Saturday, 24 February 2018

Abergavenny Castle

Last Wednesday we fancied a day out, and drove to Abergavenny, had a wander round the castle and the Fleamarket, and then came back and stopped to explore Crickhowell shops properly.  I'll do a post about that tomorrow.

Abergavenny Castle was built in timber around 1087, by Hamelin de Ballon, in the traditional motte and bailey design. However, just a few years later (1100) work was being carried out to replace it in stone.

It is probably most famously linked to the Marcher Lord, William de Braose, who features large in the book “Lady of Hay” by Barbara Erskine, and is a jolly good read. He was a very belligerent chap, Norman of course, and set a plan to . . . eradicate . . . the thorns in his sides – the local Welsh lords who resented the intrusion of the Normans on their land. Seisal ap Dyfnwal of Castle Arnallt near Llanover, in the Usk valley was his biggest protagonist and at Christmas 1175, on the pretext of setting all the troubles to rights, de Braose invited Seisal and other Welsh lords and princelings to Abergavenny Castle to feast on Christmas Day, all the while planning to kill them all under his roof.

You can imagine the scene in the Great Hall, with beer being quaffed in large amounts, huge joints of venison and boar's heads set out along the oak refectory tables, slavering hounds being cuffed and kicked under the table away from the food until a bone was thrown their way, the Court Jester capering about in his harlequin clothes, and de Braose' men drinking little, waiting for the signal from de Braose to slaughter their guests. Even then, with every last one of them dead, de Braose was not satisfied until he had Cadwalladr, Seisal's remaining son, hunted down and killed too. Cadwalladr was just 7 years old. De Braose was the sort of bloke my mum would have called “a nasty piece of work.” He held many lordships besides Abergavenny – Gower, Brecknock (Brecon today), White Castle, Grosmont Castle, Skenfrith Castle (the triumvirate I have mentioned and visited before), Builth, Radnor, Kington, Glamorgan plus Limerick (Eire) and Briouze in Normandy.

Fortunately none of this history lingers in the castle ruins. The walls still standing are later ones. There is a beautiful view across to the Blorenge, the massive hill (not quite a mountain!) which dominates the Usk valley at this point. There are some beautiful trees close by below the castle and it is now a peaceful spot. One does wonder, however, if there isn't a mass grave somewhere nearby where the Welshmen were buried.

LINK to page with further information on de Braose.


  1. Have been here BB but many years ago. With all these old castles which have fallen into complete disrepair I have the same thought in my mind - how are the mighty fallen.

  2. Quite Pat - I think he fell out big time with King John and had to escape to France where he died a year or so later (having starved his wife and son to death in the meantime).

  3. Gosh - pretty well psycho I should think!

  4. They sure liked to kill each other for pieces of land.
    Great photos. On one of my trips to the UK I had a fabulous road map and stopped at as many castles if they were near where I was going.
    You have made my tourist heart pitty pat !

    cheers, parsnip

  5. Land is everything! It means power and control. If these Lords didn't have enough, they went out and grabbed some more! I am glad you are enjoying the photos and feel like a tourist again : )

  6. Love the photos, pretty grasping lot the Normans, those castles must hve been very cold to live in.

  7. Beautiful photos and such an interesting post :) Not a nice man! I keep meaning to re-read Lady of Hay.

  8. I am always fascinated by the bare bones of those ancient castles and the stories of real lives lived within them. The structure of Abergavenny Castle looks sturdy and beautifully crafted. Such an interesting place for your much needed day out!