2 August 2019

Exploring Lamphey Palace in Pembrokeshire

One of the great things about living in Pembrokeshire is that I’m surrounded by fascinating history. Pembroke Castle, birthplace of the Tudors, is a twenty-minute drive away, and Lamprey Palace is a few miles to the east.

Originally home to the medieval bishops of St Davids, Lamphey Palace was built by Henry de Gower, bishop of St Davids from 1328 to 1347. Some thirty miles from St David’s Cathedral, the bishops used Lamphey as a country retreat, and within the walls were a grand great hall, fishponds, fruit orchards, gardens and a 144 acre deer park.

The western Old Hall and undercroft date to the early thirteenth century, with other buildings constructed throughout the late thirteenth and early fourteenth century, with later alterations.

In the woods on the western edge of the palace are the earthworks of four fish breeding ponds, and between this and the walled eastern court are the remains of a series of substantial fish holding ponds.

For me, the most interesting residents of Lamphey Palace were the early Tudors. The mysterious Edmund Tudor, Earl of Richmond and father of King Henry VII, used the palace as his base in Wales.

On 1st November 1455, the 26-year-old Edmund Tudor married 12 year old wealthy heiress Lady Margaret Beaufort at Lamphey Palace. It was said she wore a wedding gown embroidered with seed pearls in the shapes of daisies.

Edmund knew he could only secure his young wife’s vast inheritance once their marriage was consummated, so it is possible that his Palace at Lamphey was where the future King Henry VII was conceived.

I found it easy to imagine the teenage Lady Margaret walking in the shaded palace gardens. A devout Catholic, she would have appreciated the opulence of the bishop's chapel, with it's vivid wall paintings and statues of saints. Even by Tudor standards she was young to be carrying a child, and her slight build meant the delivery would be a dangerous time for her and her baby.

Earl Edmund never saw his son, as he was captured and imprisoned at nearby Carmarthen Castle. After his untimely death (murder?) he was buried in the Greyfriars Priory and his tomb was moved to St David’s Cathedral by his grandson, King Henry VIII, during the dissolution.

Lamphey Palace later became the home of another Tudor noble family, the earls of Essex, including the ill-fated Sir Walter Devereux, Earl of Essex and the first husband of Lettice Knollys. Sir Walter’s son, Sir Robert Devereux, was a favourite of Queen Elizabeth I, yet was found guilty of treason and, on 25 February 1601, beheaded on Tower Green (the last person to be beheaded in the Tower of London.)

During World War II, Lamphey also served as a barracks for American servicemen as they prepared for the Normandy Landings.

Today the ruins are a scheduled ancient monument which secured  Grade I Listed building status in 1970. Surrounded by countryside, well-tended lawns the site has free parking and admission, with a small visitor centre run by CADW, the Welsh Government's historic environment service.

Tony Riches

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