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Raglan Castle is the dramatic ruin of a 15th century castle built by Welsh nobleman Sir William ap Thomas and completed by his son. The castle met its end during the English Civil War.
Raglan Castle history
Raglan castle is an impressive late medieval building and although now ruined, it remains a striking presence in the landscape of south-east Wales.
Much of what remains at Raglan dates from the 15th century, the period of the Wars of the Roses and the rise of the Tudor dynasty. The Great Tower is the most impressive of the buildings from this period, dominating the two courtyards of the castle.
Sir William ap Thomas was a veteran of the French wars and started work on the structure around 1435 including overseeing the construction of the Great Tower.
After Sir William’s death in 1461, his son William Herbert became Baron Herbert of Raglan and embarked on an ambitious building programme to reflect his new status. He developed suites of accommodation around the Fountain Court, built the Pitched Stone Court, and constructed the gatehouse to both impress and intimidate visitors to the castle.
Sir William Herbert was a key figure in the politics of the late 15th century. During the War of the Roses he supported Edward IV. The reward for his loyalty was considerable, providing him with the title Earl of Pembroke, and sufficient resources to convert Raglan into a palace-fortress.
In 1469, Sir William Herbert was captured by Lancastrian supporters at the Battle of Edgecote and put to death. At this time the work was unfinished.
Raglan underwent its final transformation when the castle passed to the Somersets, earls of Worcester. William Somerset, the third Earl of Worcester, remodelled the hall range, built a long gallery and extended the Pitched Stone Court. He also created a garden with long walled terraces and a lake.
The castle was besieged for ten weeks in 1646 by parliamentarian troops and ultimately destroyed. In the years that followed Raglan was abandoned and left to decay.
Raglan Castle today
Today the decay has been halted and the building conserved through the work of Cadw and its predecessors, who have taken care of the castle since 1938.
The beauty of Raglan Castle can be seen for miles around the countryside. The Great Tower serves as the predominant feature of the castle. It is surrounded by a moat, which is crossable by a bridge from the main castle
Getting to Raglan Castle
To get to Raglan Castle by car go via the A40 and Raglan is signposted. The nearest train station is Newport. The site is also accessible by bus and regional bike routes.
Raglan Castle, a magnificent Tudor-period sandstone structure, was not built specifically as a defence as the other great castles of Wales had been. Instead, it was designed mainly as a statement of wealth and influence.
A manor had existed on the site before William ap Thomas acquired the property through marriage in 1406. A veteran of Agincourt in 1415, ap Thomas enjoyed the favour of King Henry VI and was knighted in 1426. He wanted to demonstrate his upwardly-mobile status, so set out on an ambitious building plan for Raglan.
In 1435 he began work on the Great Tower, also known as the Yellow Tower of Gwent, but he was never to see it completed, as ap Thomas died in 1445. The building work was continued by his son, William, who took the surname Herbert.
Herbert continued his father's building work, drawing on continental influences common to veterans of the French wars. The building was complex and stylish - and the polygonal structures used can still be seen today. Herbert supported the Yorkist cause in the Wars of the Roses, and was made Lord Herbert of Raglan by King Edward IV in 1461, then Earl of Pembroke.
His rising fortunes were reflected in Raglan Castle as more sumptuous building works were added. When Herbert was defeated at the battle of Edgecote in 1469, he was beheaded and the castle went between families during the Tudor period depending on the ruling family's factions and fortunes.
Each occupant of the castle added to or altered the structure until the Civil War when it rallied to the Royalist cause. In 1646, it began to come under siege from Parliamentary forces, one of the longest of the war. Like other Welsh castles that had been Royalist fortresses, Cromwell ordered Raglan to be destroyed.
A Toff's Castle
Raglan Castle is stunningly imposing but less as a belligerent military fortress than as a nobleman's vast home. It is a fortified palace in the French style with its hexagonal towers. Built by a father-and-son team, it showed off their wealth and position and saw less warfare than a smaller one such as that in Usk. Because of the relatively late dates of construction, the period was comparatively peaceful. Henry Tudor, future King Henry VII, spent some of his childhood here.
