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Castell Nanhyfer, Nevern

Also known as, or recorded in historical documents as;
Cammais; Cammeis; Cemmeis; Llanhyvor; castellum Newer

In the community of Nevern.
In the historic county of Pembrokeshire.
Modern authority of Pembrokeshire.
Preserved county of Dyfed.

OS Map Grid Reference: SN08214015
Latitude 52.02658° Longitude -4.79690°

Castell Nanhyfer, Nevern has been described as a certain Timber Castle, and also as a certain Masonry Castle.

There are earthwork remains.

This site is a scheduled monument protected by law.


Castell Nanhyfer, an inland promontory enclosure, some 100m east-west by 90m, resting on steep natural slopes and crags on the south-east, is delineated by up to three lines of banks and ditches on the north and west, with a circular mound, about 32m in diameter occupying its north-western angle. The outward banks are the most massive and the northern facade shows remains of a stone revetment. A circular tower, in the region of 6.5m across, has been identified upon the motte summit; the eastern tip of the promontory, rising above precipitous crags, is cut off by a rock-cut ditch, forming a court, about 30m north-south by 20m, defined by stone walls and containing traces of a rectangular structure, possibly a tower. The entrance to the castle enclosure is thought to have led between the crags on the north, the massive north-facing ramparts, and the stone-walled citadel. Identified as a 12th-early 13th century castle, possibly of several distinct constructions, thought to have been abandoned in the earlier 13th century. (Coflein)

Nevern is dominated by the remains of Castell Nanhyfer. This fine motte-and-bailey castle, which began life as an Iron Age promontory fort, was built by the Fitzmartins, the Norman lords of Cemais, in 1191. It was seized by Rhys ap Gruffudd, who was later imprisoned by his sons in the tower which he built. He died there in 1195, bringing to an end Welsh rule in south-west Wales. Castell Nanhyfer is therefore a key but strangely neglected site in Welsh history (RCAHMW, 96-cs-0678). (Coflein–ref. Driver)

The main enclosure is thought to be originally IA, or Caple writes early medieval, modified as an earthwork castle, the circular mound representing a motte, or collapsed structure, and the E enclosure representing a discrete castle-building episode. Much of the stone work is clay bonded slate, not lime mortared masonry. Caple writes founded by "Anglo-Norman lord Robert FitzMartin in about 1108/9. Control of the castle oscillated between the FitzMartin family and the Welsh prince Rhys ap Gruffudd (the Lord Rhys) between 1135 and 1191, after which it was demolished in 1195 by Rhys's son Hywel Sais."

I shall not pass over in silence the circumstance which occurred in the principal castle of Cemmeis at Lanhever (Nevern), in our days. Rhys, son of Gruffydd, by the instigation of his son Gruffydd, a cunning and artful man, took away by force, from William, son of Martin (de Tours), his son-in-law, the castle of Lanhever, notwithstanding he had solemnly sworn, by the most precious relics, that his indemnity and security should be faithfully maintained, and, contrary to his word and oath, gave it to his son Gruffydd; but since "A sordid prey has not a good ending," the Lord, who by the mouth of his prophet, exclaims "Vengeance is mine, and I will repay!" ordained that the castle should be taken away from the contriver of this wicked plot, Gruffydd, and bestowed upon the man in the world he most hated, his brother Malgon. Rhys, also, about two years afterwards, intending to disinherit his own daughter, and two granddaughters and grandsons, by a singular instance of divine vengeance, was taken prisoner by his sons in battle, and confined in this same castle; thus justly suffering the greatest disgrace and confusion in the very place where he had perpetrated an act of the most consummate baseness. I think it also worthy to be remembered, that at the time this misfortune befell him, he had concealed in his possession, at Dinevor, the collar of St. Canauc of Brecknock, for which, by divine vengeance, he merited to be taken prisoner and confined. (Giraldus Cambrensis)

Excavations in 2015 at Nevern revealed evidence of pre-Norman Welsh agricultural activity on the site as well as the presence of a pre-castle ‘colonisation’ Anglo-Norman earthwork and occupation. The establishment of a substantial building and occupation sequence throughout the late 12th century now clearly suggests a mid-12th-century date for the re-construction of this castle in stone. This activity was probably initiated or supported by the Lord Rhys. The use of slate quarried from the castle ditches and mortar formed from the clay subsoil means that only readily available local resources were needed to transform this site into a substantial stone castle. (Caple 2016)

The castle is currently (2013) undergoing an extensive archaeological investigation headed by Dr Chris Caple of the University of Durham. The project is committed to open publication of its work and extensive interim reports have been produced and published. For Gatehouse the most interesting of the many aspects of this work is the very extensive use of clay bounding for the walls of this castle. This appears to be a deliberate choice rather than a pure economic neccesity required by a lack of limestone for lime mortar and the use of clay as a masonry bonding material in Wales may well have been a more widespread phenomenon.
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Sources of information, references and further reading
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This record last updated 20/04/2017 04:26:35