Chepstow Castle
Bridge StreetMonmouth
Monmouthshire NP16 5EY
Within a year of acquiring England in 1066, William the Conqueror had recognised the importance of the River Wye as a major communications artery, and had moved to secure this border between England and Wales.
He organised the construction of a stone castle on the south-western banks of the River Wye. Originally known as Striguil (Welsh for ‘river bend’), this Norman castle at Chepstow is Britain’s oldest surviving post-Roman stone fortification.
At this time the Welsh kingdoms in the area were independent of the English Crown and were a hotbed of rebellion. The castle was the southernmost of a chain of castles built in the Welsh Marches and the site chosen controlled the lowest bridging point on the river as well as being a convenient centre for suppressing the rebels.
In the 12th century the castle was used in the conquest of Gwent, the first independent Welsh kingdom to be conquered by the Normans.
Chepstow Castle is situated on a narrow ridge between the precipitous limestone river cliffs and a valley, known locally as the Dell. The best overall view of the castle is from Tutshill on the opposite side of the River Wye.
Despite its apparently impregnable position, the castle failed as a strongly defensive structure because it has no central Keep and does not have a concentric layout. It was constructed in four major phases, its four baileys showing its construction history.
Phase 1 – Foundation  1067–1188
Under the supervision of Norman Lord William FitzOsbern, construction began in 1067 and the Great Tower was probably completed by 1090. Dendrochronology has dated the wood in the doors of the gatehouse to the period 1159–89.
FitzOsborn also founded a priory nearby, and the associated market town and port of Chepstow developed over the next few centuries.
Two of the most powerful Anglo-Norman magnates of medieval England, William Marshal and Richard de Clare were responsible for the development of the castle.
Phase 2 – Enlargement  1189–1300
Drawing on his knowledge of warfare gained in France and the Crusades, William Marshall, Earl of Pembroke, extended and modernised the castle. In the 1190s 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. Further work on the Great Tower was carried out by Marshall’s sons William, Richard, Gilbert and Walter, from 1219 – 1245.
In 1270, the castle was inherited by Roger Bigod, 5th Earl of Norfolk,who was married to William Marshall's eldest daughter, Mahelt. He constructed a new range of buildings in the Lower Bailey, as accommodation for himself and his family. In 1284 the castle played host to King Edward I during his triumphal tour of Wales.
The last major construction work was the building of “Martens Tower” which now dominates the landward approach to the castle, and remodelling of the Great Tower.
Bigod was also responsible for building Chepstow's town wall, the "Port Wall", around 1274–78.
Phase 3 – 13001685
In the 14th century, the castle with its attached lordship took the name of the adjoining market town, Chepstow and continued be the centre of law and order. When the English stopped fighting the Welsh in the early 15th century, the castle’s defensive importance declined.
It was garrisoned briefly in response to the rebellion of Owain Glyndŵr in 1403 with twenty men-at-arms and sixty archers. This great show of strength together with the castle’s size and location persuaded Glyndŵr not to attack.
With 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.
Its last fling as a defensive structure was 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.
After the War, the castle was garrisoned and maintained as an artillery fort, barracks and political prison.
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. Various parts of the castle were used as a farmyard and a glass factory.
Phase 4 – Tourism
Fortunately tourism came to the castle’s rescue. By the late 18th century, the Wye Valley with its picturesque sights such as Tintern Abbey and Chepstow Castle was becoming famous, and in 1950 the ruins were Grade 1 Listed.
Opening Times
Since 1984 Chepstow Castle has been in the care of Cadw, the Welsh government body with the responsibility for protecting, conserving and promoting the built heritage of Wales.
The castle is open all year except on 24, 25, 26 December and 1 January
Several of the rooms have been restored and decorated with period furniture giving an excellent idea of the lavishness of the castle. It is not too big and an ideal size for children to enjoy with plenty of battlements for them to play imaginary soldiers.
There are special events held often in the castle and visitors are now able to walk along the battlements and into Martens Tower.
Contact & Further Information
Telephone   +44 (0)1291 624 065
Website   Chepstow Castle     
Getting There
Follow the directions on this website for getting to Chepstow.