Lamphey Bishops Palace

In medieval times Bishops were regarded as Princes of the Church and, as such, were accorded almost the same level of respect as Royal personages.

They had splendid palaces placed at convenient intervals throughout their dioceses so that they could travel from one to the other relatively quickly and in great safety and comfort.

There are the remains of three in the Pembrokeshire sector of the Diocese of St Davids, and their scale and grandeur demonstrate just how elevated and pampered the Bishops were.

Lamphey Palace, near Pembroke, is one of these, situated about a day’s ride along the rudimentary roads of those times from the other two at Abergwili, Camarthen, and Llawhaden near Narberth.

Lamphey, which appears to have been a favourite country residence of the Bishops of St Davids, is a magnificent ruin, which came under the care of the Ministry of Works in 1925 and is now looked after, maintained and managed by CADW, the successor to that authority. Between the early 13th century and the mid 14th century three ranges of this fine edifice were built, each one larger than the previous one. There were two courtyards with the main complex to the south east, at the centre of which is the earliest surviving part, the early 13th century Old Hall. Adjoining it is the larger and grander Western Hall, probably added by Bishop Richard Carew who ‘reigned’ between 1256 and 1280. The long-range to the east is distinctive for its arcaded parapet attributed to Bishop Henry de Gower (1328-47), similar examples of which are to be seen at the Bishop’s Palace at St Davids and on the ruined Castle in Swansea city centre.

The Bishops certainly lived a privileged life, with every convenience and comfort. They banqueted on the produce of the fertile farm fields and gardens surrounding the palace and supplemented their diet of meat and crops with fish reared in the fishpond outside the south walls. An inventory of 1536 mentions 27 rooms and the palace must have had a huge staff of cooks, gardeners, bodyguards and servants. The dissolution, however, changed things and the Bishops lost much of their princely status, and their land and buildings.

Lamphey Palace was surrendered to the Crown in 1546, and granted to the local nobleman Richard Devereux, whose heirs, the Earls of Essex, held it for 100 years until the Civil War, when it was garrisoned by Cromwell’s roundheads providing Pembroke with stores. Another noble family, the Owens of Orielton, bought it in 1683 and rather neglected the fabric, using the palace as farm buildings. It was not until the wealthy Squire Charles Mathias of Llangwarren, near Mathry, bought it in 1821 and converted it into a secluded walled garden, that the buildings were once more carefully repaired and maintained. The Mathias family also acquired from the Owens, nearby Lamphey Court (now a hotel) which they demolished and built a magnificent mansion where the family lived until 1978, running a productive  vineyard.

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