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History of Powis Castle

Powis Castle was built circa 1200 by the Welsh prince Gwenwynwyn ap Owain, who held onto his kingdom despite his more powerful neighbours in Gwynedd and England. Famous for its mild climate and fertile soil, in the 12th century Powys was known as ‘the paradise of Wales’. By the 13th century, Llywelyn ap Grufydd of Gwynedd had established himself as Prince of Wales, and he destroyed the original castle and forced Gwenwynwyn ab Owain into exile. Later on however, Lyywelyn’s power crumbled and it was Gwenwynwyn ap Owain’s son Grufydd ap Gwenwynwyn, also known as Grufydd of Powys, who regained his lordship and rebuilt Powis Castle under King Henry III. After 1255, Llywelyn ap Grufydd once again rose to power, Grufydd ap Gwenwynwyn once again fled, this time to England, after being embroiled in a plot to assassinate him. In 1277 however, he was given his lands back.

At the end of the Welsh War of 1282-1283, the principality of Powys-Wenwynwyn was abolished and the family adopted the surname de la Pole. King Edward I permitted the Baron de la Pole to re-build Powis Castle.

By 1309, the lineage of Grufudd or de la Pole had disintegrated, as there was no male heir, and a female heiress became the owner of the castle. Hawys, the heiress, married Sir John Charlton, an Englishman from Shropshire. In 1312, Grufydd Fychan, Hawys’s uncle, attacked the castle in an attempt to claim it, however he was repelled and the castle was repaired after the attack. Following this, Sir Charlton fortified the castle further, building the great towers. His descendants continued as Lords of Powis for over 100 years, until in 1421, the lack of a male heir caused the castle and estate to be divided between the two daughters of the family, Joyce and Joan, who married Sir John Grey and Sir John Tiptoft respectively. In the 1530s, Edward Grey, Lord Powis, took possession of the whole castle and started the process of re-building it.

In 1578, Powis Castle was leased to Sir Edward Herbert, the second son of the Earl of Pembroke and Anne Parr (sister to Catherine Parr, the sixth wife of King Henry VIII). In 1587, he purchased the whole castle and estate outright. Generations of Herberts transformed Powis from a fortress into a manor house – a beautiful and comfortable home. The changes reflected the needs of the family, as each generation added to the magnificent collection of paintings, sculptures, furniture and tapestries. Since the Herberts were Royalists, in 1644 Parliamentary forces under Sir Thomas Myddelton captured the castle, which seems to have been garrisoned during the remainder of the Civil War. After the Restoration in 1660, the Castle once again needed extensive re-building and refurbishment.

The current garden surrounding the castle has its origins in the 1680s when William Herbert, 1st Marques of Powis, employed the architect William Winde to develop a series of terraces and formal grass slopes against the south-facing ridge. In 1688 however, the 1st Marques fled to France during the thirty-years-war, leaving the garden unfinished. His son, the 2nd Marques, returned to Britain in 1703 and continued the renovations, this time with the French gardener Adrian Duval.

In 1784, Henrietta Herbert married Edward Clive, son of Robert Clive, known as ‘Clive of India’. Like his father before him, Edward Clive was appointed Governor of Madras in 1798, and the whole family lived in India for three years. After they came back to Wales, the Clives took over the complete refurbishment of the gardens and estate, also establishing a superb collection of artefacts they brought with them from India and the Far East.

At present, the medieval Castle contains one of the finest collections of paintings and furniture in Wales, as well as rich and diversified landscaped gardens. It is currently under the care of the National Trust, as of 1952, however it was also used as a private home up until 1988.