The mysteriously abandoned Pennard Castle and the faeries’ curse

The famous 12th-century castle passed from the Broase clan to the houses of Mowbray, Despenser, and Beauchamp. But why was it abandoned so mysteriously? Was it the advancing dunes or the curse of the Fairies that caused the castle to be abandoned?

Pennard Castle is shrouded in mystery and folklore, with very little known about its origins and history. Located in the Gower Peninsula in South Wales, this ruined castle has been the subject of many tales and legends, most notably the tale of the “faeries’ curse”.

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A depiction of the castle from the north-east in 1741. © Wikimedia Commons

The ruins we see today are all that is left of this once a grand castle, as its history records have been lost in the mists of time due to the political turmoil and an uneasy rule of Anglo-Norman barons of its era.

A small settlement grew up near the Castle, complete with a local church called St. Mary’s, but there is no sign of it now. Only a portion of the church’s single wall remains standing in the east of the castle ruins.

The Castle, which dates from the 12th century, was a primitive structure. It was presumably built by Henry de Beaumont, first Earl of Warwick or Henry de Newburgh, who was awarded the lordship of Gower, and comprised of wood defenses with a bank, ditch, and a primitive stone hall.

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Pennard castle on the Gower peninsula, overlooking Three Cliffs Bay, Swansea. © Istock/leighcol

It is uncertain exactly when Pennard Castle was deserted, however, by the year 1400, there was no one living in the castle. Nobody else ever moved in, most likely due to its declining state.

What happened to the castle and the village? Pennard was never attacked, according to ancient records, so why was it abandoned? The only possible answer lies in the dunes that have engulfed the whole region and demolished the Castle’s soft rock walls, making living conditions intolerable. It is uncertain when Pennard was abandoned, although the church was no longer in service in 1532.

According to legend, the Castle’s lord once refused the local faeries permission to dance at his wedding reception. The enraged small people unleashed a big storm, demolishing the structure.

The owner was a violent and vicious Baron who everyone feared. His fighting power and gallantry were legendary across Wales. His adversaries would never dare to approach his Castle. He spent his time here drinking and depravity.

War was raging in the kingdom, and the King of Gwynedd, Lord of Snowdonia, dispatched a message to the Baron, pleading for assistance. The Baron, eager for a battle and clever enough to perceive a profit opportunity, returned the messenger to the King, demanding a reward.

The King was desperate; his opponents were gathering an enormous army in the east, and he feared his reign would be lost shortly. The messenger returned promptly to the Baron’s Castle.

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Pennard castle, Gower. © Wikimedia Commons

“Well,” bellowed the Baron. “What does your Lord and Master offer that I may take his side in this matter?” “My master commands me to give you this,” he replied, handing the Baron a scroll with a royal seal.

Beaumont constructed the castle on a limestone promontory protected by the north and west cliffs. Originally, the structure was an oval ringwork, including a ditch and ramparts around a courtyard containing a hall. Today, only the hall’s foundations remain visible from this early fortification.

The Baron triumphed in this crucial fight and rode to Caernarfon Castle, where there were huge celebrations. The King was still adamant about rewarding his valiant knight. The King guaranteed to reward the Baron with anything he desired if they won the battle.

“What prize shall you have?” he asked the Baron, ready to empty his treasury. “Name it, and it is yours.” “You have a beautiful daughter, Sire. She will be my reward,” answered the Baron.

The King was upset; this was not the agreement he had hoped for, but he had already committed. The King’s daughter was beautiful but she was also simple and impressionable.

Some claimed her friends were faeries and she spent her days conversing with them. The Baron’s demand delighted her, and she consented to marry him. The King bade her farewell with a heavy heart.

When the Baron arrived at Pennard Castle, he ordered a large feast. The festivities quickly devolved into drinking among both men and women. The Baron, drunk and passionate, seized the princess and brought her to his apartments, determined to have her. There was no discussion of holding a wedding ceremony beforehand. She submitted, intoxicated and overwhelmed by the Baron’s strength.

The guards cried out unexpectedly. “An army has arrived in Pennard.” The Baron dashed to the battlements, where he saw a swarm of lamps rushing toward his castle. He grabbed his sword and dashed out the door to confront the intruders. As he rushed through the intruders, he slashed right and left, slashing and swinging. As he fought, his sword became heavy, and his arms burned with pain from the exertion, until he could no longer fight. The lights surrounded him, and he continued slicing and chopping.

Finally, tired, he dropped to his knees, staring at the blinking lights dancing around him, and imagined he saw the faint glint of gossamer wings.

The same night a mountain of sand blew in from the sea. It wasn’t an army, but a swarm of faeries who had come to join in the wedding festivities. As he stood there watching, the wind blew the faeries away, and a violent storm began to batter his Castle. The Castle, the Baron, and the Princess vanished.

According to another legend, the castle was built by a sorcerer to protect himself from death from the invading Normans. He is said to have invoked a winged demon called Gwrach-y-rhibyn, who will not allow mortals to spend the night in the castle walls. Legends tell of her attacking anyone who tries to sleep in the castle with her claws and long blackened teeth.

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Dramatic sweeping psychedelic skies caught with a long exposure over Pennard castle on the Gower peninsula, Swansea. © leighcol/Istock

The story of the Baron, the Princess, and the faeries is one that has been passed down for generations and is a fascinating legend that captures the imagination.

The ruins of the Pennard Castle hold a special place in Welsh history, and the mystery surrounding the disappearance of the Baron and the Princess only adds to the intrigue. If you ever get the chance to visit the ruins, you will find yourself transported back in time and immersed in the rich folklore and ancient history of Wales.