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The Castle in Tudor Wales

Photograph of Carew Castle copyright © 2002 by Jeffrey L. Thomas

Below: beautiful Carew Castle in south Wales

Photograph copyright © by Jan Kohl and castlegraphics.com

Cadw 1990

The War of the Roses was brought to an end at the battle of Bosworth in 1485. The accession of Henry VII, and the settled conditions fostered by the new Tudor dynasty, led to a more peaceful and orderly society, in which the need for castles as military strongholds had greatly diminished. The 16th century was also a period of remarkable economic growth and a prosperous countryside, all of which is reflected in outstanding architectural developments, particularly the arrival of the true country house. To begin with, though, the character of many of the great gentry houses of the 16th century continued to be influenced by medieval precedents. Some of the most prominent Elizabethan works represent large-scale transformation of earlier strongholds.
Foremost among those to take advantage of the new age were the Somersets, earls of Worcester, the leading aristocratic family in Wales at this time. It was the third earl (1549-89) who remodelled the hall and began the splendid long gallery at Raglan Castle. Further west, similar work was underway at Carew and Laugharne castles, where Sir John Parrot was busy refashioning them into palatial country mansions in the 1580s. At Oxwich on the Gower peninsula, a house begun by Sir Rice Mansel was greatly enlarged by his son, Sir Edward, around 1549-80. In the north of the country, the Herbert family bought Powis Castle (below) in 1587, and they began the long process of turning it into one of the grandest stately homes in Wales.

Though lacking the strength and grandeur of larger medieval Welsh strongholds, castles like Weobley, Oxwich, and Beaupre in south Wales, reflect many interesting aspects of domestic and residential castle life. Castles were homes to their lords and often households appear to have been very prosperous.

In most rooms, the stonework was plastered and painted, and tapestries were no doubt hung for decoration. The hall was the focus of castle life, and is likely to have been the most elaborately decorated and adorned room. Here the family sat during meals, often entertaining neighboring lords or visiting members of their kin. At Weobley the wooden gallery stands at the level of the original hall. The high table would have been placed at the end of the hall adjacent to the solar, lit by a large oriel window to the south. Kitchens in the basement would have served dinners in the hall above.

The solar usually had a fireplace and often comfortable window seats, sometimes large enough to serve as a private bedroom-cum-sitting room. Guests would have been accommodated in chambers of similar quality elsewhere in the castle. A large body of servants would have been required to run the kitchen and carry out the routine chores of the household at large. Castles often had a resident chaplain as well.

Next: The Castles of Wales and the Civil War

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Copyright © 2009 by Jeffrey L. Thomas