From 1272 to 1294 Llantrisant witnessed a long period of steady growth before it was subjected to violent attack during the widespread Welsh revolt under Madog ap Llywelyn. Madog’s rebellion was led by Morgan ap Maredud, the disinherited son of the Welsh lord and the revolt waged from October 1294 to June 1295. The insurgents wept all before them, demolishing Llantrisant Castle and causing the Lord to flee.
An account of writs issued 15 July 1297 states that Walter de Hacklut was to complete the gate of the castle which he had begun. Presumably this was still part of a rebuilding programme following the uprising of 1294.
There were fears of more attacks before the works were completed as evidence by the king’s response to a petition made to him from the men of Meisgyn and Glynrhondda pleading for the release of hostages “..taken when the castle of Lantrisssent was re-built…since the castle is built; and since they were not made hostages except that they might not cause disturbance while the castle was being built.” They remained in prison.
In 1297 a war broken out between Gilbert de Clare and Morgan ap Maredud and the town and castle were sacked. Fortunately Llantrisant recovered from the devastation.
By 1307 Joan de Clare’s inquisition reflected the damage inflicted in 1294. The castle and borough were restored to the list of her assets: "145 ½ burgages rendered £7 5s 6d in rents… 5 ½ burgages destroyed in the war were still vacant.”
The castle was again ranked in the king’s orders and it was granted to Ralph de Monthermer, who had married Joan in 1297. The last de Clare, Gilbert III who died at Bannockburn in 1314 had brief ownership of Llantrisant. During his time it had 187 burgages with 29 being vacant. The town‘s value had risen to £13 12s 5d while the castle was worth nothing beyond reprise. Despite a period of growth and prosperity further Welsh insurgency followed.
In 1314 a group began to repair the walls with work costing £22 4s 8d. According to Taliesin Morgan, in 1315 there is reference made to William Fleming receiving custody of the castle. Afterwards he fell under the king’s displeasure and was executed at Cardiff for treason.
The protracted and unsettled period pending the partition of the de Clare inheritance between the late earl’s sisters witnessed two welsh uprisings in Glamorgam, the first following his death in June 1314 and the second and more serious in 1316. The first of these had broken out before Bartholomew de Badlesmere had been appointed royal custodian of Glamorgan in September 1314 and once again the borough of Llantrisant proved vulnerable. He reported that 47 of its burgages had been destroyed because of the war, the fair had been suspended and the castle had required repairs costing £22 42 8d. He also accounted for the expenses of the constable and 24 men garrisoned in the castle for eleven weeks “in the time of the war waged by the Welsh after the earl’s death." The repairs included making windows, doors and gates of the prison with bars and rods of iron.
On 8 July 1315 Payn de Turberville, Lord of Coity, was appointed keeper of Glamorgan in place of de Badlesmere. On Octonber 6 Turberville acknowledged the receipt of victuals and other goods held in the castles of the lordship and at Llantrisant it included such quantities of wheat, oats, wine, oxen carcasses, sides of bacon, iron and lead. The castle was destroyed again in 1316 during the rebellion of Llewelyn Bren when 90 burgages were totally destroyed and the garrison were killed - only the constable survived. This rebellion in the early months of 1316 was altogether more widespread and wrought havoc throughout the lordship. Llyewelyn, the son of the last Welsh lord of Senghennydd, united his compatriots to savage onslaughts on the lordships. Payn Turberville, whose abrasive and ruthless conduct largely contributed to the uprising was replaced as the keeper of the lordship following the surrender of Bren on 18 March.
John Gifford of Brymmesfeld was the new keeper and his account reveals the extent of the rebellion. At Llantrisant 9 burgages were still occupied but 90 were entirely destroyed by the war. At the castle work was in hand to repair the extensive damage. These repairs required stones, lime, sand, tiles and two masons, two tilers and two quarrymen. A new constable, William Fleming was appoited on 20 May.
On becoming lord of Glamorgan in 1317 Hugh Despenser inherited the schedule of lands from the de Clare’s including Llantrisant. The town was still of great importance and the castle was fully restored. In May 1317 it had a receiver of stores and employed at £5 a year to administer the armaments and other necessities in case of further troubles. In 1321 it was wrecked along with Cardiff, Caerphilly and others by English Barons in pursuit of Despenser the Younger. The Despenser War in Glamorgan, which began in Newport on 4 May 1321 saw a large force of barons storm all of the castles in Glamorgan and West Wales. Windows, fireplaces, doorways and all fitting were dismantled and smashed.
