Wednesday, 12 September 2012

Skenfrith Castle, Monmouthshire, Wales

Skenfrith Castle
Skenfrith castle, along with Grosmont and White Castle (or Castell Gwyn or Llantillo) are known collectively as the Three Castles. Although its not the most impressive of the three (in my opinion that would be White Castle) and it doesn't even have a particularly interesting history (unlike its neighbour, Grosmont) Skenfrith remains one of my favourite castles (yep, I'm an unashamed complete castle anorak). Located in the Monnow Valley in the Welsh Southern March, the castle sits next to the Monnow river which still forms part of the border between England and Wales and flows into the Wye at nearby Monmouth. Its attraction, apart from the fact it's in a beautiful part of the country and it is free to enter, is that it also inspired the castle map/plan in the boardgame Siege, something I'd thought for years and have only recently been able to confirm. As a direct result of a recent visit to this castle, via Cardiff, that I started to build a model of the Great Round Tower.

Great Tower seen through the remains of original gatehouse
The visible remains of the castle were built by Hubert de Burgh between 1219 and 1232, replacing an earlier earth-and-timber version thought to have been built shortly after the Norman conquest. There may even have been a Roman presence on the site as Roman pottery has been found there during excavations.

Semi-circular Projecting Turret

Hubert de Burgh (1175 - 1243) was a veteran defender of the sieges of the castles at Chinon, Loire, France and Dover (1217). It is thought that he was inspired, as were William Marshall and Walter de Clifford, by castles built be King Philip Augustus as they bear a very strong resemble to a series of castles built by this French monarch. Philip Augustus (1180 - 1223) built no fewer than twenty round great towers, generally between 13.5 and 18m in diameter, all so them had three floors and very few arrow slits. A prime example can still be seen in Villeneuve sur Yonne, Yonne, Northern Burgundy, built between 1204 - 1211.
The plan on Skenfrith also resembles the plan of the Louvre of paris, in that it was a quadrangle with boldly projecting towers with a round donjon (keep). The remains of this castle can see be seen underneath the Louvre museum.

Curtain Wall
Note the four distinct layers of construction

Sally Port

Although very similar to French examples Skenfrith boasts a combination of several design characteristics that are only seen on a very small number of castles, all of them located in Wales. These include Bronllys, Powis built by Walter de Clifford who fought with De Burgh in the Welsh war of 1231 and Pembroke Castle, where the great round tower was built be the famous William Marshall who, not surprisingly, was an ally of Hubert de Burgh.
Three of these distinctive features include:
  • First floor entry above a battered base marked by an offset spiral stair to the upper floor,
  • Roll mouldings at the external batter,
  • Semi-circular projecting turrets.
So if you ever spot one of these features on a castle you too can now bore your partner and/or friends with this useless information :)
Minnow Rover
Castle just to the left behind the trees.
St. Bridget's church
Parts of the nearby church, St. Bridget's are contemporary with the castle. It features a quite unusual tower. There are a number of interesting items within the church which are worth to checking out.

If you have an interest in medieval history Skenfrith, Grosmont, White Castle and Monmouth, birthplace of King Henry V, are all worth visiting.