Construction - military
Building was begun in the 15th century by Sir William ap Thomas (knighted by Henry VI) and the castle marks a transitional stage between a military fortification and a palatial residence in keeping with the growing riches and power of the family. There was the 6-sided, 5-storey Twr Melyn Gwent (yellow tower of Gwent, probably so called because of the yellow lichen growing on it) with 10 foot thick walls and surrounded by a deep water-filled moat, which could be held if the rest of the site were taken in battle. The high quality carved masonry spoke of the family's affluence. There were circular gun loops in the Kitchen Tower the battlements and Closet Tower have machicolations from which from which the enemy could be attacked from above.
Construction - domestic and other additions
Sir William's son, William Herbert, Earl of Pembroke, built the superb gatehouse block and added the residential apartments of the Fountain Court.
William Somerset contrived the showy second-floor long gallery which would have been heated and hung with panelling, portraits and tapestries and was ideal for the sumptuous social activities of the upper classes. The Fountain Court, which once had a fountain at the centre, the base of which can still be seen, contained a range of pleasing apartments, probably for visitors. These had fireplaces and handsome windows as glass was becoming cheaper and larger sheets were available in the 16th century, a fact that William Somerset welcomed to let in light to his probably gloomy home. The family had private accommodation, the high status of which was indicated by superbly carved masonry including heraldic badges round the windows.
Later a moat walk was created with busts of Roman Emperors in niches decorated with shells, as was the fashion of the period, and elaborate gardens were laid out with ponds, orchards and deer. The bowling green is still there to be appreciated.
|Chimneypiece in long gallery, late 16th century|
The walk from the bus stop in Raglan village takes about 15 minutes heading off behind the Beaufort and is quite pleasant apart from crossing the busy dual carriageway of the A449. Raglan is served by 2 buses, the 60 which can take you to Monmouth with its connections to Henry V since it was in the castle there that he was born. and the 83 from Monmouth to Abergavenny where a brutal massacre took place one Christmas in its castle.
Or you could go in the other direction on the number 60 to Usk with its castle and the nearby battle of Pwll Melyn against Owain Glyndwr's forces or further onwards to Caerleon with its Roman remains.
On the bus, on your way home, you will find your mind reliving all these images.
Above: the ornate gatehouse at Raglan Castle.
Below: the Great Tower at Raglan viewed from near the gatehouse.
Jeff Thomas 1994
H ow does one begin to describe the handsome majesty that is Raglan Castle? Raglan, with its great multi-angular towers and Tudor-styling, is unlike any other castle in Wales. There were only three times during our vacation, when visiting a site, I said to myself, "this is why we came to Wales." The first time was while viewing Conwy Castle from the spur wall near the Quay. The second was upon seeing the cathedral and Bishop's Palace at St. Davids, and the last was while standing in front of the double-towered gatehouse at Raglan.
T he main stone used in construction of the castle is sandstone, but of two different types. The 15th century castle is characterized by pale, almost yellowish sandstone from Redbrook on the Wye river, three miles away. The other sandstone is local Old Red Sandstone, red, brown or purplish in color, used in the Tudor work. A paler stone was also used in the fireplaces. From a distance, Raglan seemed to have a reddish cast, although on approaching the gatehouse, the castle's yellow sandstone becomes obvious.
T he castle is probably most closely associated with William ap Thomas, who fought with King Henry V at the Battle of Agincourt in 1415. In 1426, ap Thomas was knighted by Henry VI, becoming known to his compatriots as "the blue knight of Gwent." Sir William Herbert, Earl of Pembroke, was the next owner of the castle, and it is Herbert who is responsible for Raglan's distinctive Tudor-styling. The castle was also the boyhood home of Henry Tudor, later King Henry VII. As a boy he bided his time at Raglan, while his uncle Jasper agitated a Lancastrian return to the throne in the person of young Henry.
B oth William ap Thomas and William Herbert fought in France, and undoubtedly, the castles that they saw in that country influenced their work at Raglan. The elaborately decorated polygonal keep, as well as the double-drawbridge arrangement of the keep, unique in Britain, demonstrate French influence. In 1492, Elizabeth Herbert married Sir Charles Somerset, a natural son of Henry Beaufort, third duke of Somerset, and it is to the Somerset family as earls of Worcester that we owe the final architectural touches of the castle.
