Pembroke Castle Keep

Pembroke Castle Keep

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Pembroke Castle

An enormous oval castle, mostly surrounded by a serene mill pond. Extensively restored in Victorian times, it's dominated by the complex gatehouse on the outside and the huge circular keep once you're inside. The walled town of Pembroke which grew up around the castle also contains many ancient and interesting Norman buildings.

  • Established by Roger Montgomery, Earl of Shrewsbury in 1093 as a timber structure.
  • The first stone structure was erected by William Marshal after he became Earl of Pembroke in 1189.
  • His third son, Gilbert, was responsible for enlarging and strengthening the castle between 1234 and 1241.
  • The castle then passed into the hands of William de Valence, a half-brother of Henry III through his marriage to Joan, granddaughter of William Marshal.
  • Valence family held the castle for 70 years, strengthening it by building the walls and towers around the outer ward. They also fortified the town, creating a ring of walls with three main gates and a postern.
  • On the death of Aymer, William de Valence's son, the castle passed through marriage into the hands of the Hastings family.
  • In 1389, the castle reverted to Richard II. It was granted out in a series of short tenancies and began to fall into disrepair.
  • In 1400, the castle was attacked by Owain Glyndwr, but escaped a siege because the Constable at the time, Francis а Court, bought off Glyndwr with the Welsh equivalent of danegeld.
  • Eventually Pembroke Castle passed into the hands of a new Earl, Henry VI's half-brother Jasper Tewdwr. He was the first to make it more of a home than a fortress.
  • In 1457 Henry Tewdwr was born in the castle. He later defeated Richard III at the Battle of Bosworth Field to become the first monarch of the Tudor dynasty, Henry VII.
  • In 1648, Cromwell laid siege to the castle during The English Civil War.
  • Pembroke Castle remained an ivy-covered ruin until 1880 when a Mr J R Cobb of Brecon spent three years restoring what he could.
  • Nothing further was done until Major-General Sir Ivor Phillips of Cosheston Hall acquired the ruins in 1928 and started an extensive restoration of the castle, restoring the walls and towers as nearly as possible to their original appearance.
  • Impressive 5 storey central keep with intact domed roof.
  • A complex gatehouse that dominates Pembroke's Main Street.
  • Historical displays in the gatehouse rooms.
  • Wogan's Cavern, a large subterranean cave under the castle, accessed by a tight spiral staircase.
  • A maze of tunnels, stairs, towers and battlements.
  • Circular path around inside and outside of the mill pond.

Shop, a brass rubbing centre and café. Park next to the Tourist Information Centre on The Common. There is a train station in Pembroke at the far end of Main Street.

Pembroke Castle Well Preserved Medieval Keep Castle in Wales

Pembroke Castle is a medieval castle in Pembroke in West Wales. The castle is sited on a strategic rocky promontory by Pembroke River.

The first castle here was established in 1093 during the Norman invasion of Wales. It was a Norman motte and bailey with earthen ramparts and a timber palisade

The present structure owes much to William Marshal, "The Flower of Courtesy", one of the most powerful men in 12th-Century Britain. It was owned by a long succession of families and saw action in many wars and uprisings over the centuries.

Today, the castle is open to the public. It remains the largest privately-owned castle in Wales.

Pembroke Castle
Pembroke Castle
Pembrokeshire SA71 4LA

Telephone from the UK: 01646 681510
Telephone from the US: 010 44 1646 681510
Telephone from France: 00 44 1646 681510
Telephone from other countries: +44 (0)1646 681510

Pembroke Castle, as it now appears, is a vast empty shell, of which the outer walls are everywhere visible and imposing, while the interior fittings have almost entirely disappeared, save for the great towers of the inner ward. There is a curious feeling of vacancy and disappoint when, after entering the lofty and complicated gatehouse, one finds oneself confronted with a great empty space, with a very large railed lawn-tennis ground occupying the major part of it (1925). The proper way to appreciate the castle’s magnificence is to cross the creek south of it, and view the walls and towers, rising above their cliff foundations, from the opposite side of the water, when the splendid shell is visible, and the inner emptiness cannot be guessed at.

Arnulf of Montgomery, coming to Milford Haven by sea in 1190, chose as his base of operations an acutely-pointed rocky peninsula between two creeks of the Haven, those now known as Pembroke River and Monkton Pill. Across the sharp projecting angle of this headland he drew a ditch from cliff to cliff, and set up a wall of turf and palisading behind it. The small space which he thus occupied now forms the inner ward of Pembroke Castle. It is improbable that at the first foundation of the castle there was any “outer bailey” – if there was anything of the sort it must have been far smaller than the present very large outer ward. If there was a “motte” it must have been on the site of the present circular keep, but there is very little sign of earlier earth-accumulation about the base of this great tower, which is practically founded on the rock.

