A Castle and its Gardens, Tomos Avent, 1995
HORATIA DURANT MEMORIAL PRIZE ESSAY COMPETITION 1995
A CASTLE AND ITS GARDENS
BY - TOMOS AVENT
Castles were first built in Wales for military purposes. They were built by the Normans after the Battle of Hastings in 1066 when they were invading the borders of England and Wales to defend their newly conquered land. They were also built by the Welsh to defend their land against the Normans. These early castles probably did not have gardens because the soldiers did not need elegant gardens.
A long time after the Norman period castles stopped being just for military purposes and many were left as neglected ruins. However some were converted into comfortable mansions by wealthy landowners. Raglan was one of these castles and we are very lucky because the remains of the beautiful castle and its gardens are still here today.
The Early History of Raglan Castle In the twelfth century Raglan Castle was owned by Walter Bloet. It continued to be owned by the Bloet family until the end of the fourteenth century. Raglan Castle could have been a motte and bailey castle or a ringwork castle with earth defences and wooden buildings. Nothing remains from this early period so we can not be sure of what the castle looked like then. Perhaps the motte and the wooden keep was built where the stone keep stands now.
Raglan Castle was completely rebuilt in the fifteenth century, so we do not even know what the castle looked like when it when it was first built in stone after the Normans. Documents of 1354 and 1375 mention the castle and describe repairs to the hall and private apartments. The castle probably did not have a garden at this early time.
The Castle of Sir William ap Thomas William ap Thomas lived in Raglan in the early fifteenth century. He fought with King Henry V in the Battle of Agincourt in 1415 and the king knighted him for his support. The king gave Sir William a number of important jobs and soon he had enough money to buy the castle at Raglan for 1000 marks.
Sir William then set about the task of rebuilding the castle. He built the Great Tower, the South Gate and a Hall. The Great Tower was very tall and strong and was surrounded by a water filled moat. The South Gate also had gun loops.
The Castle of Sir William Herbert After the death of Sir William ap Thomas, who is buried in Abergavenny Church, his son William Herbert inherited Raglan Castle and its surrounding lands. William Herbert supported the Yorkists in the War of the Roses in the mid fifteenth century.
When the Yorkist king, Edward IV, came to the throne he rewarded William by knighting him and making him Earl of Pembroke. William had fought at the battle of Mortimer's Cross in Herefordshire which helped Edward become king. In 1462 Sir William and his wife looked after Henry, who later became Henry VII, at Raglan Castle.
He was therefore a very wealthy man and built the Gate house, the chapel, the Kitchen, the Parlour, the Apartments and the Fountain Court. Sir William Herbert lived a very comfortable life in his handsome new house. The castle was very much admired by everyone and a Welsh poet called it a “fair rock-built court of Raglan.”
The Castle of the Somersets, Earls of Worcester After William's death in 1469 the castle was passed on to his son William. The family was poorer at this time and no building was done. In 1492 William's daughter, Elizabeth married the rich man Sir Charles Somerset. Sir Charles, his son Henry and his grandson William finished the building of the castle and built the hall, the long gallery and rebuilt the office wing.
As swell as building magnificent parts of the castle,William laid out a beautiful garden to surround the castle. William built garden terraces and a large lake in the valley below to the north-west. William inserted a wonderful fountain called the White Horse in the middle of the fountain court.
After William's death in 1589 his son Edward extended the White Gate and the moat wall around the great tower. He also made a giant lake with an island in the middle.
The Garden at Raglan Castle The sixteenth and seventeenth century gardens at Raglan still remain visible as a serious of grassy terraces and fields, ruined stone walls and a dried up lake with an island in the middle. It is very rare for important gardens like this to survive. Elizabeth Whittle has made a study of this garden and has found a plan of it from 1652.
To the north-west of the castle were three long terraces with stone walls. They were laid out with paths and flower beds planted with small shrubs in patterns called knots. Below them was a large lake called the “great poole” which was created by a great earthen dam. It had carp and other large fish in it. Outside the keep was a bowling green and there were summerhouses on the terraces.
Around the keep's moat was a curving walk with fifteen niches decorated with shells and painted plaster. There were statues of Roman emperors in the niches.
To the south-west of the castle was a square garden plot, another garden terrace and a hopyard and orchard.
The Civil War In the Civil War the castle was held by the Royalists and was besieged by Fairfax in 1646. It surrendered and was partly destroyed. The buildings and the gardens were destroyed. The ruins are now looked after by Cadw. Cadw has created a historic garden at Tretower. This garden is a bit earlier than the garden at Raglan. Perhaps Cadw should restore Raglan's garden.
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