White Castle (Wales)

Monmouthshire     See list of castles in Galles

White Castle now stands on a low hill about a mile from the village of Llantilio Crossenny. The Welsh form of the name, Castell Gwyn, is said to derive from a local ruler of early Norman times, Gwyn ap Gwaethfoed, but the original name of the castle was Llantilio Castle, and the alternative - first recorded in the 13th century - refers to the white rendering which is still visible on parts of the exterior walls.
The earthworks of White Castle compromise three separate enclosures. In the center is the pear-shaped inner ward, surrounded by a wet moat with stone revetted sides, and containing the walls and towers of the main defences of the castle. To the south is a crescentic hornwork. On the north - the side from which visitors approach the castle - is an outer ward with its own stone curtain wall, towers, and a gatehouse surmounting the basic earthworks. Initially, this third area was part of a much larger outer enclosure which surrounded the entire eastern half of the castle. Some traces of its defensive bank can be seen on the ground, but it is much clearer when seen in an aerial photograph.

Originally, when the defences at White Castle were still of earth and timber, the site was entered from the south. The crescentic hornwork then covered the main approach to the castle. The outer ward, which may have been a defended enclosure where armies in the field could camp without fear of surprise attack, was tucked in to the rear. Usk Castle has the same earthwork plan and may date from the same period. In the 13th century, when most of the present stone defences were built, the whole castle was turned around 180 degrees. A new gatehouse was built facing on to the outer ward, which now became the approach to the castle, with the hornwork relegated to the rear.

Together with Grosmont and Skenfrith, these so-called "Three Castles" formed an important strategic triangle controlling this area of the southern March. All three were royal castles in the later 12th century, and in 1201 were granted to Hubert de Burgh by King John. Unlike the other two, however, White Castle was not rebuilt by de Burgh in the new defensive style of the early 13th century.

Today, the visitor enters the outer ward through the late 13th-century gate. Crossing the ward, a wooden bridge spans the deeply-sunk water filled moat. The twin towers of the inner gatehouse loom ahead, and from the top it is possible to enjoy a bird's-eye view of the castle and surrounding countryside. The high curtain wall can be dated to 1184-86, and the massive footings of a contemporary Norman keep can also be seen. In 1254, along with Grosmont and Skenfrith, the castle passed to the Lord Edward, the king's eldest son, and later Edward I. In 1267 it was transferred to his younger brother, Edmund, earl of Lancaster. At this time, the threatening power of Llywelyn the Last was at its height, and White Castle was dangerously near the frontier of his conquests. Thus, it was probably under Edward or Edmund that the gatehouse and circular towers were added as a strengthening of the defences. Indeed, overall the castle never really functioned as a nobleman's residence, and always appears to have been more a military work. Although the internal buildings include a chapel, hall and kitchen, these seem more appropriate to a garrison commander than a great lord. Nearby is the interesting medieval moated site of Hen Gwrt.

Images of the castle

Castles in Wales

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Useful infos

Latitude: 51.8457205
Longitude: -2.902016
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Map of White Castle