Arnulf of Montgomery was absent from Pembroke Castle at the time of the general Welsh insurrection in 1096-1097, and the barely-tenable castle was defended by his castellan Gerald of Windsor, who only succeeded in holding it by a combination of obstinacy and craft which moved the admiration of the chroniclers. When the place was almost starved out, the besiegers broke up the leaguer and went off despairing of success. Henry I, in 1102, confiscated all the possessions of the Montgomery brothers for their acts of rebellion, Pembroke among the rest. But after a short interval he gave it over to Gerald of Windsor, who had defended it so well in 1097, and Gerald justified his trust by long and faithful service. It is probable that it was he who first girt the inner ward with a stone enceinte instead of a palisade, and he may very likely have marked out the line of the future outer ward by ditch and hedge, for he held the castle for many years and was a prosperous man. Pembroke was a royal castle, but Gerald acquired many lands for himself, and built a private stronghold at Carew in the midst of them. These, his family, the Fitzgeralds, continued to hold, after Stephen, in 1138, gave over Pembroke Castle to Gilbert de Clare and made him earl of the shire – though its limits were much less than those of the modern county. It was probably either Gilbert, or his son the famous Richard “Strongbow,” the Conqueror of Ireland, who built the circular Norman keep in the inner ward, which forms the most conspicuous part of Pembroke’s earlier fortifications. It stands isolated, close to the outer wall of the ward, but not touching it, and was apparently intended to command the whole landward front of the enceinte, which was then a simple stone curtain, the semi-circular towers which now show in it being probably the work of Strongbow’s successor and son-in-law, William the Marshall, to whom the earldom descended in 1189.

The keep is a big architectural experiment – some 75 feet high, circular instead of square – a rarity in this land – and vaulted with a dome of stone, which is still rarer. It has a basement and three stories above it intended for residence, though their windows are small and look inwards toward the court. The walls are immensely thick – 19 feet at the base – and the entrance is on the first story, and must have been reached by wooden steps, which have of course, disappeared long ago. If we reckon that Earl William the Marshall, recast the exposed front of the inner ward according to the improved military architecture of 1200, by furnishing it with the two semi-towers which gave protection by flanking fire to the whole line of the wall, (one of these, the Prison Tower, is intact of the other, called the Horseshoe Tower, only the foundation remains. And the old inner-ward curtain between these two towers has vanished entirely – a fact which can puzzle observers at first glance), we shall probably not be far out in our chronology. And it may have been he, also, since he was both wealthy and a skilled soldier, who first turned the outer ward into a stone enceinte, quadrupling the size of the area encircled by solid defences. By this time Pembroke had grown to be a most important place, largely because it had become the regular port of embarkation for the new English possessions in Ireland a considerable town had grown up outside the gates of the castle. This resort of merchants was protected, probably during the thirteenth century, by a wall drawn from water to water, from the Pembroke River creek on the north to the Monkton creek on the south, so that the town became a sort of outermost ward to the castle – as was the case also at Conway in North Wales.

But the development of the castle’s outer ward into its present shape is, so far as architectural evidence goes, not the work of William the Marshall, but that the two de Valence earls, William and Aymer, who held the place and earldom from 1260 to 1323, after the male line of the Marshalls had died out. William de Valence, the half-brother of Henry III, had married Joanna de Montchensy, one of the four co-heiresses among whom the Marshall lands were divided, and her share of them was Pembroke and the lands immediately around it.

The new defences of the outer ward consisted of six towers, four of them circular, and a very fine gatehouse in the south-east front. The ward is, roughly speaking, an irregular hexagon, with a tower at each angle, where the curtain takes a new direction. The gatehouse is its most striking feature, not only for its size and strength, but for its very elaborate outer protections, there being a barbican just outside it with a small external gate, placed not in line with the main arch of the gatehouse, but at right angles to it, so that any one coming through the barbican exposed himself to flank fire from the inner building. The great door had no less than three portcullises, each requiring to be forced by an assailant in succession. It has also an inner defence of a unique sort, a battlemented flying arch connecting the two round towers in the rear-defence of them. The object of this architectural freak has been much disputed. Obviously it could only be of use if the enemy had got into the outer ward and were attacking the gatehouse from behind – a not very probable conjecture. The structure has two upper stories above the portcullis chamber, with good rooms therein. In one of them Henry VII is said to have been born, and in 1540 Leland was shown the large royal coat-of-arms in this chamber, which had been inserted in his honour. The chance which brought Henry’s mother to Pembroke was that his uncle Jasper Tudor (who had been presented with the castle and the earldom by his half-brother Henry VI.) was entertaining his sister-in-law, Lady Margaret, who had just lost her husband in the previous November, and was delivered of the future king, a posthumous child, in January 1457.

