History of Pennard Castle – the ruins that once helped command Gower

Pennard Castle, a short drive from Hael Farm Cottage, is one of the most iconic ruins in Gower, though many modern day estate agents would envy it’s commanding sea views.

Pennard Castle is perched on the edge of the valley of the Pennard Pill, with a sheer drop below to the north and west. From it there is a sweeping view out towards Three Cliffs Bay, and across the valley to Penmaen Burrows, although the peaceful views belie the conquesting history of the Gower region.

During the Norman Conquest, powerful magnates were encouraged to seize land and in return would be granted powers over their their new territories. Back in 1107, one such magnate, Henry de Beaumont, Earl of Warwick was therefore granted the Lordship of Gower. Having conquered the region, Henry de Beaumont needed series of castles to maintain rule over Gower, building at least 7 castles, including Pennard Castle.

With it’s magnificent views across 3 Cliffs Bay, and strong, natural defences from cliffs to the North and West, the original castle was an earthwork ring topped with a wooden palisade enclosing a courtyard which was occupied by a small stone hall.

A Century later. the Lordship of Gower was granted by King John to the de Braose family in 1203, but little changes were made until the late thirteenth century. It is believed that the powerful William de Braose, Baron Braose, a notable military leader who notably took part in the battle of Falkirk (where the English defeated Scottish rebel William Wallace) built the castle ruins we see today. As a prominent member of the King’s Court, de Braose was popular with the King but in Gower, where de Braose exercised his extensive rights as a Marcher Lord, he became embroiled in a dispute with John de Monmouth, Bishop of Llandaff.

It is believed that this dispute led to de Braose upgrading Pennard Castle with a stone structure of limestone and sandstone, the ruins of which can be seen today. Historians believe the castle was designed to look imposing rather than to actually defend the territory because the portcullis grooves do not run all the way down to the ground and the arrow slits are not well placed.

Having allegedly granted possession of the castle to his son-in-law, John de Mowbray, without Royal permission, de Braose saw Pennard Castle confiscated by Edward II in 1320, with Hugh Despenser appointed as the Royal Warden, but the Castle was later restored to de Braose before returning to the Despensers once again and eventually onto the Beauchamp family.

With so many arguments taking place over possession, the Castle and it’s views was clearly a desirable property. Sadly, though, the Castle’s magnificent position was the reason for it’s decay. Shifting sand dunes and wind-blown sand were eroding the structure and Pennard Castle and the surrounding settlement were gradually abandoned, ending with St Mary’s Church in 1532, the ruins of which can also be seen.

Modern day visitors can reach Pennard Castle via a footpath through a golf course. On-road parking is possible at Linkside Drive which is found off Pennard Road in central Pennard. Visitors can then walk along the (unpaved) Sandy Lane until you arrival at the public right of way leading to the castle. Views are spectacular, so you will want your camera, but you’ll also need to be careful because the cliffs are steep!

Thanks to: http://www.castlewales.com/pennard.html and http://www.castlesfortsbattles.co.uk/south_west_wales/pennard_castle.html for this information.

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