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Pembroke - The Invincible Castle

Pembroke! nicknamed the Invincible castle, for despite many many attacks and sieges by my fellow countrymen, it was never taken. Time and again, down through the centuries, the Princes of Wales committed their forces against this castle on the western seaboard, all to no avail, for this fortress seemed to be part of the rock upon which it sits. However, having said that it did fall towards the end of its useful life, the reason was the same as Caerphilly -- Gunpowder during the English civil war.

The story of Pembroke castle however, goes far back beyond the coming of the Norman, as the site upon which the castle stands
has been used at one time or another for the last 12,000 years. The vast cavern underneath the site, called The Wogan has been used by cave dwellers during the Ice Age, late Bronze Age and the Iron Age, for evidence of tools and coins have been found in it. It is also possible that an Iron Age fort was situated upon the mound that the castle sits.

As Pembroke may have looked
Castle from the sea Dungeon Tower West Curtain Wall

It was the Norman Roger de Montgomery, after his creation as the Earl of Shrewsbury by his cousin William the Conqueror in 1071, that recognized the potential of the site during his invasion of Wales.. Arriving at Pembroke by way of Aberystwyth and Cardigan ahead of a large army, he immediately ordered the construction of large a wooden castle to begin, Being surrounded by the sea on three sides, the castle on its completion, not only helped its garrison to defend the area but also to deny the way into Wales by an invading army using the haven of Milford.

Lord Roger's reign over Pembroke ceased when he took it upon himself to wear the shroud of death and the castle was left to his youngest son Arnulf in 1094. It was he who developed the area and created a Marcher lordship. Arnulf also established a Benedictine Priory at Monkton, however, with other lands in Yorkshire and other places, it was left to Arnulf's steward Gerald de Windsor to run the lordship and the castle. His stewardship was severally tested when a Welsh army advanced on Pembroke and set siege to it. After many weeks, and with his garrison virtual on the verge of starvation, Gerald collected all the food he could find and threw it over the castle walls, the Welsh troops who were nearly at death door from the lack of food themselves decided that if Gerald could throw food over the walls to them then he must be getting revitled from the sea and had a large store. After promptly gathering the food they lifted the siege and marched away. O if they had only known

Gerald started a courtship with a discarded mistress of King Henry 1 and was actively encouraged to do so. Nest the daughter of Rhys ap Tewdwr, who was killed in battle against the Norman Bernard de Newmarch at Brecon, was a beautiful woman and Gerald spent much of his time fighting against her would be lovers. Nest outlived Gerald and went on to have numerous affairs, two such were with Odo and Hait , both being Sheriff of Pembroke in turn .

Gatehouse from inside castle William Marshalls Tower on the left

When Henry 1st died so the castle began its slide into hosting forces preparing for war. It started when the new king, in order to gain support, created the earldom of Pembroke and gave it to Gilbert Fitz Gilbert de Clare. His efforts on the battlefield on behalf of the king had earned him the nickname of ' Strongbow ' , when he died in 1148 his son Richard also became nicknamed Strongbow However in 1154 a new king was crowned and the country settled into a period of calm and because it was so Richard not content with leaving his armour off began to look at ways in which he could rage war. His chance came when Diarmade MacMurcadh, the king of Leinster, appealed for his help. Richard was quick to respond, within weeks he was ready to sail with a large fleet and some twelve hundred men, this then was an invasion force. The event was further compounded when only after a very few weeks of his landing King Macmurcadh had conveniently died and Richard had himself declared Lord of Leinster and Governor of Ireland. However, Henry II King of England was having none of it and in 1171 set out to bring ' Strongbow ' to heel. O what a fine sight it was to see Henry's army marching into Pembroke by way of the old road from the east. In the meantime the Royal fleet had assembled in the Haven of Milford. When Henry returned from Ireland ' Strongbow ' was no longer in control of the Earldom of Pembroke, it was now under the control of the crown.

O but they were strange times, for peoples fortunes changed year by year. When Richard ' ' Strongbow ' ' died in 1176 he had been back in royal favour and was Earl of Pembroke once again, but upon his death it would be the year 1199 before Pembroke would be come an Earldom again

In 1189 Isabel the daughter of Richard ' Strongbow ' married the much admired and soldier William Marshal, but he did not receive the Earldom until it was granted to him by king John. By the time he set out with an army to take over the fortification my fellow countrymen were back in control of west Wales. However, Marshal intended to set his stamp on the area and his first task was to commence rebuilding the castle in stone. His addition to the castle was immense as can be seen by the photo of his tower above. When Marshal died in 1219 the building work was continued by his sons, and it was just as well. When ' Llywelyn the Great ' advanced south out of the 'Eyrie' of Snowdonia he swept through west Wales destroying every Norman holding he could find, at Pembroke however, the townspeople chose to pay him off rather than have their homes destroyed, and Llywelyn after receiving £100 marched his troops away..

Times however, were changing again. When the Tudor times eventually arrived, and the Wars of the Roses and the English Civil war ventured onto the annuals of history Pembroke was to play its part once again, but that's another story.

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