O n approaching the gatehouse, we passed Raglan's Great Tower, surrounded by its apron wall and beautiful moat. Pink wildflowers spring from the apron wall, creating an unforgettable image. The wall has six corner turrets, one of which has a postern door to the moat. The Great Tower, known as "The Yellow Tower of Gwent," is the most striking feature at Raglan. It was begun by Sir William ap Thomas and was designed very much in contemporary French style. Unfortunately, the tower was largely destroyed by Parliamentary forces during the English Civil War. The tower and moat are outside the main body of the castle. The Great Gate leading to the Pitched Stone Court lies next to The Great Tower. It was raised by Sir William Herbert, and served as the main entrance to the castle after 1460, however, we chose to continue surveying The Great Tower from the outside, via the park surrounding the moat, finally entering the castle from the South Gate.
T hrough the South Gate, we entered the main Apartments. The porch and Grand Stair lead to the apartments in the Fountain Court. The Grand Stair reminded us of a similar structure at Carew Castle. The two most impressive rooms at Raglan are The Hall and Long Gallery. The hall is the finest and most complete of the castle's surviving apartments. A plaque over the dais in the hall bears the distinctive arms of the third earl of Worcester, as Knight of the Garter. Viewing the Great Tower from the apartments, we saw a finely carved shield and badge over the first floor chamber, a good example of the castle's surviving detail. The Long Gallery has been called one of the finest rooms of Tudor rebuilding in Britain. Once a showcase of Tudor elegance, the gallery contained handsome paintings, tapestries and sculptures. During this time, Raglan was one of Britain's social centers. Important guests were entertained until the early hours of the morning. The gallery had a series of windows overlooking the Fountain Court, and an ornate Renaissance fireplace. The remains of the fireplace, clearly showing two carved human figures, are a major highlight of the castle.
R e-entering the castle through the Great Gate, we entered the Pitched Stone Court, a large cobblestone area. Standing at the end of the court gives a magnificent view of the rear of the gatehouse and the Attic. The Attic, with its stunning Tudor-style windows, housed another gallery running along the rear of the gatehouse range. The building once held the castle's extensive library, which was also destroyed by Cromwell's soldiers. The wonderful thing about Raglan is that there are so many parts of the castle retaining detail and beauty, that you could spend an hour or so just admiring the beauty of any one area. A green park with benches surrounds most of the castle, giving visitors the chance to sit and contemplate the magnificence before them. There are several on-site exhibits explaining the history of the castle, and an extensive giftshop is planned for the future.
W e could have easily spent a half day at Raglan, to properly survey the castle. By the time we finished looking at the exhibit rooms, it was late afternoon and time to find lodging for the night. Still, I had to take just one more walk around the moat and Great Tower. I used the excuse that I had not yet seen the back of the castle to prolong our stay. As I took my final walk around the moat, my eyes were fixed on the castle, not on the ground before me. I knew it would be quite some time before I'd experience a site such as this, and I wanted to burn this view of the castle into my memory forever. I was probably lucky I didn't fall into the moat! Raglan was like a fairy tale castle I was afraid would disappear if I looked away. Carew had its aspects of beauty, but stately Raglan is a handsome, unique structure in every detail. I knew that our trip to Raglan would be a highlight of the trip, but if I had known just how magnificent the site was, I would have certainly set aside more time than the two hours we were there. If you ever travel to south Wales, make seeing Raglan Castle your number one priority. If necessary, drop all other plans, just don't miss seeing Raglan! Once you visit this wonder of medieval architecture, you'll understand why.
Follow this link to view of drawing of 17th-century Raglan Castle. Cadw 1990
R aglan, stately and handsome, is perhaps deceptive. The might of its angular towers bears comparison with the great castles of Edward I, and suggests its origins lay in the bitter conflicts of the later 13th century. In face it belongs mainly to the 15th century, and was as much a product of social aspiration as it was of military necessity.
