The castle was first established by Gilbert de Clare, earl of Pembroke prior to William Marshal gaining the title through marriage to Gilbert’s daughter Isabel. It was considered, at the time, to be one of the strongest castles in Wales and it remained an Norman stronghold throughout its history. It is first mentioned by Giraldus Cambrensis as one of the places he visited in 1188, eleven years prior to Marshal’s involvement in the county.
King John visited the castle in 1210 on his return from Ireland.
It received its first marcher charter from William Marshal some time between 1213 and 1219, and obtained the lucrative trading privileges of an English borough. It traded both by land and sea, and had a busy tidal quay on the river below the ‘New’ bridge. At least ten guilds operated, and there was significant woollen cloth manufacture.
The present form of the castle is divided into two wards, and probably reflects that of the original 12th-century castle which would have started life as a wooden ringwork defence.
Haverfordwest was fortified throughout the time of William Marshal and his successor William the Younger and by 1220, when it withstood an attack by Llywelyn the Great, it was a substantial stone castle. After the Marshal line died out, it passed to the crown where it was acquired by Queen Eleanor (wife of Edward I) in 1289, who immediately began building there on a large scale, to judge from the considerable sums of money recorded as being spent on ‘the Queen's castle at Haverford’. Much of the existing masonry is late 13th-century in style and may well have been undertaken during the one year before her death in 1290.
Medieval Haverfordwest was defended by town walls around the high ground near the castle, which were later extended as the town rapidly became an important market and trading place. Nothing remains of these town walls, although three medieval churches of Haverfordwest do survive.
On 30 April 1479, the town was designated a county corporate by a charter of Edward, Prince of Wales, with the aim of supporting a campaign against piracy in local waters. It shared this distinction only with Carmarthen and a few towns in England, and remained officially ‘The Town and County of Haverfordwest’ until the abolition of the borough in 1974.
Haverfordwest Castle is currently owned and maintained by Pembrokeshire County Council www.pembrokeshire.gov.uk.