The first stronghold on Carreg Cennen’s limestone crag might well have been an Iron Age hillfort. The earliest castle was probably the work of a Welsh prince – the Lord Rhys, ruler of south Wales.
But the imposing ruins we see today bear all the hallmarks of a later Marcher Lord demonstrating his power, wealth and influence. This was most likely John Giffard, who fought for Edward I in the battle of Irfon Bridge in 1282.
The defeat of the Welsh army and death of Prince Llewelyn ap Gruffudd, the last native Prince of Wales, dealt a decisive blow to Welsh independence. Carreg Cennen was Giffard’s reward from a grateful English king.
It probably wasn’t his main home. The formidable castle Giffard built on top of an earlier Welsh stronghold was really a symbol of control.
Carreg Cennen was part of a wave of such fortresses built by Marcher lords throughout Wales after the Edwardian conquest. Its ‘castle within a castle’ layout and twin-towered gatehouse make it a classic example – and one that was never softened by later ‘gentrification’.
Carreg Cennen was garrisoned for the last time by Lancastrian forces during the Wars of the Roses. After its capture by Sir Roger Vaughan in 1462 a force of 500 men took four laborious months to dismantle the castle with picks and crowbars.
Visit Tretower Court and Castle to learn more about Sir Roger and see a vivid recreation of the splendour of his great hall during its heyday in the 1460s.
Carreg Cennen became so famous as a romantic ruin it was repeatedly sketched by Turner. But this didn’t stop the Earl of Cawdor heavily restoring it as part of the 19th century fashion for imaginative reconstruction of ruined medieval buildings. Even today no one is quite sure where the earl’s handiwork begins and ends.