I t was begun by Sir William ap Thomas, a veteran of the French wars, who grew wealthy through exploiting his position as a local agent of the duke of York in south-east Wales. About 1435 he began building the Great Tower, subsequently known as the Yellow Tower of Gwent, probably on the site of a much earlier Norman motte-and-bailey castle. Surrounded by a water-filled moat, the unusual hexagonal plan of the tower, together with its elaborate drawbridge arrangements, are more easily paralleled in France than in Britain. Within, there was a single large room to each floor, and the entire structure echoed the power and influence of its builder.
F ollowing ap Thomas's death he was succeeded by his son William Herbert who continued to develop Raglan. As a prominent Yorkist, he played a major role in securing the throne for Edward IV in 1461, and was raised to the peerage as Lord Herbert of Raglan. Eventually rising to earl of Pembroke, his political career is reflected in his sumptuous building. Under Herbert, Raglan became a veritable palace, unmatched in the 15th century southern March. He added the great gatehouse, the Pitched Stone Court and also rebuilt the Fountain Court with a series of formal state apartments for himself and his household. All of these repay careful examination. Notice, for example, the circular gun ports in the lower part of the gatehouse. The great kitchen lay in the tower at the corner of the Pitched Stone Court, and its huge ovens and fireplaces remain.
H erbert was beheaded following his defeat at the battle of Edgecote in 1469, and there were no further major alterations to Raglan until the ownership of William Somerset, earl of Worcester (1548-89). In the main, he was responsible for extensive changes to the hall, which remains the finest and most complete of all apartments in the castle. The huge fireplace survives, as does the tracery of the beautiful windows. These were once filled with heraldic glass, and the roof was built of Irish oak. Earl William also added the long gallery, without which no great Elizabethan house was complete.
A t the outbreak of the Civil War, Raglan was garrisoned for the king. Henry, the new earl, and later marquess of Worcester, poured his fortune into the royal cause. By 1646 the castle was under siege, one of the longest of the Civil War. It was pounded by heavy artillery under the command of Sir Thomas Fairfax, and finally the elderly marquess was forced to surrender.
T he fall of Raglan virtually marked the end of the Civil War, and Cromwell's demolition engineers were soon at work reducing the great walls. However, the strength of the Great Tower was almost great enough to defy them. Only after 'tedious battering the top thereof with pickaxes', did they eventually undermine the walls and two of its six sides were brought crashing down in a mass of falling masonry.
For additional information and photographs take our Virtual Tour of Raglan Castle!
Additional photographs of Raglan Castle.
Below: view of the surviving half of the White Gate, one of the last additions to the castle.
Below: view of the Porch leading to the Hall taken from the Pitched Stone Court.
Below: the oriel window in Raglan's Hall is one of the castle's most distinctive features.
Below (2): view of the Hall and the plaque in the dais of the hall bearing the arms of the 3rd earl of Worcester.
Below: view of the South Gate leading to the Fountain Court at Raglan.
Below: view of the Great Tower from the castle moat.
Below: view of the finely carved shields and badges above a first floor chamber of the State Apartments.
Below: close-up view of the detail above. Note the intricate carving of the shields.
Below (2): two views of the castle and beautiful surrounding countryside from the top of Raglan's Great Hall.
The Beginnings of Grandeur: The Importance of Raglan’s Gatehouse
The second significant period in Raglan’s history is exemplified by the Gatehouse. The Gatehouse is easily the most photographed spot of Raglan Castle – and that’s certainly because those hexagonal towers and pointy machilations (battlements) have a story-book quality.
An aerial view of the Gatehouse of the castle, looking down from the top of the adjacent Great Tower.
The attractive grey brick paneling is somewhat unusual – the pale, grey-yellow sandstone is a graceful contrast to the blood-red brick used elsewhere in the building. The facade of the tower is almost tiled in these bricks, and the result is a finish more commonly seen on the continent than in mainland Britain.
A reflection of the Gatehouse within the castle moat, which surrounds the great tower.
Aside from the finish, the Gatehouse design appears defensive, too: the construction includes two portcullises, a drawbridge and numerous arrow-loops but these features were more likely to demonstrate strength than to be used in battle. That’s because the Gatehouse was built in 1462 – during the third wave of Raglan’s construction, well after any military threat had subsided.
