It Used to be a Real Castle

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Cardiff Castle is an excellent combination of a Norman Motte and a Bailey castle: the stately fantasy home of the 3rd marquess of Bute, also known as the man who could not stop rebuilding castles.

The original castle on the grounds was built by the Romans and when John Crichton-Stuart rebuilt the castle with William Burges between 1865 – 1881, the workers exposed some of the old Roman walls which are now incorporated into the Victorian walls.

William the Conqueror captured Cardiff in 1080 and he promptly built fortification of the castle based on the old roman works. During the days of his son William II, the Baron of Gloucester was responsible for building the Norman castle. In 1126 the castle received a very important prisoner, Robert Duke of Normandy, and the son of William I. After the death of his brother William II, he was next in line to the throne, but his brother Henry seized this and imprisoned William for the rest of his life.

The Castle moved to the hands of Gilbert De Clare who was the Earl of Gloucester. To demonstrate his power and control of the region, he built the additional castles of Caerphilly and Coch. When the family male line ended, the castle moved to the hands of Edward II’s notorious favourite, Hugh Despenser the Younger. Cardiff Castle was seized and captured when Edward’s barons rebelled against him and the Despensers, but they were ultimately defeated. At the beginning of the 15th century, the castle was captured by the Welsh during the rebellion of “the last Prince of Wales”, Owain Glyndŵr. The castle was,however, recaptured by the English when he was defeated.

In the 15th Century, the castle was owned by some of the most powerful men in the realm. Firstly, it was held by the Earl of Warwick, who was known by the nickname, “The King Maker”.  After he was slain in battle, the castle moved to one of King Edward IV’s brothers, George the Duke of Clarence, and after his execution to his brother Richard, later Richard III.

When the Tudor dynasty rose to the throne, the tension between the English and the Welsh eased. There was no need to have a fortified castle in Cardiff and like many castles in the country, it became more of a stately home than a Castle. However, as soon as the Civil War broke out in the middle of the 17th century, the castle became a fort once again. It switched hands between the two sides until it was slighted by the parliament at the end of the war.

The castle remained in ruins until it moved to the hands of the Stuart family, who held the title the Marquess of Bute. The first Marques started to rebuild the house and he also employed the most famous landscape designer of the time, Capability Brown, to redesign the grounds. Unfortunately, Capability’s work destroyed most of the Medieval castle and it was a few generations later when the 3rd Marquese decided to embark on a new project to rebuild the walls of the castle. With the help of an architect called William Burges, he turned the stately house into a sort of fantasy gothic home and garden. Later the duo would continue their collaboration and take on a new project, Castle Coch.

The 5th Marquese gave the castle to the Cardiff Council which operates it today. For more information please visit Cardiff Castle official website

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Between a Castle and a Tourist Attraction

Chasing Castle Review

We visited Cardiff Castle during the Christmas break. The castle, which is located in the heart of the city, is considered to be one of the top tourist attractions of the area. Visiting the castle is not a cheap experience, but to be fair, you do get a lot for your money.

Cardiff Castle is a combination of a ruined motte, a bailey Norman Castle and a gothic revival Victorian mock castle. The complex also contains several other attractions, including the air raid tunnels within the walls of the castle and the Welsh soldier museum, meaning that there is plenty to see and do. There is also a complimentary audio tour with a specific trail tailor-made for kids.

To make sure that I did not miss a thing, I joined the house tour which came with an additional fee. This takes you to the family rooms in the Victorian house, but to be honest, I did not see the point of charging extra for this experience. With a price tag of almost £40 for a family of four to visit, the house tour should have been included in the entry charge in my opinion. The tour itself took less than an hour,but the guide was very knowledgeable. As you can imagine, since the tour was focused on the bedrooms of the Bute’s, it mainly told the Victorian story of the castle. In fact, it really was a shame to see that the medieval tale of the castle was not told at all. During medieval times, the castle played an exciting part during the Norman and Plantagenet dynasties and was even a prison for the rightful King of England. It was also owned by Hugh Despenser, who played a role in one of the best medieval stories of all: the rise and fall of King Edward II. Sadly, though, these stories of when the castle was a real castle were ignored on my visit  and not presented to visitors, although some of them were introduced as part of the decorations and artefacts of the house. By now, we have visited almost a hundred castles around the country, and I must say that the visit to the Victorian fantasy house of the 3rd Marquese was one of the most unique experiences we had. The collaboration between the religious marquise and his famous architect is a colourful and dazzling experience, with every room in the house bringing you a different vision. And this where I have to advise you not too miss out on the house tour, despite the extra expense: it is worth it alone for a visit to the nursery room and the garden at the top of the tower.

Since we visited with our kids, we were looking to see what activities were on offer and unfortunately, besides the children’s’ trail and some activities in the museum,  there was nothing else on offer. This was surprising since the castle is a tourist attraction and there were plenty of families like us who had travelled to be there with kids.

To sum things up, Cardiff Castle is a great place to explore. I was also happy to hear that, since it belongs to the city, local Cardiffians can visit for free, yet apparently not too many use that advantage. Cardiff Castle brings you several different stories and although some of them are not given the attention they deserve, it is still a worthwhile experience. If castles were restaurants, Cardiff Castle would be rated one star in the Michelin guide.

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