During the early middle ages, the borderlands between England and Wales were known as the Marches. For hundreds of years the area was the scene of conflict between different factions of the Welsh princes to the west, and the Saxon kings and later Norman lordships and the English Crown to the east.
Hotly contested, the border shifted regularly, depending on who had the upper hand at the time. As a result the Marches became a wild frontier, scattered with hundreds of castles and fortified residences.
It was Henry VIII’s Acts of Union of 1536 and 1543, which created the beginnings of the present administrative infrastructure, that contributed towards bringing peace to the Marches.
What? Classic English fortress, built by Henry de Lacy on behalf of Edward I, on top of the original Welsh stronghold
Where? Denbigh, Denbighshire
After the fall of Dafydd ap Gruffudd in 1282, Edward I entrusted his close ally Henry de Lacy to build the castle and town walls you see today. Although captured during the Welsh revolt of 1294, it was back in the hands of Henry de Lacy the following year and building work restarted.
De Lacy built on a monumental scale, with spectacular polygonal towers and palatial accommodation finished with eye catching striped and chequered masonry. Denbigh quickly became a major commercial centre with a borough that expanded outside the town walls.
Did you know..? Architecturally, it is Denbigh’s triple-towered great gatehouse that really impresses – it has even been described as “one of the seven wonders of Wales”.
What? Medieval castle begun by Henry III in 1223
Where? Montgomery, Powys
Norman Lord Hubert de Burgh’s castle was a statement of power that dominated the local landscape. Imposing and impressive even today, Montgomery Castle was a crucial front line fortress and an important administrative centre.
It was here where the Treaty of Montgomery was signed in 1267, which formally recognised Llywelyn ap Gruffudd as Prince of Wales. Ironically, it was also from here that soldiers, under the command of Roger de Mortimer, marched against the Welsh, eventually leading to Llywelyn’s death in 1282.
With its striking remains and tremendous views, this castle holds stark reminders of Montgomery’s medieval past, including its defensive walls, the church and market place.
Did you know..? The majority of the Montgomery Castle was demolished on the order of Parliament after the Civil War in the 1600s.
What? 900-year old castle, currently undergoing a major restoration project
Where? Hay-on-Wye, on the Powys/Herefordshire border.
As with the other border castles, Hay’s history is long and turbulent. The first Castle in Hay was a Motte and Bailey built in 1100 on a different site. In the latter half of the 12th Century Marcher lord – William de Braose – built the current castle from stone. The castle was captured and damaged by Llywelyn ap Gruffydd, the last prince of Wales, in 1233, only to be rebuilt by Henry III. The town became more peaceful after Edward I’s successful campaigns in Wales.
The castle was adapted over time, and by 1660 had become part of a Jacobean manor house. The eastern part of the manor was gutted by a fire in 1939 and is still derelict. The western section also suffered a fire in 1979 whilst under ownership of Richard Booth and was partially restored shortly after.
Did you know..? Since 2011 the site has been under the care of the Hay Castle Trust who are working to save the Castle. Their vision is to open it up to everyone as an arts, culture and education centre upon completion of a major restoration project.
Accessible via organised tours every Thurs at 11am. Admission charged.
What? Medieval castle – the best preserved of Hubert de Burgh’s ‘Three Castles’.
This is an example of an early Norman castle in Wales, possibly founded by William FitzOsbern. It was Hubert de Burgh however who was responsible for the fortifications we see today. In 1201 he took control of White Castle along with the nearby castles of Skenfrith and Grosmont (which together form his ‘Three Castles’).
While Skenfrith and Grosmont were made fit for nobility, White Castle was more suited as a military stronghold with its powerful round towers standing guard over the surrounding territory. Even the domestic buildings were more befitting a garrison commander than a great Lord.
Did you know..? After Hubert de Burgh’s death, the Three Castles fell to royal hands, and in 1254 Henry III granted them to his eldest son, the future King Edward I.