During 1460 to 1470, Raglan castle became reborn as a noble castle-mansion. As well as the Gatehouse, Sir William Herbert added the main features of the castle – elements of the large Cobbled Court behind the main Gatehouse the incredible Fountain court to its left and the chapel and parlour rooms.
An internal view of one of the Raglan Castle towers, spiralling into the sky above.
Whereas the Cobbled Court was a focus for everyday domestic life (housing the kitchen and buttery, for example), the adjacent Fountain Court acted as the centre for prestige and entertainment – the state apartments, chapel and later library were build around this focus of privileged life.
Evidently, the purpose of the castle had shifted dramatically – from military outpost to noble home. And the design of the Gatehouse helped fulfil this aim. It was the architecture of grand pretensions – a breath-taking entrance to the building, highlighting the social importance of Raglan’s owners.
Raglan castle (Gwent), half-way between Monmouth and Abergavenny, was probably first built in the 1070s to support the Norman invasion of south Wales. In the early 15th cent. the castle came by marriage to William ap Thomas, whose son Sir William Herbert rose to prominence under Edward IV as the first earl of Pembroke. The castle became the centre of an important lordship and home of one of the wealthiest men in the kingdom. It was completely rebuilt incorporating the latest defensive features, including a great tower designed for the use of cannon, as well as sumptuous domestic accommodation for Pembroke's family and household. It was probably at Raglan that the young Henry Tudor, the future Henry VII, was housed under the supervision of Pembroke's wife Anne Devereux. In 1492 the Herbert barony passed by marriage to Sir Charles Somerset, created earl of Worcester in 1514. During the Civil War Raglan was garrisoned for the king. After a protracted siege the castle surrendered in August 1647 and was slighted. After the Restoration, Henry Somerset, first duke of Beaufort, built a new house at Badminton transferring some fittings from Raglan.
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Built as more of a palace and fortress than a military castle, Raglan has more of an opulent feel than one of a war torn battlement. While the castle now lays in ruin due to past neglect, there are still many surviving clues of her former glory.
Raglan Castle was one of the last medieval castles built in England and Wales. While construction of the existing castle began in the 1400’s, there were several additions and modification made before it’s attack during the Civil War in 1646.
These modifications are noticeable by the different color sandstone used. The construction during the 15th century was a pale, more yellowish sandstone. The Tudors used the local old red sandstone and in the 16th century some Bath Stone was used. Why all the sandstone? Well, because sandstone is easier to carve than other materials. This allowed the craftsman of the day to produce high quality work in the 15th century, hence all the beautiful carved Raglan gargoyles.
The grounds of Raglan Castle are beautiful and the footprint of the castle is massive. At every corner you can catch a glimpse of something amazing: the sun bouncing off the different colored sandstone, an ornately carved gargoyle, or an intricately laid stone floor.
Not far from thence, a famous Castle fine, That Raglan hight, stands moted almost round:
Made of Freestone, upright as straight as line, Whose workmanship, in beautie doth abound.
The curious knots, wrongth all with edged toole, The stately Tower, that lookes ore Pond and Poole:
The Founatine trim, that runs both day and night, Doth yeeld in showe, a rare and noble sight.
Thomas Chuchyard, The Worthines of Wales (1587)
The stairways give a sense of hidden passages and when you make the climb you are rewarded with a stunning view. While narrow and spiral, the stairway in the Great Tower has been modified for safety with more level steps and handrails.
Raglan Castle is an excellent example of a storybook castle standing high above the countryside. Not surrounded by modern or industrial buildings, it feels as though the country side has been the same for over 500 years.
My day at Raglan Castle was perfect. The skies changed frequently and rapidly during my visit and although it was windy we stayed dry. Luckily for me it was cold enough to rock my Chelsea FC bobble hat. GO BLUES!
But on a more serious note, Raglan Castle is truly amazing. I do wish the castle would’ve been better preserved a long time ago. Thankfully, it is now under the protection of Cadw, the historic environment agency of the Welsh Assembly Government.
I cannot but regret whenever I view this grand relict of baronial magnificence that it has been so long neglected and uninhabited.