Jasper Tudor was the first Earl of Pembroke who had resided in the castle for many a year – the Valance line had (like the de Clares and the Marshalls) gone off into female succession in the third generation, and with the extinction in 1391 of the descendants of Isabella de Valance, who had passed the earldom to her son, John de Hastings, the title had lapsed and the castle reverted to the crown. Jasper is said to have been a builder, but the general aspect of the outer ward of Pembroke suggests late thirteenth or early fourteenth century rather than mid-fifteenth century architecture.

There are in the inner ward buildings which do not belong to the earlier Norman castle, but to reconstruction, probably by the de Valences. Such are the great hall in the north-east angle of the ward, which evidently superseded an earlier Norman hall, and the domestic buildings adjoining it, where, in the so-called Oriel, the west window may be as late as Jasper Tudor. The chancery, where the clerical business of the palatine earldom was transacted, is but a fragment, but also looks fairly late.

Pembroke Castle possesses one curiosity unparalleled in other British castles: under the inner ward on the north side is an immense natural cavern, called the Wogan, 70 feet long and 50 feet broad, which was from the first utilized as a good dry storehouse. It was approachable from above by stairs, and below had an opening on to the creek, blocked by a water-gate, by which boats could communicate with the castle, and even small ships lie close in and land heavy goods. Leland saw this cave, but got neither its name nor its position quite correctly. He wrote: “In the bottom of the great strong round tower in the inner ward (the Keep) is a marvellous vault caullid the Hogan.” as a matter of fact the cave is rather further north than the keeps foundations. There was another small water-gate in the outer ward, under the so-called Monkton Tower on the west side of the castle.

Pembroke Castle was so strong that throughout the Middle Ages it remained a “virgin fortress.” Though Welsh rebels at one time and another captured places of such strength as Conway and Harlech, and Caer Cynan, and burnt the outer ward of the formidable Caerphilly, they never got into Pembroke – though Own Glendower once took a sort of blackmail or danegelt out of all Pembrokeshire. In the War of the Roses, Jasper Tudor did not attempt to hold his own castle, but took refuge in Harlech, so that the artillery of Edward IV had no occasion to make experiments on Milford Haven. During the Civil Wars of 1642 – 1646 Pembroke alone of all Welsh towns not only declared for Parliament, but held its own for years against all the attacks of the South Wales royalists. The destruction of town wall and castle wall alike was reserved for that incoherent business, the “Second Civil War” of 1648. When in that year all the discontented, not only the oppressed “Malignants,” but the Scots, and many other former enemies of the king, took arms against Parliament, the revolt in South Wales was started by Colonel Poyer, governor of Pembroke Castle, and joined by many other old Roundheads. The townsmen of Pembroke took part in the revolt, and after the rebels had been crushed in the open field, town and castle were defended against Cromwell himself from May 22 to July 11. That the siege lasted so long was due to the fact that Cromwell had only a few light field pieces with him – he sent to Gloucester for heavy guns to be forwarded by sea – but they had ill-luck by the way, and only turned up in the Haven on July 1. Meanwhile Cromwell, much enraged, tried an escalade – his stormers actually got over the town wall, and fought their way to near the castle barbican – there to be repulsed and expelled by a general rally of the garrison. On July 1 the big guns were unshipped, ten days later they began to play on both town and castle. But what was almost worse, the rebels were nearly out of food and powder. On a last summons on July 11, they surrendered – the rank and file to go free, the officers to leave the realm save for five or six named men, who ere to be at the mercy of the Parliament. Three, Colonel Laugharn, the head of the rebel army, Poyer, governor of Pembroke, and a Colonel Powell, were tried and condemned to death: - by a curious freak of the godly men at Westminster they were told that should cast lots for one of them to go to death, and the other two to captivity. Poyer drew the unlucky lot, and died very handsomely before a firing party in Covent Garden.

Meanwhile the castle was “slighted” – the Barbican Gate, and five towers of the outer ward were blown up, more or less effectively, also the curtain of the inner ward, between the two round towers. The rest of the damage at present visible was done by two centuries of stone-hunting vandals, who had houses to build in Pembroke town. The slighter and more easily demolished inner buildings gradually vanished – so, of course, did all lead and timber. And so there remains today little more than a magnificent shell, set here and there with the broken mediaeval towers whose mortar has defied the spoiler. Only the keep, the oldest stone building of all, is practically intact save for its inner fittings.

Pembroke Town Trail

Town Hall

What better place to start the trail that at Pembroke's historic Town Hall, easily spotted by its striking clock tower that quite literally towers over the shops along Main Street. The Town Hall was built in 1820 and was originally open at ground level to provide a space for market stalls, with a council chamber on the first floor. The Town Hall interior is decorated with large murals depicting the history of Pembroke. On the first floor is the Pembroke Museum, where you can learn about the long history of this delightful town.

