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History of Powis Castle

View of the East Front at Powis Castle and Garden, Wales
View of the East Front at Powis Castle and Garden | © National Trust Images/James Dobson

Famous for its mild climate, fertile soil and gently rolling hills, in the 12th century, the kingdom of Powys was already known as 'the paradise of Wales'. Discover more about the historic past of Medieval Powis Castle.

Medieval origins of Powis Castle

Powis Castle was built in the mid-13th century by a Welsh prince - Gruffudd ap Gwenwynwyn - wanting to establish his independence from his traditional enemies, the aggressive princes of Gwynedd (North Wales).

This is in contrast to the other castles of North Wales (such as Caernarfon, Harlech and Conwy) which built by the English to consolidate Edward I’s conquest of Wales.

Exile and rebuild

By the late 13th century, Llywelyn ap Gruffudd of Gwynedd had established himself as Prince of Wales, and in 1274 he destroyed Powis Castle, forcing Gruffudd ap Gwenwynwyn into exile.

However, within three years Llywelyn’s principality had crumbled leaving Gruffudd of Powys able to regain his lordship and rebuild the castle.

An heiress

Gruffudd, his son and grandson had all died by 1309, and with no male heir, the castle and lordship passed to an heiress, Hawise, who married Sir John Charlton from Shropshire.

In 1312, Hawise’s uncle, Gruffudd Fychan, attacked the castle in an attempt to claim the lordship but failed. Charlton repaired the damage and built two great drum towers, which you can still see, either side of the castle’s west entrance.

An image of a large stone statue of Fame created around 1705 by Andries Carpentiere, set on the lawn outside the west front of Powis Castle in Wales which is just in the background
The statue of Fame (c1705) by Andries Carpentiere and the west front of Powis Castle in Wales | © National Trust Images/Andrew Butler

Charlton Lords

Descendants of the Charltons continued as Lords of Powis for over 100 years.

In 1421, lack of a male heir resulted in the castle and estate being divided between two daughters, Joyce and Joan, who had married Sir John Grey and Sir John Tiptoft.

Greys and Tiptofts

Under the Tiptofts and their successor, Lord Dudley, the Outer Ward of the castle was neglected and needed considerable restoration.

Luckily, in the 1530s Edward Grey, Lord Powis, took possession of the whole castle and began a major re-building programme that made Powis the most imposing noble residence in North and Central Wales.

A Herbert lease

In 1578, Powis was leased to Sir Edward Herbert (c.1542–95), the second son of William Herbert, 1st Earl of Pembroke and Anne Parr (sister of Catherine Parr, the sixth wife of Henry VIII).

As a second son Edward was not likely to inherit his family home so he had to make his own way in the world. In 1587, he purchased the castle and estate and it remained in the hands of the Herbert family until 1952 when George, 4th Earl of Powis, bequeathed the castle and gardens to the National Trust.

George’s modernisation

George Herbert, great-grandson of Edward Clive (Clive of India), had inherited the title of 4th Earl of Powis (3rd creation) along with the castle and estate back in 1891.

Together he and his wife, Violet, focused on remodelling the castle and garden.

State of the art additions

In 1902 George began modernising the castle, introducing electric lighting and a state of the art hot-water central heating system.

At the same time he worked with the architect G.F.Bodley to reinstate 17th Century style décor in many of the state rooms, which he thought was more in keeping with the medieval castle.

17th century style decor

You can still see examples of George and Bodley’s work in the castle today particularly in the State Dining room, the Oak Drawing Room and the Duke’s Room.

The wood-panelled State Dining Room at Powis Castle, Powys, Wales, with a long dining table and chairs on a mainly red carpet. Portraits are hung on the walls, with a portrait of Violet Lane Fox, Countess of Powis, by Ellis Roberts to the left.
The State Dining Room at Powis Castle, Powys, Wales. Portrait of Violet Lane Fox, Countess of Powis by Ellis Roberts to the left. | © National Trust Images/James Dobson

A golden era

In the Edwardian period the estate was at its height, and important guests arrived every weekend throughout the winter season including, in November 1909, the Prince and Princess of Wales.

However, this golden era was not to last and sadly, George suffered three family tragedies.

Tragedy strikes

In 1916 his elder son, Percy, was fatally wounded on the Somme; in 1929 Violet died after a car accident and in 1942, his younger son, Mervyn was killed in an aeroplane crash during active service.

With no direct heir to the castle, on his death bed in 1952, George bequeathed Powis to the nation, in the care of the National Trust.

Facade of Powis Castle showing the sequence of garden terraces below featuring massive clipped yews at Powis Castle and Garden, Wales

Discover more at Powis Castle and Garden

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