I have just returned from a weekend of exploring castles in West Wales, and I was so inspired by my trip that I felt I ought to write a post about some of my thoughts. I was born in Cardiff, and while I am familiar with some of the beautiful spots in South Wales, West Wales is altogether unfamiliar to me. But I know there are some great spots there, so it seemed like the ideal place to spend a weekend. Here are a few of my highlights.
As I made my way towards the Pembrokeshire coastline, I stopped in the town of Carmarthen. There was not much left of the castle to see, but it had cropped up whilst I was writing Elizabeth’s Rival, so I was still keen to see it. In appearance it’s rather disappointing, but that does not detract from its interest: it was at Carmarthen Castle that Walter Devereux, later the first husband of Lettice Knollys, was born. The Devereux’s held many lands in Wales, and Walter spent a great deal of his childhood at the former Bishop’s palace at Lamphey. But Carmarthen Castle isn’t where the connection between the town and Walter Devereux ends. When Walter died of dysentery in September 1576, his body was returned to Carmarthen for burial. His remains now lie in an unmarked grave in the church of St Peter in the town. It seems fitting that the town in which he began his life is now also the site of his final resting place.
Continuing with the Devereux theme, I also visited the ruins of Lamphey Palace, and I have to say that it has to be one of my favourite ever places. It is such a peaceful spot, and very different from the bustling town of Carmarthen. As I mentioned, Walter Devereux passed much of his childhood at Lamphey, and he would have lived in relative comfort and luxury. The ruins of Lamphey bear testament to the fact that it was once a sumptuous residence, and extensive too. Even in adulthood Walter returned here, and tradition states that following his marriage to Lettice Knollys the couple regularly holidayed at Lamphey with their children. I don’t believe that it is very likely that this was a regular occurrence – by now Walter’s main seat was in Staffordshire, and the journey between the two was long and arduous. It’s clear that Walter was fond of Lamphey, so it’s certainly possible that he did bring his family to visit on occasion, but certainly not with any frequency. Following Walter’s death, his eldest son, Robert, spent a great deal of time at his father’s childhood home, by all accounts in idleness! His mother, Lettice, was exceedingly unhappy about this, and Robert was eventually persuaded to leave his life in Wales behind. In the 1580s he ingratiated himself with Elizabeth I, but met a grisly end following a disastrous attempt to topple the Queen’s government in 1601.
On a final Devereux note, the spectacular ruins of Carew Castle, not far from Lamphey, blew me away. It was here that Walter Devereux and Lettice Knollys youngest daughter, Dorothy, spent some time during her first marriage to Thomas Perrot. It was a marriage that left Dorothy in disgrace with Queen Elizabeth, leaving her with no choice but to withdraw to the estates of her husband’s family. Dorothy’s father-in-law, Sir John Perrot, had undertaken a vast programme of improvements to Carew Castle, but sadly did not enjoy his home for long – he died a prisoner in the Tower of London in 1592. When Thomas Perrot died in 1594, Dorothy remarried, taking as her husband Henry Percy, Earl of Northumberland.