Opposite the Town Hall is Clock House, originally the site of an open market. The market was enclosed when the striking tower was restored in the late Victorian period. Look for two lead cherubs on the clock tower. There were originally four of these naked imps, one on each corner. Unfortunately, two of them faced the nearby churchyard, and church authorities objected, so the cherubs were removed.

St Mary's Church

One of three medieval churches in Pembroke, St Mary's dates to the late 12th century. More recent are wonderful Victorian stained glass windows by CE Kempe, depicting famous events and people in Pembroke's history. By the entrance is a Tudor bench commemorating the birth of Henry VII (Henry Tudor) at the nearby castle in 1457.

Nearby is the NatWest bank, a former 18th-century coaching inn named the Green Dragon. Look for the high arch made to allow coaches through to the stable yard. Beside the bank is a Georgian house named McClarens, still boasting its original Georgian bow window.

Poyer's House

The home of John Poyer, mayor of Pembroke during the Civil War. The house is presently home to an estate agent firm. Beside Poyer's House is Brown's Fish and Chips, one of the oldest businesses in Pembroke. The chippie was run by Connie Brown and her husband Sid for decades and became such a fixture that Connie was awarded a CBE and served fish and chips until the ripe old age of 102.

Orielton Terrace

Opposite the chip shop is Orielton Terrace (also known as Chain Back). In the centre of this row of attractive houses is Orielton House, once the home of the Owens family who owned much of Pembroke. several family members served as MPs for the area. In front of the houses at ground level is an old milepost and one of the town's original public water taps.

National School

This striking little school building was established in 1861 by the National Society for Promoting the Education of the Poor in the Principle of the established Church. Thankfully the schools were shortened to be called simply 'National School'. Across the road is Elm Tree Square, once home to the town gallows.

Old Cross Saws Inn

On Main Street is this attractive old pub, named after a preaching cross that once stood here. Beside the inn are a trio of Georgian houses. Of these, Number 111 has been called 'the crowning glory of Pembroke's domestic architecture'. Look for the old vending machine selling stamps and pre-stamped postcards.

St Michael's Church

The second of Pembroke's medieval churches, St Michael's was built in the Norman period, rebuilt in 1835, and rebuilt again in 1887. Unfortunately, the church was forced to close in 2013 and is now redundant. also redundant, but very much in use, is the striking Wesleyan Chapel, an eye-catching Victorian building in Italianate style. It is now an antique centre. The chapel was built in memory of John Wesley, founder of Methodism, who made numerous visits to Pembroke.

East Back

Parallel to Main Street is East Back, where you can see the town's first public water tap standing near the Mount Pleasant Baptist Chapel (also redundant).

The Commons

Originally a marsh, the wet ground of this area defended the approach to the southern part of Pembroke's town walls. The Commons was home to businesses not welcome ion the centre of town, including a slaughterhouse, tannery, and iron works. Thankfully the area is no longer so unwelcoming! Look for Orange Gardens, an early 19th-century development built to house workers on the Royal Dockyard at Pembroke Dock.

The Town Walls

The best place to see the medieval town walls of Pembroke is on Common Road. Here you can also see the ruins of lime kilns, used to process lime for fertilizer and mortar. Built into the town walls is the Gun Tower (also known as the Defending Tower). This was one of six flanking towers that gave defenders a good view along the line of the wall.

Nearby on Rock Terrace is another of the towers, dubbed 'The Gazebo' for a Victorian-era summerhouse built on top of the medieval base.

Goose's Lane follows the line of the medieval walls. Its name comes from the fact that geese were herded through the area on their way to The Common for livestock fairs.

East End Square

The site of the medieval East Hate, which occupied the site where the Royal Oak pub now stands. The gate was destroyed by Cromwell after the siege of 1648. Look for St Michael's Hall, which formed part of a school established in 1873.

Barnard's Tower

The most striking tower to survive from the medieval town defences, Barnard's Tower dates to the 13th century and stood in the north-east corner of the town wall. The tower was large enough to accommodate a garrison of soldiers. It looks out over the Millpond, once a tidal inlet, later dammed to feed a corn mill. Millpond Walk runs beside the peaceful waterway as it follows the north section of the town walls.

Golden Farm & Olds Workhouse

On the far bank of Mill Pond is The Old Workhouse, established in 1839 as the Pembroke Union Workhouse. Beside it is Golden Farm, a former prison used to hold French soldiers captured in the invasion of Fishguard in 1797 - the last invasion of mainland Britain. Five hundred French prisoners were incarcerated at Golden Hill prison.

A pair of young local women were employed to carry food to the prisoners and carry away refuse. The women fell in love with a pair of French soldiers. The soldiers dug a tunnel under the prison walls and were aided by the women to seize a yacht belonging to Lord Cawdor in the harbour and make good their escape. The couples married and at least one of them returned to Pembroke after the war with France was over.

