The story of the princes of Deheubarth – once rulers of much of south west Wales – is a fascinating mix of ambition, rivalry, castle-building and cultural awakening. Formidable characters such as law maker Hywel Dda, and the powerful Lord Rhys ensured the dynasty’s supremacy in the region for over 300 years.
The legacy of Deheubarth lives on today; our national Eisteddfod (Wales’s flagship cultural festival) can trace its roots back to the reign of Lord Rhys in 1176.
The Princes of Deheubarth trail will reveal the princes’ contribution to the story of Wales via a series of stunning sites across the south west, including castles at Cardigan and Dinefwr, and abbeys at Strata Florida and Talley.
What? 12th century castle overlooking the River Teifi
Where? Cardigan, Ceredigion
There has been a castle in Cardigan since the Norman invasion in the 12th century. The original Motte and Bailey castle lay a mile down-stream, but the Marcher lord Gilbert Fitz Richard de Clare built a fortress on its current site in 1110. 55 years later The Lord Rhys captured the castle, destroyed it, and rebuilt it in stone.
Cardigan Castle is the birthplace of the Eisteddfod – Wales’s flagship cultural festival, which is still celebrated annually to this day. It was back in 1176 that Lord Rhys invited poets and musicians from across the land to perform at a grand gathering within the castle grounds. An exhibition on the history of the Welsh Eisteddfod is open to visitors wishing to learn more about the beginnings of this landmark festival.
Did you know..? Cardigan is the first documented stone castle built by a native prince of Wales.
What? Museum on the life of Hywel Dda
Where? Whitland, Carmarthenshire
The Hywel Dda Centre celebrates the life and works of the 10th century Welsh king, famed for developing a system of law that was ahead of its time. The centre consists of an indoor exhibition space prepared by historians Malcolm and Cyril Jones, as well as descriptive art work in glass, brick, ceramics and steel.
A series of gardens are also open for public viewing. Each is themed to reflect a separate division of the Law – Society, Kindred and Status; Crime and Tort; Women; Contract; Property; King and Court. Each garden has its own distinct character, and features enamel slate plaques that depict the laws in action.
Did you know..? One particular plaque in the Willow Garden (which depicts the law of Women) details the three reasons a woman could leave her husband in the time of Hywel Dda:
1. If he was a leper
2. For not being able to fulfil his duties as a husband
3. For having bad breath.
Hywel Dda Centre
St.Mary's Street, WhitlandCarmarthenshire
What? Medieval castle standing above the Tywi Valley
Where? Llandeilo, Carmarthenshire
Built on a natural ridge with majestic views over the surrounding valley, Dinefwr is a castle fit for a king. Records show that there has been a castle here from at least the time of The Lord Rhys (12th century). Following a period of Norman domination, he rebuilt the Welsh kingdom of Deheubarth, and Dinefwr became its ‘capital’. The monument was developed by The Lord Rhys’ descendants during the thirteenth century.
Despite the structure having been in an ivy-clad, ruinous state for centuries, there's still much to admire — not least the stunning landscape that surrounds it.
Did you know..? Thanks to a conical roof constructed atop the keep, built to create a picturesque ‘summerhouse’, Dinefwr was an eighteenth-century picnicker’s paradise!
What? 12th century remains of a Premonstratensian Abbey
Where? Talley, Carmarthenshire
The Lord Rhys played an important role as a patron of religious orders, not least at Talley, an abbey that he founded for Premonstratensian canons between 1184 and 1189. These ‘White Canons’ (named after their white habits) had a back-to basics approach to religion.
The canons had great ambitions for Talley, but the final building was more modest than they had hoped. Although the abbey is in a ruinous state, what remains (in particular, the crossing tower and the presbytery) is still impressive.
Did you know..? White Canons were also permitted to serve in monastic houses and in parish churches – this appealed to The Lord Rhys who was keen on religious reform.