A Red Castle? Powys Castle of course! Welsh 100 – No 27

After Montgomery the rain cleared and so we made a dash for Powys Castle. However, by the time we got there the rain had returned with a vengeance, bit stopped long enough for us to run from the car to the entrance. The place was heaving with bodies – all alive and getting in my way! But I suppose they were also sheltering form the rain like us.

I managed to get into trouble almost immediately as I took a photo of the horse harness and coach in the entrance to the castle. The lady behind the counter came running out and told me off, even though I wasn’t using a flash. This miffed me a little later as people were taking photos in the house quite happily without being wrestled to the ground by over zealous curators!

In the sun this place is stunning. But on a grey wet day like today it can be a little underwhelming. The castle doesn’t shine as it should and the gardens are unable to make the show that they are capable of. So forgive the photographs. We’ll go back and try again later in the year.

Powys, unlike the castles Conwy, Caernarfon, Harlech and nearby Montgomery, which were all built by the English to subdue and rule the Welsh, was the fortress of a dynasty of Welsh princes. In 1286, four years after Edward I’s conquest of Wales, Owain ap Gruffydd ap Gwenwynwyn, the last hereditary prince of Powys, renounced his royal claim title and was granted the title of Baron de la Pole, (i.e. “of the Pool” a reference to Welshpool, formerly called just “Pool” and the location of Powis Castle). The ancient Kingdom of Powys had included the counties of Montgomeryshire, much of Denbighshire, parts of Radnorshire and previously large areas of Shropshire.

Owain’s descendant, an illegitimate son of the last Baron Grey of Powis, sold the lordship and castle to Sir Edward Herbert (d. 1595), second son of Sir William Herbert, 1st Earl of Pembroke, in 1579. Sir Edward’s wife was a Roman Catholic and the family’s allegiance to Rome and to the Stuart kings was to shape its destiny for over a century. On 22 October 1644 Powis Castle was captured by Parliamentary troops and was not returned to the family until the restoration of Charles II.

Most of the great Welsh castles were allowed to decay when the medieval wars ended, but Powys survives as a fantastic example of a military stronghold which was preserved and renewed by continual occupation. Its fabric contains architecture of many different periods, beginning with a medieval square keep and stone hall. The most fleeting glimpse of Powys’ mellow red grit stone walls tells us that this stately country house is a place rich in history.

The Castle crowns a rocky ridge, with a particularly steep slope to the south-east, now occupied by formal gardens. A similarly steep slope on the north-west may have been partially in-filled to support buildings. The castle is within easy reach of Welshpool, although, as at Montgomery, direct control of the natural route focus has been sacrificed for strength and siting.  


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