Awkward Hill & Monkton Old Hall

West of the castle the Town Trail climbs Bridgend Terrace to Monkton. On the right is the beautifully named Awkward Hill. At the bottom of Awkward Hill is Monkton Old Hall, built in the 14th century, though it seems that the vaulted cellars are much earlier than that. The Hall was used as a medieval guesthouse for Monkton Priory and is thought to be one of the oldest domestic buildings in Wales. The Hall is owned by the Landmark Trust who rent it out as holiday accommodation.

Priory Church

At the top of Awkward Hill is the Priory Church of St Nicholas & St John, the oldest church in Pembroke. The church formed part of an 11th-century Benedictine priory but was built on a much earlier Christian site. The priory was suppressed by Henry VIII, but the church survived to serve the people of Pembroke. Oliver Cromwell set up his cannon in the churchyard during the 1648 Siege of Pembroke.

From the churchyard, you can see freestanding arches and a gable wall - all that remains of the medieval priory, now on private land and unfortunately inaccessible. The neighbouring farmhouse probably dates to the 14th century and probably served as the prior's lodging. In the nearby field is a medieval dovecote used by the monks to provide much-needed meat during the winter months.

Westgate Hill

On Westgate Hill, opposite the castle, stood the medieval West Gate to Pembroke. You can still see the supports for the gateway arch, which stretched over the road to the castle. Beside the tower arch are a row of medieval cottages, some of the oldest buildings in Pembroke.

The Lion & Old King's Arms

Near the Town Hall is the last stop on the Town Trail, the Lion and Old King's Arms pubs. The two pubs began as 18th-century coaching inns. The Lion was a stopover post for the Royal Mail Coach. The Lion was built by the Owen family of Orielton, mentioned earlier. The pub sign was a gilded lion, the family's heraldic symbol.


Pembroke is an absolute delight to visit. By far the best way to enjoy the town and really get a sense of its history is to follow the town trail, but even if you just want to visit the castle it is well worth a visit. The best place we have found to park is in the large parking area on Common Road, at its junction with Park Street. This has the advantage of being very close to the library and tourist information centre on the north side of the road.

Most photos are available for licensing, please contact Britain Express image library.

About Pembroke
Address: A4139, Pembroke, Pembrokeshire, Wales
Attraction Type: Town
Location: On the A4139, three miles south-east of Pembroke Dock
Website: Pembroke
Location map
OS: SM989012
Photo Credit: David Ross and Britain Express



Heritage Rated from 1- 5 (low to exceptional) on historic interest

Birthplace of a King: Pembroke Castle

Towering above the Pembroke River in Wales sits a medieval fortress where one of history’s most game-changing kings was born. As we mark the 563rd anniversary of Henry VII’s birth on 28 January, let’s take a look at his birthplace.

Situated in the Welsh town of the same name, Pembroke Castle’s fascinating history began around 1093 when Arnulf de Montgomery built a fairly basic Norman fort of earth and timber.

In 1189, William Marshal became Earl of Pembroke, and the castle passed into his hands, with the property serving as the seat of the Earls of Pembroke (today the castle is no longer attached to the title, with the seat being Wilton House). The earl transformed the structure into a powerful stone castle, which came in handy much later during the tumultuous reign of King Charles I when the castle was attacked by both Royalists and Roundheads alike.

An interesting feature of Pembroke is it’s the only castle in Britain to be built over a natural cavern. Wogan’s Cavern has been in use for 12,000 years, and you can still climb down to view it today.

According to the castle’s website, “Pembroke’s strategic placement on the Milford Haven waterway made the castle the main departure point to Ireland and saw both Henry II and King John pass through its doors en route. The easy access by boat to the mouth of the cave, also made it the perfect storeroom and possible boathouse during the Middle Ages. During the 13th century, The Wogan was incorporated into the castle’s defences, with a large watergate being built across the mouth of the cavern.”

In 1447, the ownership of the castle had reverted to the crown under the rule of King Henry VI, and he gave the castle and the earldom of Pembroke to his half-brother, Jasper Tudor. When his brother Edmund’s wife died, Jasper took in his brother’s 13-year-old pregnant wife, Margaret Beaufort.

Harri Tudur was born at the castle on 28 January 1457, the baby who would go on to become King Henry VII. He certainly had a claim to the English throne, but it was tenuous and through his mother’s line. Yet in 1485 he won the crown from Richard III during the Battle of Bosworth Field, and the Tudor dynasty was born.

Today, the castle serves as a popular tourist attraction. Guests can take part in “Knight School,” peek into the Dungeon Tower and view an exhibition with wax figures depicting a bloody Civil War battle. And of course, they can view the 13th-century Henry VII Tower, to see where the man who changed English royal history was born.

