Pembroke Castle - History and Facts | History Hit

Pembroke Castle

Pembroke, Pembrokeshire, South West Wales

Peta Stamper

18 May 2021
Image Credit: Shutterstock

About Pembroke Castle

A great medieval castle in the heart of South Wales, Pembroke Castle was originally the family seat of the Earldom of Pembroke. The castle was built alongside Pembroke River in 1093 by Arnulf of Montgomery during the Norman invasion of Wales.

Pembroke Castle’s 12th century stone structure is today open to the public and is the largest privately-owned castle in Wales. The castle is also noteworthy for being Britain’s only castle built over a natural cave, known as the Wogan, which has been inhabited since the prehistoric era.

Pembroke Castle history

The wooden bailey was built in 1093 on an easily defensible rocky area near the Milford Haven Waterway. Arnulf of Montgomery’s early castle successfully resisted Welsh attacks and sieges, although its defenders were close to starvation by the end.

In 1189, Richard I gave Pembroke Castle to William Marshal, who became Earl of Pembroke and shorty after rebuilt the castle with stone. Marshall’s castle boasted a great keep almost 80 metres high with embellished windows. According to legend, an Irish bishop cursed Marshall to have sons who would died childless, and so the castle passed to William de Valence, half-brother of Henry III.

In 1400, the Welsh soldier and patriot Owain Glyndwr led another rebellion against the English settlers. Pembroke Castle escaped attack because then constable Francis a Court paid off the rebels with a danegeld (a tax that was customarily paid to Viking raiders to prevent them from attacking settlements). Harri Tudor, who later became Henry VII of the Tudor dynasty, was born at Pembroke Castle in 1457.

During the tumultuous reign of Charles I, Pembroke Castle was attacked by both Royalist and Roundheads as the castle occupants’ sympathies shifted: first siding with Parliament then later the Royalists. Cromwell himself led an attack on the castle in 1648. After 7 weeks of siege, he ordered the castle’s destruction. Pembroke was therefore abandoned and fell into decay.

In 1928, Major-General Sir Ivor Philipps acquired the castle and set about restoring the walls, gatehouses and towers to the glorious castle we see today.

Pembroke Castle today

Today, views from the top of the castle give you the same sense of dominance over the landscape that the castle’s early inhabitants would have felt. With a standard admission ticket, expect to spend around 2 hours exploring the castle’s vast remains; climbing the towers, watching videos telling the story of Pembroke Castle and visiting the room where Henry VII was born.

You might spot a battlemented flying arch inside the gatehouse. This feature is a puzzle – it does not seem to be of much use repelling anyone who had already forced their way inside the castle. Nonetheless, the gatehouse remains a mighty defence that illustrates the skill of medieval builders.

After time travelling grab a bite at the cafe or have a picnic in the grounds, overlooked by this fairytale castle, before browsing the gift shop.

Getting to Pembroke Castle

Located in South Wales, head west on the M4 until Junction 49 and head towards Carmarthen. Once on the A4075, follow the heritage signs for the castle. There is plenty of parking available. Alternately, Pembroke Train Station is only 15 minutes walk away.

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