Raglan castle in Monmouthshire, south-east Wales, was one
of the last medieval castles to be built in the British Isles. Construction
first began about the middle of the 15th century and was commissioned by one
William Thomas, who was described as the ‘lesser son of a minor family’. He was,
however, active in local politics and very attentive to the noble young ladies
of the day, eventually marrying two wealthy heiresses in quick succession,
which enabled him to fund the building of the castle.
His son, William Herbert, took up the mantle of
progressing the family line further and became the first Welshman to be made an
Earle of the English crown. He made a fortune through importing French wine
from Gascony and used this wealth to fund further developments on the castle.
Unfortunately, he chose the wrong side in the English war of the Roses and was
executed for being a Yorkist. This seems a strange fate for a Welshman who was
actually touted as a possible future leader of a longed-for independent Wales.
The castle eventually passed to a different family line
when William’s daughter, Elizabeth, married Sir Charles Somerset. The Somerset family
then made various changes and improvements to the castle over the next 150
years until the English civil war broke out in 1642. The owner at that time,
Henry Somerset, was a royalist and he garrisoned the castle with 300 hundred
soldiers and heavy cannon. A formidable parliamentary army then laid siege and
the defence forces soon surrendered when even-heavier cannon was deployed in
range of the castle walls.
The triumphant General Fairfax of the parliamentary army
then ordered the castle to be slighted to the extent that it was no longer a
medieval fortress capable of being used in the war. Apparently, local folks
joined in the mayhem after the surrender and ate all the carp in the castle’s
fishponds. A somewhat ignoble thing to do, but hopefully their children had
full bellies that night.
A significant ruin still exists today and is a ghostly,
though romantic reminder of those turbulent times gone by. The spirit of old
William Thomas is said to roam the castle grounds on the nights of the full moon
in search of another heiress with a light heart and a heavy purse to help him
fund the next phase of the castle’s enduring story.