Pembroke Castle Keep - History

Only open at certain times

Only open at certain times

embroke Castle is built on a promontory that extends out into the Pembroke RIver and is protected on three sides by steep cliffs, In 1093 Ranulph (Roger) de Montgomery built a fort on the site probably from just wood. Under the ownership of William Marshall the castle was rebuilt in stone which included the construction of a huge round tower keep some 80 feet in height.

Location Map (click to explore)

Construction of Pembroke Castle

A motte and bailey castle was built at Pembroke by Arnulf of Montgomery.

Gilbert de Clare becomes Earl of Pembroke

Gilbert de Clare was made the first Earl of Pembroke. He took control of the castle of the same name.

William Marshal and Chepstow Castle

In 1189 William Marshal married Isabel, the heiress of Earl Richard de Clare. Isabel's castles passed to William including Pembroke Castle.

Margaret Beaufort moved to Pembroke

After the death of Edmund Tudor, his brother, Jasper Tudor Earl of Pembroke, moved Margaret Beaufort to Pembroke Castle. Margaret was the wife of Edmund Tudor and expecting their first child, Henry Tudor, the future King of England.

Henry (VII) is born

The future king of England, Henry VII, was born at Pembroke Castle. His father was Edmund Tudor who had died a couple of months before the birth and his mother was Margaret Beaufort who was directly descended from Edward III.

Pembroke Castle captured

Pembroke Castle was captured by William Herbert. The young Henry Tudor was found in the castle where he had been hiding.

Pembroke Castle in Yorkist hands

William Herbert was given the castle at Pembroke in recognition of his assistance to Edward IV. Herbert was made the guardian of the future Henry VII who was living at the castle.

3D Virtual Reconstructions

Transport yourself back up to a thousand years and explore historical buildings as they may have appeared in the past. Built using the popular game development tool Unity 3D, these reconstructions will run in the most of the popular web browsers on your desktop or laptop computer.

Uncover the lives of the hundreds of kings, queens, lords, ladies, barons, earls, archbishops and rebels who made the medieval people an exciting period of history to live through.

The Birthplace of Henry VII: Inside the Tudor Stronghold of Pembroke Castle

Looming over Milford Haven on the South West tip of Wales, the foreboding Norman battlements of Pembroke Castle – one of the holdings of the powerful Jasper Tudor – was long known to be the 1457 birthplace of Henry Tudor – the future Henry VII of England – son of Edmund Tudor, Earl of Richmond and Margaret Beaufort, Countess of Richmond. Not only was it from Pembroke that the first Tudor king sprang, but it was from Pembroke that his uncle, Jasper, kept the Lancastrian banner flying, and from Pembroke where the four-year old Earl of Richmond was eventually taken into custody by William Herbert, a Yorkist loyalist who replaced Jasper as Earl of Pembroke as chess pieces left the board in the Wars of the Roses.

However, little was known of this turbulent time until aerial photography by Toby Driver of the Royal Commission on Ancient and Historical Monuments (Wales) revealed parchmarks in the grass – irregular growth – discovered evidence of the outer ward building where Henry may have been born. With the permission and support of the Pembroke Castles Trust, a geophysical survey was then carried out by Dyfed Archaeological Trust, with assistance from Tim Southern and TF Industries Ltd and funding by the Castle Studies Trust.

Archaeological Consultant on the project Neil Ludlow arranged and co-ordinated the survey work, and the report. He is currently producing a monograph on medieval Pembroke – in which all findings will be fully-discussed – which should be published in a couple of years. We spoke to Ludlow to find out how this discovery came about and just what role Pembroke Castle played in the rise of the Tudor dynasty.

An aerial view of Pembroke Castle shows clear parchmarks in the grass. Crown Copyright RCAHMW, AP_2013_5162.

What do we know about the Outer Ward buildings from the survey on the site?

Aerial photography, in 2013, revealed ‘parchmarks’ in the outer ward – ie. where grass is both shorter and drier over buried walls. As a result, a geophysical survey was undertaken over the entire castle, using magnetometry, resistivity and Ground Penetrating Radar (GPR). The outer ward parchmarks registered well in the survey, and seem to belong to a winged, H-plan hall-house. It can be identified with a building that was partially excavated in the 1930s, but without record – all we have is two photographs, which show walls and a possible cess-pit.

But this is the building that is significant regarding Henry Tudor. All the evidence so far amassed suggests that it was of a form typical of the period 1450-1550. Jasper Tudor (Henry’s uncle), earl of Pembroke 1452-61, and again 1485-95, was the first resident earl at Pembroke for over 100 years, and there were no resident earls after his death in 1495. Therefore, Jasper is the most likely builder of the winged hall-house. However, it does remain a possibility that it may have been built by the Herberts, who held Pembroke during Yorkist rule between 1461 and 1485 – ie. after Henry Tudor’s birth. Archaeological excavation may resolve some, if not all of these issues – particularly if the 1930s excavations were not too destructive, and some dating evidence was left behind.

