Usk lays on the edge of Norman Gwent and the Welsh kingdom of Caerleon. Orders for the motte and bailey Norman castle to be built there were given by Roger FitzWilliam, the son of William FitzOsbern the first lord of Striguil and the Conqueror’s standard-bearer. Unfortunately Roger got himself tangled up in the 1075 rebellion against King William and lost his estates which were taken back into crown hands until King Henry I gave the lordship away to Walter de Clare who also became the Lord of Striguil, Netherwent or Chepstow depending on what you want to call it.
After Walter’s death the Welsh reclaimed Usk Castle and it was only regained by the de Clare family briefly in 1170. Strongbow gave orders for a stone keep to be built in place of the wooden motte but it availed the Normans little as it was back in Welsh hands by 1174 – Strongbow being occupied in Ireland and Henry II being occupied by his family revolting.
The castle was back in Norman hands by 1185 – as was the priory down in the town which Strongbow had founded on the site of the Roman fortress of Burrium. The Crown held the castle for Strongbow’s daughter Isabel de Clare who was a sole heiress. In 1189 very shortly after Richard I became king William Marshal claimed her as his bride and Usk became part of his responsibility. In about 1212 he upgraded the fortifications with the so-called garrison tower which was round and built on French principles into the curtain wall. He also added some more comfortable domestic buildings including a solar and chamber – which Isabel may well have appreciated when she visited the castle.
After the death of William and all five of his and Isabel’s sons Usk passed into the hands of Richard de Clare the 6th Earl of Gloucester by right of his mother Isabel Marshal (yes a dispensation for the marriage between Isabel and Gilbert de Clare 4th Earl of Hertford was required.). The de Clares continued the building programme in 1289 when the North Tower was added to the castle but the new grand domestic dwellings were not completed before the death of Gilbert de Clare, 8th Earl of Gloucester in 1314 at Bannockburn.
Usk fell to the portion of the 8th earl’s youngest sister Elizabeth de Burgh who was married at the time to Edward II’s favourite Roger Damory. They continued the building work in the castle to make it more comfortable. Unfortunately in 1321 the whole edifice was given to Edward’s favourite Hugh Despenser the Younger whilst Elizabeth and her children were imprisoned at Barking Abbey. Following Despenser’s execution the castle was returned to Elizabeth in 1326. Just to round things off the castle eventually ended up in the hands of the Mortimer family through marriage. Eventually the castle passed from the Mortimers, by female inheritance, into the hands of Richard Duke of York (the one who gave battle in vain at Wakefield) – turning the castle into a royal property thanks to his sons Edward IV and Richard III. In time it passed into the hands of Prince Arthur (Henry VII’s eldest son) and then into the property portfolio of Katherine Parr.
The castle was a ruin by 1587 and being used as a quarry for dressed stone.