Monmouth Castle
Monmouthshire NP25 3BS
As most visitors to Monmouth will have noticed the town is protected by the River Monnow and occupies the only hill rising out of the river flats. It is hard to imagine now but in the early 12th century when the castle was rebuilt in stone, the whole hill was enclosed within the castle walls.
The town grew up as a result of markets being held in the castle’s Lower bailey which is now Agincourt Square in the centre of the town.
The Castle ruins are at the highest point of the town centre. Close by is the Headquarters of the Royal Monmouthshire Royal Engineers (Militia) – the Senior Regiment of the Reserve Army. The regiment has a very interesting Regimental Museum which is usually open daily from 1st April to 31st October.
The once mighty castle built by William FitzOsborn has been reduced to two ruined structures. Today only parts of the Great Hall (around the flagpole) and the Great Tower survive. The earliest remains are at the base of the Great Tower, in the form of small slit-windows low down, and a primitive course of sloping stones higher up - features which contrast with the noble windows of the later upper storey.
There are also traces of a staircase which rose to a doorway on the first floor because, for security, originally there was no entrance at ground level. To the south the single storeyed Great Hall has lost its north wall, revealing two large windows, one of which retains its mullion and transoms.
Originally a wooden motte-and-bailey castle, it was rebuilt in stone twice during the 12th and 13th centuries. During most of this early period the lordship was held by a family from Brittany. It was held briefly by the rebel Simon de Montfort before it passed to Edmund Crouchback (a son of Henry III, and 1st Earl of Lancaster) who added the Great Hall to house the royal courts.
The castle was frequently used as a royal prison. It housed deposed homosexual King Edward II on his way to his death at Berkeley Castle in 1327.
In the 14th century Henry of Grosmont refurbished the upper floor of the Great Tower to provide greater comfort. In 1387 the De Bohun family were visiting when Mary gave birth to a boy, who became King Henry V.
The castle was in its heyday in the 15th century. The Great Hall, Great Tower and Round Tower looked over the Monnow, while a stone gate-house, a chapel, and a jail faced the town. It fell into disrepair following the Wars of the Roses (1455-1485) and by the 16th century only the Great Hall had been kept in good repair for holding the Assizes.
During the Civil War (1642–1651) the Castle changed hands three times ending up with the Parliamentarians. Cromwell decided to put a stop to Monmouth being repeatedly rearmed and used for defensive purposes, by demolishing the Round Tower. Shortly afterwards, much of the Great Tower which had been undermined during a short siege, collapsed.
That was the end of Monmouth Castle’s fighting days but 25 years later Great Castle House was built on the site of the Round Tower, using some of the old stones. The house is now the headquarters of the Royal Monmouthshire Royal Engineers, and so provides a rare example of a Norman castle fulfilling a modern military role.
Disabled Access
The approach lane to the ruins is fairly steep.
Getting There
- By Car
It is important to remember that the ruins are within a military HQ and Military Security restricts vehicles from entering the Castle Parade Ground; there is a barrier.
The nearest public car park is at Glendower Street and the lane to the castle is beside the Iceland store next to the Shire Hall in Agincourt Square.