Sir Richard Colt Hoare, Journeys … through England and Wales, 1793-1810
The admission fee for Raglan Castle is listed below. But if you are planning a visit to Wales and planning on visiting several castle and historic site, you may want to consider the Explorer Pass. The Pass is good at over 25 locations will save you a considerable amount of money. For more information on how to get the Explorer Pass visit CADW – Explorer Pass.
*Admits 2 adults and up to 3 children under 16
All children under 5 receive free entry.
For more information about the castle and operation dates and times, please visit CADW – Raglan Castle.
Why is Raglan Castle in Wales unusual?
What makes Raglan castle stand out from most castles is that it is made of a polygonal design. All of it’s towers and the gatehouse has six sides, not round or square which is the usual build for castles.
Raglan Castle is one of the last true castles to be built in Wales, and was built for it’s beauty rather than battle.
The construction of this unusal castle began back in the 1430s by Sir William ap Thomas, who was known as the Blue Knight of Gwent and he fought at the Battle of Agincourt with King Henry V in 1415.
The Yellow Tower of Gwent is one of the the Great Tower’s at Raglan Castle that Sir William takes responsibility for building.
The Great Tower or Yellow Tower of Gwent is surrounded by a moat, which you can cross via a bridge from the main castle. It has an apron wall with six turrets just above water level.
Before it’s partial destruction this Great Tower stood four stories tall and included battlements making it the highest tower of the castle, unfortunately it now stands at three stories high.
In addition to the Great Tower, there are a further two impressive towers, named the Closet Tower and Kitchen Tower.
These towers are not as tall or large as the Great Tower but both are still formidable in their own right when anyone was attempting to attack the castle.
The Closet Tower is more impressive due to its machicolations that adorn the top and gatehouse. The Closet Tower’s basement served as a prison whilst the first and second floors were the officers’ quarters.
Some other main designs of Raglan castle are the impressive mullioned windows which bathed rooms in luxurious light. But it is the large oriel window which is one of Raglan’s defining features.
Raglan Castle, South Wales
The castle was developed mainly by two men - William ap Thomas, who fought with King Henry V at the Battle of
Agincourt in 1415, and his son, Sir William Herbert, Earl of Pembroke, was the next owner of the castle. Herbert was responsible for Raglan's distinctive Tudor-styling. The elaborately decorated polygonal keep, and the double-drawbridge show French influence, thought to be due to both men fighting in France. The castle is constructed out of two sorts of sandstone - a pale, yellowish sandstone from the Wye river and a local red, brown sandstone used in the Tudor work
This is not one of Edward I's massive castles built to subdue the Welsh, but more a symbol of social success..It was begun by Sir William ap Thomas around 1435, when he started building the Great Tower, which he surrounded by a moat, the unusual hexagonal plan of the tower are thought to be French in character. The Great Tower, known as "The Yellow Tower of Gwent," is the most striking feature at Raglan. It was largely destroyed by Cromwellian engineers at the end of the English Civil War. The tower and moat are outside the main castle.
Following ap Thomas's death he was succeeded by his son William Herbert , a prominent Yorkist, who was created Earl of Pembroke. Herbert turned Raglan into a palace palace. However Herbert was beheaded following his defeat at the battle of Edgecote in 1469.
The castle was also the boyhood home of Henry Tudor, later King Henry VII.
In 1492, Elizabeth Herbert married into the Somerset family, the Earls of Worcester, who completed the castle. Earl William added, for example, the long gallery, without which no great Elizabethan house was complete.
The main apartments are inside the South Gate The Grand Stair , similar structure at Carew Castle, leads up to the apartments. The Hall and Long Gallery are particularly memorable rooms.
Raglan supported the king during the Civil War. It was defended by Henry, the new earl, and later Marquis of Worcester. The castle sustained one of the longest sieges of the Civil War, ten weeks. Eventually the heavy artillery under Sir Thomas Fairfax, forced the marquis to surrender.
The Raglan fell at the end of the Civil War, and Cromwell's engineers duly blasted the great walls. The Great Tower was so strong that only two of its six sides were brought down.
Watch the video: Is Raglan Castle A Fortress Or A Palace? (August 2022).