Raglan Castle 1400-1650

The beautiful, imposing ruin of Raglan Castle has a long and interesting history. The nineteenth-century historian and travel writer John Timbs noted that the hill it stood on was called Twyn-y-ciros in Welsh, which translated as Cherry Hill. 

The Tudor writer John Leland described it as 'a fair and pleasant castle, eight miles from Chepstow and and seven from Bergavenny, the town by is bare, there lie two goodly parks adjacent to the castle'. 

Photo by Alan Roberts on Unsplash

It's thought that Raglan was built in the late fourteenth or early fifteenth-century, one of its first owners being Sir William Thomas, who fought with Henry V at the Battle of Agincourt in 1415. Thomas died on the field, but not before being knighted for his service by the king. 

The castle descended to Sir William Herbert, the famous Yorkist commander of the Wars of the Roses, where he lived with his wife Anne. Along with their children, they also brought up Herbert's ward, Henry Tudor, when he was a small boy. Herbert had intended to marry Tudor to one of his daughters, Maud, but the soldier was executed after the Battle of Edgecote in 1469. Tudor's uncle Jasper took him from Raglan after William's death and brought him up in exile as they bided time before coming to take the throne in 1485. 

Timbs, in the nineteenth century, walked around the ruins and noted that every part of the castle could be seen and 'distinctly traced'. He observed three gates, tall and high, with the six-sided Yellow Tower of Gwent of particular interest. The walls, he said, were ten feet thick in places. The castle was built with defence in mind - there were not only thick walls but also battlements and a 'deep moat, thirty feet broad'. 

British Library, public domain. Catalogue of Illuminated Manuscripts.
William Herbert, Ann Devereux and Henry VI. 

The stately hall, where Herbert would have received important visitors, was said to be 66 feet long and 28 feet wide, an imposing space which symbolised not only Herbert's power but also the comfort in which he and his family lived. There was a 'rare geometrical roof, built of Irish oak, with a large cupola on the top for light'.  Timbs notes that there was also a long gallery with windows, measuring 126 feet long. 

The Herberts would also have looked out at the parks described by Leland, rich with oak and beech trees and stocked with deer. 

Later, during the seventeenth century, the castle was a focal point during another war: the English Civil War. It served as a Royalist garrison and Charles I was said to have stayed here during the summer of 1645. Besieged in 1646, the 85-year old Marquis who lived there gave up the castle to the Parliamentary army and when they allowed him to be buried at Windsor with his ancestors he apparently said 'Why, God bless us all, then I shall have a better castle when I am dead than they took from me whilst I was alive'. 

Like so many structures, Raglan was dismantled following its capture by the Parliamentarian army, with its lead, brick, stone and woodlands taken on orders by Parliament. The well-stocked library at the castle was also destroyed, and was said to have contained ancient Welsh texts. 

Thinking of visiting Raglan? Find more details on the Raglan Castle website

I explore the women of Raglan Castle who lived there during the fifteenth century in my book Forgotten Women of the Wars of the Roses, published by Pen and Sword. They include Maud, Katherine and Anne Herbert and their interactions with Henry Tudor, later Henry VII. Order your copy here. 

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Source: Timbs, John and Gunn, Alexander. Abbeys, Castles and Ancient Halls of England and Wales: their legendary lore and popular history. Vol 2, London, 1872.