The geophysical survey revealed evidence for a number of other buildings in the outer ward, but not as many as one might expect – only one or two of them are likely to be medieval. The outer ward appears to have been largely empty during the Middle Ages, and indeed this may have been deliberate – as an open area for assembly (military and/or civil), and/or as a high-status area for gardens, staging of pageantry etc. – which would fit in with the presence of a high-status winged house in the outer ward.

When was the outer ward torn down and why?

The curtain walls and towers of the outer ward still stand, and are in an excellent state of preservation. It’s the medieval internal buildings that have disappeared. We don’t know when this happened, but my suspicion is that it was during the Civil War when Pembroke was a major garrison – it would have made defence, in the gunpowder age, easier if men and matériel could me moved around quickly without obstruction (the castle was badly damaged by Cromwell after its surrender, but this was confined to the towers).

However, the remains of some of the walls belonging to the winged hall-house, and a possible doorway, survived until around 1810 and are shown on old maps and prints.

A recreation of Pembroke Castle by Neil Ludlow as it might have appeared at the beginning of the 15th century, although there are slightly more outer ward buildings than would have been the case © Neil Ludlow

To what extent do these discoveries match with accounts of Henry Tudor’s birth?

The best-known account regarding Henry’s birthplace was written by the Tudor antiquarian John Leland, who visited Pembroke Castle in the 1530s and tells us that ‘in the outer ward, I saw the chamber where Henry VII was born’.

Apart from fragmentary remains, the outer ward was empty of buildings by the 18th century, when historians first started serious study. They consequently searched in vain for this ‘chamber’. Most opted for one of the domestic buildings in the inner ward – in defiance of Leland, who was writing during a period when the castle was still in use. Later on, it was suggested by Joseph Cobb, who partially restored Pembroke Castle in the 1880s, that the birth took place in one of the outer ward towers – which was subsequently named the ‘Henry VII Tower’. However, this tower was primarily defensive – it was a public space, and links two wall-passages within the outer curtain. As the castle was almost certainly garrisoned during the 1450s, it would have been a very busy space as well. It is unlikely that Lady Margaret Beaufort, a high-status relative of the resident earl, gave birth to her first child in such a martial, and masculine setting. So the discovery of what appears to be a near-contemporary, high-status, winged hall-house may provide the answer. It is much more the kind of building in which the birth would have taken place.

As the castle was a centre of regional government, the inner ward buildings had become mainly given over to administrative use and accommodation for the admin officers and staff – while, because of absenteeism, the higher status residential accommodation in the inner ward had been neglected and was in poor repair.

Interestingly, the Welsh-language chronicle of Elis Gruffudd, completed in 1552, locates the birth ‘in the tower which is named the Boar’s Tower within Pembroke Castle’. But ‘tower’ was, in literature of the period, a generic term for any part of a castle, and the suspicion that the account may be a literary device, for moral purposes, is heightened by the fact that Richard III’s personal badge was the boar.

What was the significant of Pembroke Castle to the Tudor family? Why was it an appropriate birthplace for the future Henry VII?

The castle may have had no real significance for Jasper Tudor were it not for the Wars of the Roses. Most of the earls during the 14th and earlier 15th centuries had been absentee, and Jasper may have followed in their footsteps. However, this absenteeism meant that the buildings had been neglected, and on receiving Pembroke in 1452 Jasper may have commissioned the winged hall-house, as his personal accommodation should he ever wish to visit.

When he did visit, in November 1456, it was to deal with the conflicts that had broken out in west Wales in the wake of the Wars of the Roses. These had already led to the death of his brother, Edmund (Henry’s father), and the volatile political situation meant that Edmund’s widow Margaret Beaufort was in a very vulnerable position. So she was brought to Pembroke to join her brother-in-law Jasper, who was also her guardian. There she gave birth to Henry on 28 January 1457.

The outer ward of Pembroke Castle being surveyed in 2013 © Dyfed Archaeological Trust

She didn’t stay that long afterwards, marrying Henry Stafford in 1458. However, it’s possible (perhaps likely) that Henry stayed with his uncle, as he became Jasper’s ward upon his mother’s remarriage. Jasper was at Pembroke, intermittently, until the Lancastrian defeat at Towton in 1461, after which he went on the run, mainly staying in France until 1470. The wardship of his nephew Henry was acquired by the Yorkist William Herbert, who was also granted Pembroke in Jasper’s stead.

How significant was the later loss of Pembroke Castle in the aftermath of Towton?

