Wednesday, 7 May 2014

Raglan Castle - A Tudor Weekend 31th May - 1 June, 2014

By Bob McCaffrey from Rickmansworth, UK (Raglan Castle (2)) [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons
Most people today see Raglan Castle in a blur as they dash past it on the A40 just outside Abergavenney in Monmouthshire. The castle serves as a reminder of our heritage, a ghost of late medieval Britain that watches in bemusement as we scurry by on our frantic modern business.
But, in its heyday, Raglan Castle would have been a destination in itself. A weary traveller on the old medieval route through the village would have been overawed by the vast crenelated towers as they appeared dramatically over the brow of the hill. He would then be forced to take the path circling the castle. Constrained to ride around the Great Tower and moat, he could not help but notice the impenetrable walls, the defensive towers, the soaring gatehouse. Once inside he would have looked up at vast walls that shadowed the sun, to see fluttering pennants against the clear blue sky. He would have craned his neck at the carved stone badges and shields above the gate expressing the awesome power of the Earl. Only then would he pass through to the inner Fountain Court to discover another entrance, this time to the Great Tower and the Family’s living quarters. All this was designed to impress, put a visitor on his guard, and make any prospective enemy think again.
Philip Halling [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (],
The castle we see today was begun in 1415 by William ap Thomas, a veteran of Agincourt, who purchased the manor of Raglan for one thousand marks. It was William who conceived the basic shape of the castle although much of the building work took place after his time.
William’s son dropped the ap Thomas and began to call himself William Herbert. He was active on the side of York during the Wars of the Roses and also fought in the Hundred Years War. It was William Herbert who carried out most of the medieval phase of the building and added extensive parkland, orchards and fishponds. As a Yorkist supporter Herbert’s fortunes flourished and in 1461 Edward IV made him Lord Herbert of Raglan. 

In 1461 at the Battle of Mortimer’s Cross Herbert’s half-brother, Henry Vaughn, captured the Lancastrian, Owen Tudor, father of Jasper and grandfather of Henry, and executed him in Hereford. Owen’s son Jasper was forced to flee the country, leaving his nephew, Henry Tudor, behind at Pembroke castle.
Sir William Herbert.

In 1468 Herbert became the first Welshman to be made an Earl; the Earl of Pembroke, replacing the now attainted Lancastrian, Jasper Tudor. He also became Justice and Chamberlain of South Wales and one of the King’s closest advisors and friends.
Henry VII
He was given custody of the young Lancastrian heir, Henry Tudor (later Henry VII) and the boy spent much of his childhood at Raglan while his uncle Jasper Tudor agitated for the return to a Lancastrian rule. Although held as a prisoner Henry was gently treated, receiving an education and instruction in military skills.

But William Herbert’s fortunes did not last and after the Battle of Edgecote Moor in 1469 Herbert, along with his brother Robert, was executed. His daughter Elizabeth married Charles Somerset, a natural son of Henry Beaufort, third Duke of Somerset, and with her, the castle passed into the hands of a new family. Over the course of a few generations the Somersets added Pitched Stone Court, the Hall, the Long Gallery and developed the gardens in the new Renaissance style fashion.

The architecture at Raglan marks the transition of British castles from defensive structures into homes for the rich and powerful. Raglan is distinctive in the aesthetic details like fireplaces and windows, added in the Tudor period. Fountain Court takes its name from a magnificent black marble fountain featuring a white marble horse that once took centre place; its ostentation can now only be imagined. The fabulous oriel window and the great stair which gave access to the family apartments above would have been outstanding in their day. The workmanship of the stonemasons is a clear sign that the custodians of Raglan employed only the best craftsmen.
Raglan saw little battle action until the Civil War when it was held under siege by the parliamentarians; when the castle surrendered General Fairfax ordered it to be completely destroyed under the supervision of Henry Herbert, a direct descendent of William ap Thomas, the castle’s founder.

Fortunately the castle was not easy to destroy (or perhaps Herbert didn’t have his heart in it) and the damage was comparatively slight. Although the family regained their possessions and ownership of the castle after the restoration the building continued to slide into decay until the 20th century when it was scheduled as a listed building. It is now administered by Cadw.

But life at Raglan Castle isn’t over yet. Every year Cadw hold medieval fayres that celebrate the medieval and Tudor world. On the weekend of May 31 – June 1, 2014 Cadw are holding A Tudor Weekend. As well as enjoying the splendours of the castle, you can meet Henry VII, Henry VIII, try on a Tudor costume, hear a talk by historian Emma Knight on Anne Boleyn, and also meet me.

I will be there in my Tudor kit, signing my Tudor novels, TheWinchester Goose, The Kiss of the Concubine, and Intractable Heart, and talking to fellow Tudor enthusiasts.
I look forward to meeting you there.

You can read more about me and my work on my webpage:

Pictures from Wikimedia Commons.


  1. Sadly its the same dates as the last weekend of Hay, will try to call in on the Sunday

  2. I hope you manage to join us, it would be a shame to miss it.

  3. Really nice to meet you at Raglan today Judith, hope we have Tudor Day at Raglan again next year so we can all be in costume. Will be reading your book soon!