Grosmont castle is one of the Three Castles built in the Welsh Marches, or at least one of those fortified in the 12th century. The Three Castles are those of Grosmont, Skenfrith and White Castle. It is believed that there was a wooden framed fortress at Grosmont by the 1100s, probably a Norman motte and bailey type. There is also a motte and bailey structure at Orcop which is close to Grosmont, and this could be older than the first castle built there.
Grosmont was built in three stages, and was perhaps founded by Earl William Fitz Obern in 107o during the Norman invasion of south Wales. It then passed into several other hands and it is possible that the Great Hall was constructed by Baron Fitz John who acquired it during the reign of Henry I (1100-1135). The Great Hall is regarded as one of the finest features of Grosmont castle.
Judging by the Great Hall the castle was probably constructed as a residence and an administrative centre rather than as a fortress. It was Hubert de Burgh, to be Justice of England, who converted it into a fortress when he was granted it by King John in 1201. While Hubert was recovering from an almost fatal wound in the Loire Valley, the castle passed into the hands of the Braose family until 1219 when Hubert regained his lands. Hubert added to the castle between 1224 and 1226, and these buildings included the gatehouse and the three “D” shaped towers. Poor Hubert fell from the King’s favour in 1233 and lost the castles that had been his. The king’s army was attacked by the Welsh while they were asleep in tents outside the castle in that year. All their baggage and horses were stolen. (Perhaps that gave rise to the rhyme “Taffy was a Welshman, Taffy was a thief “ as the Welsh were called ‘Taffs after the River Taff which flows through Cardiff.)
In 1267 Henry III gave the castle to his son, Edmund, who used it as one of his residences. It was he who extended the south west tower so that it became a five-storey Keep. He also had the Great Chimney built (or “Eleanor’s Chimney” – named after Queen Eleanor, his mother and the wide of King Henry III). The castle became part of the Duchy of Lancaster on this bequest. Edmund’s grandson, Henry of Grosmont, later became King Henry IV and so the Three Castles fell into royal hands once again.
Owain Glyndwr attacked Grosmont and burnt the houses around the castle in 1405 during a battle with the English army on the banks of the River Monnow. The castle was abandoned and fell into ruin so much so that when Charles I spent the night at Grosmont in 1645, during the Civil War he did not stay at the castle.
Apart from the castle, there is the church of St Nicholas in Grosmont village, which was built in the same style as the early Great Hall in the castle. The tower and some other parts of the church were commissioned by Edmund for his mother, Queen Eleanor. Ther is an effigy of a mediaeval knight in the church which might be that of Ralph Grosmont who was responsible for the building of so much of the Three Castles.
- Skenfrith Castle, Skenfrith, Monmouthshire, South Wales (lynnee8.wordpress.com)
- White Castle and Abergavenny South Wales UK (lynnee8.wordpress.com)
- Castell Coch, Tongwynlais, Cardiff, South Wales (lynnee8.wordpress.com)
- Cardiff Castle in the City Centre (lynnee8.wordpress.com)