Raglan Castle, South East Wales


Handsome Raglan, set amongst green, rolling border country, marks the end of an auspicious line. Largely the creation of the more peaceful later middle ages, it brings to a close the great castle building episode in Welsh history. Its towers might echo those of Caernarfon or Beaumaris, yet they were not built with the same single minded military intent. Raglan is more a statement of wealth and social aspiration (a precursor to the country house) than an intimidating military presence.

The castle was not begun until 1435 (almost 200 years after the mighty fortresses of the north). Here, Sir William ap Thomas's, was able to express his desire for status and domestic comfort in the castle's most famous feature, its stately Great Tower. On ap Thomas's death, his son son William Herbert continued the grand work in the same lavish vein, creating a sumptuous palace with formal state apartments and a Great Gatehouse. Further changes took place in the mid-16th century, after which the castle, in all its finery, was forced into active service.

It acquitted itself well, enduring in 1646 one of the longest sieges in the Civil War before falling to Cromwell's forces and suffering at the hands of his demolition team. Even in ruin, noble Raglan remains the finest late-medieval fortress-palace in the British Isles, preserving a wealth of decorative detail in its beautifully dressed sandstone walls. It signals the end of an era that began, strangely enough, less than 15 miles away at Chepstow, site of one Britain's first stone built castles.