the middle of the dam gave access to the west.

The largest portion of the castle was built over a four-year period, 1268–1271 and, with the exception of the north dam, the layout was modified only slightly thereafter. The castle covered an area of 30 acres (120,000 m2), making it one of the largest in Europe.


Unlike many other 13th-century Welsh castles, Caerphilly Castle was not built by Edward I in his crack-down on the Welsh lords, but by Gilbert 'the Red' de Clare, a powerful, red-headed nobleman of Norman descent, as a response to a dispute between him and the Prince of Gwynedd, Llywelyn the Last.

At first the dispute was mediated by Henry III (1216–1272), who sent a bishop to take temporary control of the castle until matters were settled. However, de Clare soon regained control of the castle and occupied it until his death in 1295.

Thirteenth and fourteenth centuries

The castle's raison d'être disappeared during the reign of Edward I (1272–1307). When Llywelyn failed on five occasions to provide services demanded of him by the king, he was declared a rebel and his lands were invaded by King Edward. The security of Glamorgan was never again seriously threatened, and from then on the castle was principally used as a base of operations for the de Clares and later the Despensers. Towards the end of the 14th century, the family moved to a more comfortable location and much of the castle was abandoned as a major fortress.

The castle enjoyed a relatively peaceful period in the century or so after its construction. It was apparently unsuccessfully assaulted during the revolt of Madog ap Llywelyn in 1294-5. A more serious attack occurred in 1316, during the rebellion of a Welsh nobleman Llywelyn Bren.

Owain Glyndwr

The forces of Owain Glyndwr captured Caerphilly Castle in 1403, but the occupation lasted only one hundred days. They returned two years later with additional French forces in 1405 at the height of the rebellion and retook the castle holding it for a year, the garrison only leaving after setbacks elsewhere changed the complexion of the revolt in south Wales.

Some maintenance was done by subsequent owners, Richard Beauchamp (d. 1439), Richard Neville (d. 1471) and Jasper Tudor (d. 1495), probably because of its strategic usefulness, but this petered out at the end of the 15th century.

The English Civil War

The castle gradually fell into disrepair though some maintenance was done on parts of it, notably the eastern gate house which was used as a prison. Despite being mostly untouched by the Civil War of 1642-1648, damage inflicted by Cromwell's Parliamentary Army in 1648 is said to have led to one of the most notable features of the castle, its leaning south-east tower. The tower stands 20 metres high and leans 3 metres out of the perpendicular.

Disrepair continued until the late 18th century when the first Marquess of Bute began preservation work. Three generations of Marquesses recorded the details of the castle, cleared structures built against its walls as leases ended and eventually undertook painstaking analysis and restoration of the fallen masonry.

Present day

In 1950, the 5th Marquess of Bute presented Caerphilly Castle to the British government; its restoration and preservation is continued today by Cadw. The castle is now mainly a tourist attraction and includes a small shop in between its two main bridges. It is also licensed to perform wedding ceremonies - the Great Hall providing facilities for 100 guests. Fishing can also be undertaken in the north and south lakes for carp and other coarse fish.

Four replica siege engines are on display in the castle grounds - a ballista, a perrier, a trebuchet and a mangonel.

Building Activity

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