Raglan Castle, South Wales

One of the most splendid late medieval buildings in Britain, Raglan Castle was among the last of the 'true' castles to be built. This magnificent and extremely powerful looking structure dates from the mid 15th century, and has a distinct French influence in both the design and architecture. It is thought likely that the site developed from much simpler origins, with perhaps a 'motte and bailey' type fortification in the 11th century, which then gave way to a family manor house until the late 14th century. Soon after this time, Raglan Castle came to William ap Thomas (through marriage), who had made a name for himself fighting with King Henry V in France, and it is mainly his remodelling of the property into such a palatial fortress that remains today.

Every aspect of the castle was built to impress, both socially and militarily to underline the power and influence held by, the now, Sir William. The main building attributed to him is the Great Tower (Keep), a self-contained and elaborate fortress, its grandeur somewhat diminished as a result of persistent, heavy battering during the Civil War when the top floor was demolished, and the walls partially collapsed. Only fragmentary evidence survives of the apron wall, originally containing six corner turrets, built by Sir William's son to further defend his father's Keep.

From inside Raglan Castle, there is still a very impressive view of the rear of the Gatehouse range, and the Closet Tower, which is likely to have housed the prison in its basement. Other buildings surviving from Sir William's time are the South Gate (formerly the main entrance to Raglan Castle), the Great Gatehouse which became the well-defended main entrance with porters' lodges on the ground floor, and parts of the Hall - rebuilt in the second half of the 16th century, but incorporating some of the earlier walls.

With a final flourish of architectural splendour, a major rebuilding programme was carried out by the new owners of Raglan Castle. The Somerset family, who still own the building today, extended and enhanced the castle with beautiful red sandstone blocks - in contrast to the pale yellow stone used in the earlier constructions. Tudor houses customarily had a Long Gallery, and the remains of the one built at Raglan Castle require a good deal of imagination to picture just how magnificent a room this once appeared. Sumptuously decorated, and with enormous windows providing a spectacular view across the hills. Contrasting with this lavish style, is the 16th century Hall, one of the most complete apartments now existing in Raglan Castle.

An exploration of Raglan Castle requires plenty of time in which to appreciate the vast amount of detail amongst the many ruinous buildings, and the various architectural styles employed over the main building periods. When we last visited, the entire surface of the moat was blanketed with the most amazing display of water lilies which really brought life and colour to this delightful castle.


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