Castles come to Wales

A devastating innovation

The castle was an important tool of conquest. Initially built quickly in wood, it served as a base for the invading soldiers, a place to protect their equipment and provisions, and a place to defend from counter-attacks.

Once a foothold was established, castles were strengthened by rebuilding in stone. They became living quarters for the lord and his family, as well as an administrative and military hub from which to control the surrounding territory and collect taxes from the population.

Castles were a Norman innovation. The motte-and-bailey style was introduced in Normandy in the 10th century, and brought across the English Channel in 1066.

South of the Preselis, the Normans were secure in the castles they built. But it was a different story further north, where the Welsh were more difficult to subjugate. In Nevern as in Cardigan and Cilgerran, the Welsh fought off the invaders and occupied their castles. And not simply occupied them, but extended and improved them as well. Both Normans and Welsh extended the stone buildings at Nevern at different times; and it was Rhys who reconstructed Cilgerran into stone, in place of the Norman wooden structure.

The Welsh lords took up the design and constructed their own castles. But from Edward I’s conquest of Wales in 1283, all of Wales was effectively under the English King’s control.

Most of these castles were long-lived, and developed sporadically by their occupants over several centuries.

Nevern, however, is a unique encapsulation of the period of the initial Norman invasion. Its capture and re-capture represents the turbulence of the time. Built in 1108 and burnt down in 1196, it’s a gift to archaeologists: most of the buildings and finds are from that period – unlike most castles, where so much of the original activity is obscured by later development.