Chepstow Castle Field Trip

Although not far from me (about an hour), I hadn’t visited Chepstow Castle for about 15 years, and that was for a re-enactment show so I didn’t actually explore it. Therefore when Gabriele Campbell from
The Lost Fort blog said she was coming over to do a Wales trip and would be visiting Cardiff, the idea of a meet up was too good to resist! This took place, amidst cloudy skies and occasional drizzle, on May 16th.

Chepstow Castle played a part in the life of Hugh Despenser the younger a couple of times. Built originally in 1067 by, it passed through the hands of the Fitz Osberns, the de Clares, the Marshalls and the Bigods, Earls of Norfolk. A large, sophisticated structure, it was important link in the chain of defence of the eastern March. When Roger Bigod died in 1306, the castle passed into royal hands.

From 1308 to 1310, Edward II gave the custody of it to Hugh Despenser (the younger) – a fairly responsible position considering the volatility of the area. There are no records to show whether Hugh was there much or whether he left all of the administration to his deputy, John de Tany. Nevertheless, Hugh seemed to take his new position as constable seriously: accounts show that he was responsible for making extensive repairs to the building. This is surprising as Bigod had carried out major building works at the castle. However it seems from these records that while he was constructing new buildings, he must also have been ignoring the castle’s basic structure as a whole. It certainly seems that the roofs were in a bad state, as oak planks were brought in from the Wentwood – possibly for their repair. Also, the springalds (machines for throwing rocks – a bit like a catapult) needed replacing – most of the originals had been taken from their defensive positions and placed into storage where they were later discovered to be broken.

In 1310, Hugh was replaced as constable by a representative of Edward’s two brothers: Thomas of Brotherton and Edmund. This representative, one John Pateshulle, turned out to be a bit of a crook as he systematically sold the castle’s goods and then disappeared in 1312. After this, the castle officially passed to Thomas of Brotherton until 1323 when he sold it to Hugh Despenser for the term of his life. The possession of Chepstow castle now meant that Hugh was not only Lord of Glamorgan (and the rest!), but he was also now Lord of Striguil (the old name for Chepstow). It may have been a small gain but it was yet another important piece to add to his growing Welsh empire.

Chepstow also played a small but important role in the autumn of 1326, when Queen Isabella and Roger de Mortimer invaded England. Fleeing before the hostile army, Hugh and Edward went to Chepstow Castle, maybe hoping to hold it as part of a Royalist defence (Bristol was being held by Hugh senior while Caerphilly was commanded by Hugh’s son, Hugh). However, seeing that Welsh support was not forthcoming, Hugh and Edward then sailed from Chepstow out into the Bristol Channel. Where they were planning to go is a matter for speculation but bad weather forced them to put in to Cardiff, and soon after they were captured by Isabella and Mortimer’s forces.

Here are a few of the pictures of Chepstow Castle. The rest (as well as photos of nearby Tintern Abbey) can be found at:

Gabriele and Lady D. prepare to breach the walls of Chepstow Castle

The striking Norman architecture of Chepstow’s Great Tower dominates the castle.. The oldest building, it possibly dates back to the 11th century. It was added to by the Marshal family and Roger Bigod in the 13th century. It was probably used for ceremonial or judicial occasions rather than as a Great Hall.

A close-up of the main entrance to the Great Tower. The tympanum and the two arches above it are of obvious Norman design, however the rows of red brick just above that are Roman – reused material possibly from Caerwent. There was most probably a stairway and timber forebuilding leading up to this door.

A view of the River Wye and castle from the end of the ‘Gallery’. The sea cave, below the cellar area can just be seen. This is where boats could beach and have their goods winched up.

Inside the Great Hall, built by Roger Bigod. The three ground floor doorways would have led to the service areas: the left one to the buttery, the right-hand one to the pantry and the middle one to the kitchens via some stairs.
The door to the top left used to lead to the Earl’s private chamber.


About Jules Frusher

With an MA in Creative and Critical Writing, I am passionate about the written word. The other great loves of my life are all things Medieval (especially Hugh le Despenser the Younger) and animal behaviour (especially canids and corvids). Give me a castle in the wilderness (with Broadband!) and I'll be happy!
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