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History of Hay on Wye Castle

The history of the town and the Castle are inextricably bound together. The present Hay-on-Wye Castle, also known as Hay Castle, was built with the aim of being a great medieval defence structure on the border of England and Wales in the late 12th century, by the Norman Lord William de Braose. However it is also believed that the main fortress within the Castle complex was originally built over another older one, dating back to the onslaught of William Fitz Osberon in 1070 and belonging to Miles of Gloucester, 1st Earl of Hereford. The Castle could therefore be the oldest Norman tower in Wales. In 1165, when the last descendants of the 1st Earl of Hereford were killed, William de Braose, 3rd Lord of Bramber, became the new owner of the Castle. His son, who had the same name and was the 4th Lord of Bramber, was a great favourite of King John of England. He carried out the infamous ‘Abergavenny massacre’, murdering three Welsh Princes and other Welsh leaders under the pretext of inviting them to a Christmas dinner feast. After this deceit, the Welsh started referring to him as the ‘Ogre of Abergavenny’. He also killed King Philip II of France in the war of 1204. Although he was a favourite during King John’s early reign, becoming one of the most powerful nobles, he later fell mysteriously out of favour. So much so, that he had to flee to Ireland. Later he went back to Wales as an ally of King John’s enemy, the Welsh Prince Lllywelyn the Great, and helped him in his rebellion against the King. In 1210, William fled to France, where he died the following year. His wife and son were captured, and, it is said, that they were starved to death, while the town and Castle were burnt in 1216 by King John while trying to suppress the rebellion.

When William’s last heir was hanged by Prince Llywelyn ab Iorwerth in 1230, the ownership of the Castle was given to the de Bohuns. Prince Llywelyn ravaged Hay-on-Wye and burnt the town in 1231, however the Castle itself survived the onslaught. The town was rebuilt again by King Henry III, before being restored to the de Bohuns. During the Baron’s War, between 1263 and 1266, the Castle changed hands three times, being captured by Prince Edward in 1264, and even being surrendered to the 6th Earl of Leicester, Simon de Montford, in 1265. In 1322 the Castle was once again captured by Prince Edward’s forces and confiscated, and in 1353 both town and Castle were destroyed by fire during the rebellion of Owain Glyndwr, known as the last Prince of Wales, and declared to be in a ruinous state. The Castle was sacked repeatedly by both the English and the Welsh, which led to its eventual decay and abandonment, however in 1403, the Castle was once again considered to be defensible.

\During the later medieval period, the Castle passed into the hands of the Earls of Stafford. It was repaired and rebuilt during the 1460s. The Staffords later became Dukes of Buckingham during the War of the Roses. Before being executed by King Henry VIII, the last Duke remodelled the Keep. In the 1660s, James Boyce of Hereford, then owner of the land, constructed a new many-gabled Jacobean mansion on the North side of the Castle, and demolished most of the existing curtain wall to improve the view. In later years, this mansion attached to the Castle became a residence for the gentry. From 1825 until the end of the century, it served as a vicarage. It was severely damaged by a disastrous fire in 1939, and later restored. In the 1960s it was bought by Mr Richard Booth, who used it as a second hand bookstore. Another fire in 1977 also caused a lot of destruction, and today much of the building is little more than a shell open to the elements, though what remains of the outbuildings are still used as bookstores and stalls