MANY of Wales’ castles have interesting history behind them and one of Gwent’s castles is no exception – with a gruesome tale that wouldn't be out of place in an episode of Game of Thrones.

Abergavenny Castle was built towards the end of the 11th century, believed to be around 1097 by Hamelin de Ballon.

Less than a century after it was built, the castle was the scene of a disturbing Christmas Day massacre in 1175, in which around 75 Welshmen were killed.

Norman lord William de Braose inherited the castle and invited the former owner – Welsh chieftain Sitsyllt ap Dyfnwal - along with his his son Gruffudd and other leaders to a banquet to ‘hear a royal proclamation.’

Unfortunately for Sitsyllt and the rest of the attendees, this was a ruse that they all fell for.

According to custom, the Welsh contingent left their weapons at the door as a sign of peace. After being seated in the banquet hall on tables laden with food, de Braose stood to welcome his guests to Abergavenny Castle and goblets were passed around before a proclamation was read out that angered the Welshmen – it forbade them carrying weapons while travelling.

A pre-arranged signal was then given and armed men led by Ranulph Poer rushed into the hall and slaughtered the Welsh visitors before Normans kidnapped Sitsyllt’s wife Gwladus and killed their son Cadwaladr, who was just seven years old at the time.

It is said in accounts of the massacre – recorded in Chris Barber’s book The Seven Hills of Abergavenny: "Without their weapons they were unable to defend themselves and were savagely cut to pieces. Their blood mingled with the wine that they had been drinking and one by one they fell to stone floor until the massacre was complete".

Mr Barber also reports that it is believed one of the Welshman – Prince Iorwerth of Caerleon - managed to escape.


But why did this occur?

The castle was in a strategic place on the border between England and Wales and had been given to the Normans by consecutive monarchs to try and keep the ‘rebellious’ Welsh subdued.

Following the massacre, Gerald of Wales explained that de Braose had wanted revenge because Sitsyllt had killed his uncle Henry – the castle’s previous occupier before Sitsyllt captured the castle –three years earlier in 1172.

After being in control of the castle for a period of time, Sitsyllt handed it back to the Normans and to de Braose himself after being persuaded by Welsh prince Lord Rhys, brother of Sitsyllt.