Laugharne Castle

The castle is first mention in 1116 in the Brut y Tywysogyon or the Chronicle of the Princes. This records that the Norman, Robert Courtemain, entrusted his castle at Abercorram to Bleddyn ap Cedifor. The castle sits on the cliff overlooking the River Corran which flows past it and into the River Tâf. The early castle takes its name from the river. During the twelfth and thirteenth century the castle was called both Abercorram and Talacharn.

The first castle was a simple ringwork of earth and timber. A bank and ditch with a timber palisade on top of the bank defended the castle from the landward side. The builders also used the natural defences of the river and cliffs to protect the castle. Traces of this structure were found during archaeological excavations. In 1171/72 Henry II visited the castle, where he met Rhys ap Gruffudd, the Lord Rhys, Prince of Deheubarth. This area of Wales at the time was part of the kingdom of Deheubarth and Rhys was an important and dominant figure in the region. Rhys and Henry reached an agreement in the castle and Rhys acknowledged the English crown as his lord.

Henry died in 1189 and the new king ignored the agreement. Rhys retaliated and attacked and captured the castles of Laugharne, Llansteffan and St Clears. Laugharne Castle was recovered from the Welsh soon afterwards and repaired and enlarged. In 1215 the Prince of Gwynedd, Llewelyn ap Iorwerth led an army which swept across the region capturing the main castles at Carmarthen and Cardigan and destroying other castles including Laugharne. The catastrophic event was recorded in the archaeology of the site, with evidence of extensive burning and destruction. Numerous arrowheads found here, point to a substantial attack on the castle at the time.

In 1223, William Marshall, the 2nd Earl of Pembroke, attacked Llewelyn and recovered Carmarthen and Cardigan. Laugharne would have been recovered at this time. Soon afterwards building work was carried out. By 1247 Laugharne was in the control of the de Brians. It was the de Brians who were responsible for substantially rebuilding the castle in stone.  The family were French and held land in Devon from the middle of the 12th century. Torbryan in Devon became the main family home. The family name has various forms through the centuries, Bryan or Brian being the most common. Each son for several generations was given the same name, so each Sir Guy has been numbered for ease of recognition.

The de Brians appeared in west Wales from around 1247, when they acquired the lordships of Laugharne and Walwyn’s Castle in Pembrokeshire. It was Sir Guy de Brian IV who acquired Laugharne in 1247 and it was this Sir Guy who started a major rebuilding programme of the castle. He concentrated on building the inner ward of the castle. During 1257 and 1258 Llewelyn ap Gruffudd, the Prince of Gwynedd, attacked areas of Wales under Anglo-Norman control. Towns and castles in west Wales including Laugharne were attacked and burnt. Sir Guy IV was captured and then ransomed in 1258. He died in 1268.

Guy de Brian V succeeded his father and continued to strengthen the castle including the outer ward. He might have granted the borough its first known charter. He built the outer gatehouse facing the borough. Guy de Brian VI succeeded his father in 1307. He did very little work on the castle and because of ill health the estates were managed by his son from around 1330. Guy de Brian VII succeeded his father in 1349. He was the last and most famous in a long line of de Brians. He was a distinguished soldier and fought at the Battle of Crécy in 1346. He was a close friend of Edward III and Admiral of the Fleet. He continued to develop the castle though the period. He died in 1390 and is buried in Tewksbury Abbey. He outlived his eldest sons and was succeeded by his youngest son William. He died soon after his father and the estate was disputed by the daughters of his dead brothers. Almost a century later in 1488 the four claimants of the de Brian family reached an agreement and Henry Percy, the fourth earl of Northumberland acquired the castle.

The earls of Northumberland held the castle until 1531 when the lordship and that of Walwyn’s Castle were rented to Thomas Perrot of Pembrokeshire. Eventually in 1575 it was granted to his son, Sir John Perrot, by Queen Elizabeth 1st for an annual rent of £80 payable to the earl of Northumberland. By this time the castle seems to be in a terrible state of repair. Perrot set about converting the ruin into a substantial mansion, both comfortable and defendable. In 1591 Perrot was accused of high treason and imprisoned in the Tower of London. He was found guilty but died before the death sentence could be carried out. A survey of 1592 indicates that Perrot did not finish his scheme for the castle. Sis son Sir Thomas then acquired the castle and estates. By 1627 the castle was the property of Sir Sackville Crowe and by then seemed to be in considerable disrepair.

Sir William Russell, a Royalist, then acquired the castle. It was in Parliamentary control in early 1644, but was captured and then held by Royalist forces. On October the 28th 1644 Major-General Rowland Laugharne assembled a Parliamentary force of around 2000 men and besieged the castle for just over a week. It surrendered on November the 3rd after a night time attack. The castle was damaged by cannon fire during the siege and then parts were deliberately demolished to reduce its capacity for defence.

The castle was restored to William Russell and then changed hands several times until it came to Richard Isaac Starke. During the eighteen and nineteenth it was landscaped as a garden associated with Castle House. In 1973 it was put into the guardianship of the Secretary of State for Wales by the then owner Anne Starke. Between 1976 and 1993 extensive archaeological excavations were undertaken and the castle masonry was consolidated. It is now maintained by Cadw; Welsh Historic Monuments.