Chepstow Castle

Chepstow, United Kingdom

Chepstow Castle is the oldest surviving post-Roman stone fortification in Britain. Located above cliffs on the River Wye, construction began in 1067 under the instruction of the Norman Lord William FitzOsbern. Originally known as Striguil, it was the southernmost of a chain of castles built in the Welsh Marches, and with its attached lordship took the name of the adjoining market town in about the 14th century.

In the 12th century the castle was used in the conquest of Gwent, the first independent Welsh kingdom to be conquered by the Normans. It was subsequently held by two of the most powerful Anglo-Norman magnates of medieval England, William Marshal and Richard de Clare. However, by the 16th century its military importance had waned and parts of its structure were converted into domestic ranges. Although re-garrisoned during and after the English Civil War, by the 1700s it had fallen into decay. With the later growth of tourism, the castle became a popular visitor destination.

Chepstow Castle is situated on a narrow ridge between the limestone river cliff and a valley. Its full extent is best appreciated from the opposite bank of the River Wye. The castle has four baileys, added in turn through its history. Despite this, it is not a defensively strong castle, having neither a strong keep nor a concentric layout. The multiple baileys instead show its construction history, which is generally considered in four major phases. The Great Tower was probably completed by about 1090. It was constructed in stone from the first, marking its importance as a stronghold on the border between England and Wales. 

FitzOsbern also founded a priory nearby, and the associated market town and port of Chepstow developed over the next few centuries. The castle and the associated Marcher lordship were generally known as Striguil until the late 14th century, and as Chepstow thereafter.

Further fortifications were added by William Marshal, Earl of Pembroke, starting in the 1190s. Marshal extended and modernised the castle, drawing on his knowledge of warfare gained in France and the Crusades. He built the present main gatehouse, strengthened the defences of the Middle Bailey with round towers, and, before his death in 1219, may also have rebuilt the Upper Bailey defences.

In 1270, the castle was inherited by Roger Bigod, 5th Earl of Norfolk. Bigod was also responsible for building Chepstow's town wall, the 'Port Wall', around 1274–78. Soon afterwards, Bigod had built a new tower (later known as 'Marten's Tower'), which now dominates the landward approach to the castle, and also remodelled the Great Tower.

From the 14th century, and in particular the end of the wars between England and Wales in the early 15th century, its defensive importance declined. In 1312 it passed into the control of Thomas de Brotherton, Earl of Norfolk, and later his daughter Margaret. It was garrisoned in response to the rebellion of Owain Glyndŵr in 1403 with twenty men-at-arms and sixty archers but its great size, limited strategic importance, geographical location and the size of its garrison all probably contributed to Glyndŵr's forces avoiding attacking it, although they did successfully attack Newport Castle.

The 15th to 17th centuries

In 1468, the castle was part of the estates granted by the Earl of Norfolk to William Herbert, Earl of Pembroke in exchange for lands in the east of England. In 1508, it passed to Sir Charles Somerset, later the Earl of Worcester, who remodelled the buildings extensively as private accommodation. From the 16th century, after the abolition of the Marcher lords' autonomous powers by King Henry VIII through the Laws in Wales Acts of 1535 and 1542, and Chepstow's incorporation as part of the new county of Monmouthshire, the castle became more designed for occupation as a great house.

The Civil War and its aftermath

The castle saw action again during the English Civil War, when it was in the front line between Royalist Monmouthshire and Parliamentarian Gloucestershire. It was held by the Royalists and besieged in both 1645 and in 1648, eventually falling to the Parliamentarian forces on 25 May 1648. A memorial to Sir Nicholas Kemeys, who led the Royalist defence during the Second Civil war and was killed in combat after refusing to surrender after the castle's fall, lies within the keep.

After the war, the castle was garrisoned and maintained as an artillery fort and barracks. It was also used as a political prison. 

Modern history

In 1682, the castle came into the ownership of the Duke of Beaufort. The garrison was disbanded in 1685, and the buildings were partly dismantled, leased to tenants and left to decay. By the 1840s, tourism was continuing to grow, particularly with day trips on steam ships from Bristol.

Chepstow Castle is open to the public, and since 1984 has been in the care of Cadw, the Welsh government body with the responsibility for protecting, conserving and promoting the built heritage of Wales. There are special events held often in the castle and visitors are now able to walk along the battlements and into Marten's Tower.



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Founded: 1067
Category: Castles and fortifications in United Kingdom


4.6/5 (based on Google user reviews)

User Reviews

Tom Cargill (3 years ago)
Reasonably priced to enter, just over £5. Beautiful castle in an idyllic setting. Well worth a visit
jazz farmer (3 years ago)
Beautiful place. Free for disabled and one carer. Not all accessible, but the areas we could get to were really pretty.
Amber Wilkes (3 years ago)
A beautiful castle that is very intact and well worth a visit. Would recommend visiting if you are in the area, you have to pay to get in but it is well worth it, and reading about the history of the castle is very interesting. The views from the side of the castle facing the river are stunning, and make for a great photo opportunity. There is also a gift shop selling some local products, to complete the experience. Definitely recommend.
Andy Thorne (3 years ago)
A fine castle with a fairly intact exterior. I think it costs about a fiver to go inside. The parking adjacent is really reasonable and good toilets too. Lovely grounds to walk picnic and let the children play
John Boyd (3 years ago)
Chepstow Castle is big but very accessible for all. Visits during COVID are restricted somewhat, but they couldn’t have been friendlier or more accommodating to outsiders trying to get in. Seeing the oldest castle doors in Europe was a great highlight. I only wish the gift shop was open because I love a good souvenir! The town of Chepstow is characterful and charming and the river has a huge iron and stone bridge that is important and historical. All in all a really good tonic for anyone with itchy feet.
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