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The Nevern Castle Project - Aims of Excavations and Site History

The excavations aim to assess the archaeological potential of Nevern Castle. The site was one of the earliest 12th century Welsh masonry castles, and was in part constructed by the Lord Rhys. It developed from an early 12th century Norman motte and bailey castle. If, as history suggests, Lord Rhys’s 12th century masonry castles at Nevern was abandoned in 1195, the site may contain very rare undisturbed evidence of 12th century life in Wales. Existing historical records also suggest that the site of Nevern Castle was almost certainly also the site of the 11th century llys of the local Welsh lord Cunhelyn. A high status site associated with the 5/6th century ‘lords’ Maglocu, Clutorius and Vitalianus who are commemorated with inscribed stones in St Brynach’s church in Nevern, may also lie beneath the castle. Beneath the late 12th century masonry castle archaeological remains from these earlier periods may also survive.

Robert FitzMartin captured Nevern from the Welsh lord Cuhelyn in the Anglo-Norman conquest of Pembrokeshire circa 1108. FitzMartin used Nevern as the caput for his barony of Cemais and established a borough of 18 houses. He almost certainly established the motte on the castle site. The bailey was also probably part of this castle, and may have protected the borough. Following the battle of Crug Mawr in 1136, Welsh recapture of northern Pembrokeshire, probably gave control of Nevern Castle to the Welsh. By 1156 this meant the Lord Rhys controlled the castle. After 1158 Rhys returned most of the captured lands to their Norman lords, though he recaptured many of them again in the 1160’s. In 1171, after reaching an agreement with Henry II, he was allowed to retain his ancestral lands of Deheubarth, but returned other lands to their Norman lords. By 1171 it is likely that ownership of the castle had passed on to William FitzMartin (Robert’s son), who married Angharad, the Lord Rhys’s daughter, probably in the 1170’s or 1180’s. Following the death of Henry II, in 1191 the Lord Rhys captured Nevern Castle from his son-in-law. Control of the castle then swapped back and forth between the Lord Rhys and two of his sons (Hywel Sais and Maelgwn ap Rhys), before the death of the Lord Rhys in 1197. In 1204 Anglo-Norman forces recaptured north Pembrokeshire including Nevern. However, it is recorded that in 1195 Hywel Sais destroyed Nevern Castle to prevent it falling into Anglo-Norman hands. It is likely that a new castle and borough had been established in Newport by 1204 and there is no record that Nevern castle was ever rebuilt.

The Lord Rhys was the dominant Welsh leader in South Wales from 1156 to 1194. By constructing his castle at Cardigan in 1171, he became the first Welsh prince to build using stone and mortar. It is likely the tradition of Welsh masonry castle building seen in later castles, such as Dolwyddelan and Dolbadarn built by the princes of Gwynedd, started with the Lord Rhys in Deheubarth (West Wales). Few, if any, traces of 12th century work remain at the Lord Rhys’s principal castles of Dinefwr or Cardigan, since they suffered from extensive later building work.






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