Wales is a country steeped in myth and legend. Ancient tales passed down through generations tell of strange creatures that once roamed the hills and valleys, lurked in the watery depths of rivers and lakes or inhabited the wild rocky shores. Here we share the story of the Barbary Ape of Carew Castle.
Part Norman fortress, part Tudor mansion, Carew castle is one of the most architecturally interesting historic sites in Pembrokeshire. Home to people of power and influence for almost 1000 years, the castle has seen its fair share of turbulent times, giving rise to tales of beautiful princesses, fierce warriors and terrifying ghosts. But perhaps its darkest tale is that of Sir Rowland Rees and his Barbary ape.
Legend has it that the adventurous Sir Rowland had travelled the world before moving to the castle sometime in the 18th Century – it was even rumoured he had been a pirate. A man renowned for his terrible temper, Sir Rowland had acquired an equally bad-tempered Barbary ape on his travels which he had aptly named Satan. Although the ape had been trained to respond commands whistled by his master, it was an otherwise unruly beast which Sir Rowland kept chained-up in the north-west tower.
The wild ape’s presence in the castle no more than a curiosity until one dark and stormy night when an angry local merchant called to confront Sir Rowland. The merchant, a man named Horowitz, was furious that Sir Roland’s son had eloped with his beloved daughter. As the terrible storm raged outside, the two men argued, their shouts barely audible above the wind and rain that swirled around the battlements. The argument continued for hours until the terrified servants below stairs suddenly heard piercing screams coming from Sir Rowland’s quarters. Rushing upstairs, the servants found the badly injured Horowitz lying in a pool of blood, barely clinging to life and Satan the unchained ape running frantically around the room. Fortunately, the servants managed to drag the merchant to safety, albeit whilst being berated for interfering by a furious Sir Rowland. After tending to his wounds, the servants carried the unfortunate Horowitz home to recover.
But the terror of that stormy night didn’t end there. As the wind howled around the castle into the early hours, the servants once again heard blood-curdling screams. Terrified and fearful of their master’s temper, this time the servants were reluctant to intervene. Only when they saw flames at Sir Rowland’s window did they once again hurry upstairs and try to extinguish the fire. It was then that they came across a gruesome sight: the bloodied body of Sir Rowland Rees lying motionless on the floor. However, this time, Satan the ape was nowhere to be seen. In fact, he was never seen again from that day to this – except, it is said, on dark, stormy nights when the shadowy figure of a huge ape can be seen running along the battlements.