The Castle…shaped by the 'best knight who ever lived'

Standing on a hill overlooking the town of Usk, on a site probably already used for many centuries to guard the river crossing, the castle was first mentioned in 1138, and the Norman gatehouse was probably built in the C12 by the de Clare family.

Giraldus visited Usk in 1188 to recruit support for the second crusade, and by offering to pardon those in prison if they joined, met with some success.

The castle was strengthened by William Marshall, who had proved himself in tournaments sufficiently to marry Isabella, a de Clare heiress.

He was famous for his skill in castle building – Pembroke, Chepstow to name just a few - so the design for the Garrison Tower at Usk, where the wall-walk passes the tower to give it greater protection, was likely to be his work. Created the Fourth Earl of Pembroke, he was still leading his men into battle when he was over 70. His fame was assured when, on his death in 1219, the Archbishop of Canterbury said, 'Behold the remains of the best knight who ever lived.'

Usk Castle was further strengthened by succeeding generations, the outer wall and gatehouse built and a new gate to the Inner Ward replacing the original Keep gateway. Through some serious political manoeuvring on their part it fell into the hands of the notorious Despenser family, as Hugh, the younger son got his hands on more lands in South Wales.

Elizabeth de Burgh (sister-in-law to despenser), the rightful heir after her father Gilbert was killed at the Battle of Bannockburn, was tricked into accepting Gower instead. However, on the death of Edward ll she regained her estates and celebrated by holding a magnificent Christmas feast in 1326.  By the time of her death in 1360 she had spent a great deal of money repairing and improving the castle.

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