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St Donats Castle

a few miles S of Cowbridge, Glamorgan, south Wales

Map link for St Donats Castle

Photographs copyright © 2004 by Ben Jones.

Mike Salter 1991

In the 13th century St Donats was held by the de Haweys family who also had estates in Somerset and Dorset. The heiress John de Hawey married Sir Peter de Stratelynge (Stradling), a Swiss who was in command of the castle at Neath in 1296. He died soon afterwards so it was either his sons or Joan's second husband John de Pembridge who built the castle in the early 14th century. In the late 14th century, Edward Stradling was twice Sheriff of Glamorgan and his wife Gwenllian Berkerolles inherited Coity Castle. Their grandson Edward married a daughter of Henry VI's great uncle Cardinal Beaufort and became Chamberlain of South Wales in 1423. He died on pilgrimage to the Holy Land in 1453, four years after his son Henry was captured by the pirate Colyn Dolphyn while sailing to Wales from Somerset and had to be ransomed. Henry married Elizabeth Herbert of Raglan and their son Thomas died young, leaving a widow who married Sir Rhys ap Thomas. Sir Rhys became guardian of Edward, the heir, later infamous for his numerous and lawless illegitimate sons.

John Stradling was made a baronet by James I in 1611, despite the family having remained faithful to the Roman church at the Reformation. They fought for King Charles in the Civil War, a Stradling being leader of the Royalist force defeated in 1648 at St Fagans. They later declined to the status of local gentry and in 1738 Sir Thomas, the last male heir, was killed in a duel at Montpellier in France. The estate passed to his cousin Bussey, 4th Baron Mansell of Margam. On his death the estates were divided, St Donats going to Sir John Tyrrwhitt in 1755. His heirs neglected the castle, but in 1862 Dr. Nicholl-Carne, a descendant of the Stradlings, bought the castle and began restoring it as his residence. In 1901 it was sold to Morgan Stuart Williams who sought a refuge from his coal mines at Aberpergwm and carried out further work on the castle. In 1922 Richard Pennoyer bought the castle, but in 1925 he re-sold it to a fellow American, the newspaper millionaire William Randolph Hearst. The castle was commandeered for training of army officers during the war and then in 1960 was taken over by an international school called Atlantic College, which is still thriving there.

The castle lies on a promontory with precipitous cliffs on the west. An inner ward about 40m across with a polygonal wall is closely surrounded by an outer ward with a dry moat facing the eastern approach. The outer wall mostly survives and has a small original tower entirely contained with it on the north, and a square gatehouse on the east. The inner ward is entered by an arch beside the rectangular Mansell Tower on the east side. The western part of the inner curtain is gone, making room for the early 16th century north and west ranges, and the remainder has buildings of various dates against both sides of it. The late 15th-century hall lies on the south of the ward. Beside it, squeezed in between the inner and outer curtains, is the Bradenstoke Hall, a modern building re-using the early 14th-century roof. The Lady Ann tower southwest of this is also modern and on the west side of the castle is a large modern dining hall.


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Copyright © 2009 by Jeffrey L. Thomas