This famous castle, overlooking from its lofty hill the little town which grew up from the burghs that the great earl established under its protection, is imposing.
What masonry there is surviving consists of large but fragmentary masses of rubble, from which the shape of the castle can be reconstructed, but little about its decoration or its successive transformations in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries.
Located in north Wales, bordering England, near Shopshire, It lies on a very narrow site with one flank, that which looks towards the town, absolutely precipitous, partly from natural cliff, partly from scarping; the other flank, that which looks towards the west, is separated by a ravine from the neighbouring hills, and is almost as steep though not nearly so lofty.
The crest is so narrow and easily defended that there would be temptation to pile outer fortifications on to the inner ones, so as to keep the enemy at the greatest possible distance from the core of the place.
Roger of Montgomery’s original castle was, no doubt, merely palisaded – as may be easily guessed from the fact that, only two years after his death, it was surprised by the Welsh during the great insurrection of 1095-1096 and its garrison slaughtered.
Roger of Montgomery
Probably it was reoccupied when William Rufus made his retaliating expedition into North Wales a few months later. But the next certain fact discoverable is that after the House of Montgomery had been crushed by Henry I.
King Henry I
Henry I gave Montgomery and much land round it to Baldwin of Bollers, a Shropshire knight who had married an illegitimate niece of his own, Sibylla of Falaise.
Illegitimate Sibylla of Falaise
The Bollers built some sort of a stone castle to replace the old woodwork, and from him it got the name among the Welsh of Tre Faldwin – Baldwin’s place.
The Bollers family held the castle from 1105-1207, when it passed, on the extinction of their male line, to the Fitz Urses – the one notable member of that house – Becket’s murderer – being the son of a Bollers daughter.
House of Baldwin
They held it but a few years, the castle and honour of Montgomery having been seized by Henry III in 1225, and declared escheated. From henceforth Montgomery was a royal castle, and one to which the king paid much attention, for he rebuilt it from end to end, spending nearly 3,000, a vast sum for those days, on his alterations.
King Henry III
The reason for Henry’s sudden energy was the long war with Llewellyn the Great of Gwynedd, who had once, or perhaps twice, been in possession of Montgomery – when the king got it back he considered it his own, by right of re-conquest.
The new castle was besieged in 1231, and held out successfully, though the little town below was burnt by Llewellyn, who made another fruitless attempt to capture the fortress above in 1233.
Llewellyn the Great, prince of Wales
The same thing happened some twenty years later, when Llewellyn the Last was repeating the early career of Llewellyn the Great. He sacked the town in 1257, but failed to take the impregnable castle.
Hence the shame to Simon de Montfort, when at his very unpatriotic treaty of Pipton (June 1265) he ceded to the Prince of Gwynedd this long-defended outpost of England, along with the castles of Hawarden, Whittington and Painscastle – all in return for the service of a Welsh contingent in his war with the royalists of the Marches.
Simon de Montfort, Earl of Leicester
Montgomery Castle, therefore returned to its former role of outpost against Central Wales, and in the two wars which Edward waged against Llewellyn in 1277 and 1282, was in each campaign one of the regular bases from which Llewellyn’s expeditions into Powys and Brecknock were crushed.
But with the annexation of the land of Gwynedd after the death of its last native prince, the importance of Montgomery was much decreased. The town at its base grew in peaceful days, but the castle above had no longer an enemy to fear, or a special purpose to serve. Its Welsh neighbours, the princes of Southern Powys, had fallen into the position of simple English barons, and never gave any further trouble.
There was one wild moment in 1402, when Owain Glyndwr descended upon the town and sacked it – the little borough has been “de-flourished” by Glendower; its broken walls had never been repaired, and its gates were but remnants.
But he says nothing about the castle being ruinous, and apparently it was not, as a hundred years later it was used as a royalist garrison during the great Civil War. It was held till the general downfall of the king’s castles in the Marches.
Europe 1087 – 1629, lands won by William the Conqueror.
All photos: Courtesy of Wiki – Creative Commons