The Lancastrian reverses, Jasper’s loss of all his estates and influence, and his exile, are probably more significant – particularly Jasper’s second exile after the brief Lancastrian restoration of 1470-71. After their defeat at the Battle of Tewkesbury (3 May 1471), Jasper and Henry Tudor fled first to Pembroke, and thence to France. It was here that they made the alliances and built up the contacts that enabled Henry to launch his campaign of 1485, and take the throne.

After Henry’s victory at Bosworth, and coronation, Jasper Tudor regained all his old titles and lands, but it’s possible that he never again set foot in Pembroke – his activities mainly revolved around the court, and his major estates, manors and houses in the West Country and southeast Wales.

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Pembroke Castle Keep - History

Inside Outer Ward Looking towards Gatehouse

Inner side of the Gatehouse

Click here to see a page about the Welsh castles of Edward I

Preliminary Bibliography

Candler, G. M. Pembroke Castle. Pilgrim, 1989. ISBN: 0900594926 (pbk) . (short guidebook)

Clark, George Thomas. The earls, earldom, and castle of Pembroke. Tenby, R. Mason, 1880.

Innes-Smith, Robert. Pembroke Castle. Derby, Pilgrim Press, 1996. ISBN: 1874670234 (pbk) : (short guidebook)

Oman, Charles William Chadwick. Castles, by Charles Oman London, The Great western railway, 1926. LC Call Number: NA963 O54

Owen, Henry. A calendar of the public records relating to Pembrokeshire. London, Issued by the Honourable society of Cymmrodorion, 1918.

Platt, Colin. The Castle in Medieval England and Wales. New York: Barnes and Noble Books, 1981. ISBN 0 76070 054 0

Renn, Derek Frank. Norman castles in Britain [by] D. F. Renn.London, Baker New York, Humanities P., 1968. LC Call Number: NA963 .R41

Thompson, Alexander Hamilton. Military architecture in England during the middle ages, by A. Hamilton Thompson . illustrated by 200 photographs, drawings, and plans. London, New York [etc.] H. Frowde, 1912. LC number NA963 .T46

Toy, Sidney. Castles, a short history of fortifications from 1600 B.C. to A. D. 1600 London, Toronto, W. Heinemann, ltd. [1939]. LC Number: NA490 .T75

All images and computer code is copyrighted by Dr. Alison Stones of the University of Pittsburgh
Last updated by:JV Date: 05/00

Pembroke Castle

Pembroke Castle

This castle was the birthplace in 1457 of Henry Tudor (Harri Tudur), who became King Henry VII in 1485 after defeating King Richard III at the Battle of Bosworth, near Leicester. Henry&rsquos mother was a 13-year-old widow when she gave birth to him, and had been married twice!

A small inner bailey was built c.1093 at this strategic location, a promontory between two inlets. Roman coins have been found, suggesting earlier activity here. In the early 13th century the imposing stone tower, c.24m in height, was built. This and the castle&rsquos twin courts were enclosed by walls and towers over the following 100 years or so. The structure was damaged after a Civil War siege in 1648 and restored in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

This is the only castle in Britain built above a natural cave, known as the Wogan. Visitors can walk down to the cave in the tunnel created as a supply route from the waterside.

The castle is now owned and managed by Pembroke Castle Trust, which provides exhibitions and activities to help bring history to life. The photo from the 1890s shows the castle from the west. Notice the mill building beside the barrage (left of the castle) and sailing ships at the quay.

Henry Tudor was grandson of Owain Tudur of Penmynydd, Anglesey, who had served illustriously in the army of King Henry V. Owain married the king&rsquos widow, Catherine de Valois, after the king&rsquos death. One of their sons, Edmund, married the 12-year-old heiress Margaret Beaufort in 1455 but he died the following year, after being illegally imprisoned in Carmarthen Castle.

Margaret gave birth to Henry three months later, when she was 13 years old. She had no more children, despite remarrying and living until 1509. There has been speculation that childbirth at such a young age left her infertile.

Henry lived in exile in Brittany and France during the Wars of the Roses in the 15th century. In 1485 Henry landed at Mill Bay, near Dale, Pembrokeshire, to stake his claim. He marched through Wales, gathering support from landowners and swelling his army. After defeating Richard III at Bosworth, he was crowned King Henry VII &ndash the last king to win the crown on the battlefield. The ensuing Tudor dynasty had a profound influence on the development of Britain as we know it today.

Postcode: SA71 4LA View Location Map

Other MILITARY HiPoints in this region:
Pembroke war memorial
Carew war memorial
Air Sea Rescue base, Tenby &ndash supported RAF&rsquos local activities in Second World War

Watch the video: Pembroke Castle Keep Inside (October 2022).

Video, Sitemap-Video, Sitemap-Videos