Neath Castle & Abbey

Neath Castle & Abbey, Glamorgan


Castle Street, Neath




SA11 3LU

Neath Castle can be found in the centre of the town, located next to a supermarket car park, now used as a small recreational area. There is little that remains of the castle except its twin-towered gate house.

By far more interesting is the abbey that is located nearby which is a fantastic place to explore with easy access from the road where there is plenty of parking.

~ History ~

1120's ~ The first castle earthworks are built by Richard de Granville,  to protect an important crossing point of the river. The site is chosen next to the Roman fort of Nidum who also recognised its importance.

However, the site is abandoned quite quickly. Richard founds Neath Abbey next to it.

1180's ~ A motte and bailey castle is built to replace the early abandoned castle due to the growing threat of the Welsh. The castle is beseiged by

Caradoc ap Iestyn, Lord of Afan.

1231 ~ Llywelyn the Great attacks and destroys the castle.

The castle is rebuilt in stone by Richard de Clare.

Neath Castle comes in to the possession of Sir Hugh le Despenser the Younger via his marriage to Eleanor de Clare. He is a royal courtier and a favourite of King Edward II of England. His greed and ruthlessness makes him unpopular with a long and growing list of enemies, including Queen Isabella herself.

1258 ~ Llywelyn the Great returns and destroys the town.

1321 ~ The castle is captured and badly damaged by the Welsh and then Humphrey de Bohun, 4th Earl of Hereford.

Hugh is exiled. The barons take their revenge out on Glamorgan and undertake a ten day raid that damaged much of the area. The barons end up falling out with each other and so King Edward II takes advantage of this situation by ordering the return of his favourite.

1322 ~ Sir Hugh Despenser returns from exile. He refortifies the castle to include a twin-towered gatehouse. The King secures the surrender of Marcher Lord Roger Mortimer, and the defeat and execution of the Earl of Lancaster, the Despensers' chief opponents. King Edward quickly reinstates Sir HughDespenser as royal favourite.

Mortimer is retained in the Tower of London despite Sir Hugh's repeated demands to have him executed. Mortimer however eventually escapes the tower, with help, and flees to France.

During this time Sir Hugh Despenser is accused of a number of crimes against powerful barons including;

Theft from Relatives - Despenser seizes the Welsh lands of his wife's inheritance, ignoring the claims of his two brothers-in-law and cheats his sister-in-law Elizabeth de Clare out of Gower and Usk.

Theft - forces Alice de Lacy, Countess of Lincoln, to give up her lands,

Torture - he has Lady Baret's arms and legs broken until she goes insane.

Murder - unlawfully killing a prisoner, Llweyn Bren, who is awaiting trial

Piracy - during his exile he becomes a pirate in the English Channel,

"a sea monster, lying in wait for merchants as they crossed the sea".

False Imprisonment & Death Threats - he imprisons Sir William Cokerell in the Tower of London, where Cokerell was forced to pay to save his life

Accusations of sodomy

1326 ~ Hugh le Despenser the Younger tries to starve himself before his trial. Despenser is then tied firmly to a ladder, and—in full view of the crowd, has his genitals sliced off and burned in his still-conscious sight, then his entrails slowly pulled out, and, finally, his heart cut out and thrown into the fire.

Finally, his corpse is beheaded, his body cut into four pieces, and his head mounted on the gates of London.

1377 ~ The castle is repaired and continues to serve as a minor castle and administrative centre.