By late 1326 the King Edward II’s position was weakened, leading him to seek support in Wales. The King and Despenser were imprisoned at Llantrisant Castle after being caught at Pant y Brad on their return journey from Neath on 16 November. The constable at the time was Robert de Aston.
In 1349 the borough reached a peak of 232 burgages recorded but plague presumable played a part in the subsequent decline. The castle may have suffered further damage in the Owain Glyndwr rebellion in 1404 when he burnt Cardiff town, although there is no historical evidence for this. In fact, the episode is rather doubtful. Though Llantrisant Castle continued in use into the second half of the 16th century, it was gradually allowed to fall into decay.
The last known constable of the castle was Sir Robert Jones, son of Sir Hugh of Swansea who held the office from 1485 until he who died in 1532. His salary of 60s 8d as constables of the Llantrisant castle compares unfavourably with those of the castles of Cardiff (£100) and Neath £10). From 1474 many burgages were lying vacant and over 60 were abandoned by 1492. William Buttry, the officer accounts for the issues of Llantrisant when six burgages were still vacant and “laid waste and burned by the rebel Welsh” - which may refer to Owain Glyndwr.
In 1540 Leland visited the Llantriant Castle, the Kkings’ “principal house of Miskin” and said: “Llantrisant Castle lyith half a mile from the east ripe of lay (Ely) and half a mile beneth the place where Michidd brook runnith in Lay. The castelle on the toppe of a hill and ys in ruine. It has been a fair castelle and 2 wardes, and the inner diekd having among other towers one grat and high called Gilguran (Gigfran_ / raven) and at this castelle is the prison for Miskin and Glin Rodiney.”
Merrick, in 1580 noticed the court house next to the castle and the inner ward of the Gigran (Raven) tower which was retained as a prison. In one of the surveys of the ancient boroughs of Llantrisant of 16 August 1630, it mentions a Thomas Matthew “holdeth the Castle of Llantrisant and the cite thereof by lease, at the yearly rent of 17s 8d.” It is believed that some restoration work was undertaken during the mid 17tn century, possibly by Humphrey Mathew of Castell y Mynach who leased it with the “town hall”, pitching and toll in 1650.
In 1833 the tower was dismantled and what was described as a “dungeon” was located while clearing the rubbish. This may have been a collapsed gatehouse that was dismantled as such a square tower abutted the Raven Tower as Leyland himself indicates the “other towers”. By the 19th century all trace of the outer ward had disappeared and all that remained was the small bailey. The deterioration of the site continued for several generations as houses were built or repaired with stone from the castle. As many local residents quarried the ancient landmark, much of the dress-stone was used to create windows and doorways which can still be seen in properties scattered throughout the old town.
In 1767 the estate came into the ownership of John Stuart, 1st Marquess of Bute (1744-1814). His grandson, John Crichton Stuart, 2nd Marquess of Bute (1793-1848) was a wealthy aristocrat and industrialist in Georgian and early Victorian Britain. He developed the coal and iron industries across South Wales and built Cardiff Docks. Following his death the estate was inherited by his son, John Patrick Crichton-Stuart, 3rd Marquess of Bute (1847-1900) landed aristocrat, industrial magnate, antiquarian, and architectural patron.
In 1865, the Marquess met designer William Burges and the two embarked on an architectural partnership, the results of which long outlasted Burges' own death in 1881. Bute's desires and money, allied with Burges' fantastical imagination and skill led to the creation of two of the finest creations of the late Victorian era Gothic Revival - Cardiff Castle and Castell Coch. Once again it was to other castles, such as Llantrisant that they turned to remove dress-stone for the necessary repair and refurbishment work. Llantrisant Castle was certainly a shadow of its former mighty self and left as a rather romantic Victorian ruin.
The Castle later came into the ownership of local resident Tudor John who sold the ruin on December 22 1993 to the Borough Council of Taff Ely. It is now owned by Rhondda Cynon Taf County Borough Council.
With thanks to J. Barry Davies