It’s an apocryphal tale, but funny nonetheless. The foreign tourist who, on reaching Cardiff Castle, comments on how conveniently built the castle is in proximity to the shops. It’s worth an eye-roll. But it also shows how Cardiff Castle has been the heart of the city since the 11th century. It started out as a motte and bailey, graduating up to stone in medieval times. As a result of the massive coal wealth of the third Marquess of Bute, the castle was dramatically overhauled in the 19th century.
2000 years of history
It is believed that the castle was a site of Roman occupation around AD50. There were four different forts, of various sizes. The Roman wall can still be seen to this day.
The castle was later owned by the infamous Richard III through his marriage to Anne Neville. He made his agent, Sir James Tyrell, Constable of the castle – the nefarious Tyrell has long been suspected of the murder of the Princes in the Tower of London.
Later on, the castle was gifted to Jasper Tudor after his cousin, Henry Tudor, became Henry VII of England. So the castle has had a fascinating history, and been a massive part of English as well as Welsh history.
The third Marquess of Bute
The majority of the work to the castle that we see today was undertaken by the third Marquess. He received an enormous fortune from his father. The second Marquess had invested, at considerable personal risk, in the development of Cardiff as a coal port. His vision paid off. His son John Crichton-Stuart would become the richest man in the world.
In 1865, the Marquess met the architect William Burges and the two embarked on an extraordinary architectural partnership.
Bute’s desires and money allied with Burges’ fantastical imagination and skill led to the creation of two of the finest examples of the late Victorian era Gothic Revival, Cardiff Castle and Castell Coch. The two buildings represent both the potential of colossal industrial wealth and the desire to escape the scene of that wealth’s creation.
Another story, once again apocryphal. Bute instructed Burges to place the Marchioness’s bedroom in Castell Coch so that he could view it from his own room in Cardiff Castle. We can’t find a source for this, but we love the story nonetheless. The bedroom wasn’t entirely to Bute’s taste, however. He complained that the painted monkeys cavorting above his wife’s bed were too ‘lascivious’.
The castle today
We’ve visited the castle many times. Once for an elegant Christmas dinner accompanied by colleagues, harp music and tinkling glass. We visited in summer, wandering around the walls and with a picnic in Bute Park. We’re struck by something new on every occasion. The animals on the castle wall looking out onto Castle Street, for example, are a feature that often surprises. Have you noticed them?
We love Cardiff. The vibrancy of the city is matched by its glorious centrepiece – a Gothic masterpiece that still rings to the sounds of jousting and celebration.