Carew Castle, located in Pembrokeshire, Wales, has an intriguing and notable history. Although originally a Norman creation – and one that was added to, and modified in varying degrees, over the centuries – evidence exists to suggest the area on which the ancient castle was built was seen as having prime strategic and military advantage as far back as 20 B.C. It’s also said to be the haunt of a spectral ape. While a number of reports exist – and which span four centuries, no less – of people seeing, hearing, or sensing the presence of the spectral monster, among the biggest questions are: how, and under what particular circumstances, did the legend surface? And: what was, and maybe still is, the true nature of the beast? For the answers, we have to travel back in time to the 1600s and the actions of the castle’s then-lord, Sir Roland Rhys, who could boast of being nothing less than a fully-fledged, former pirate of near-Jack Sparrow proportions.
So the tale goes, on one of his sea-fearing adventures, Rhys acquired a “Barbary ape” – or, given that it is actually a monkey and not an ape – a Barbary macaque, its correct but less well-utilized title. Living on Gibraltar, and on the Atlas Mountains of Algeria and Morocco, Barbary apes are not large animals, by any stretch of the imagination. Averaging around only two-and-a-half feet in height and two stone in weight when fully grown, there is not much chance of such an animal being mistaken for Bigfoot. Or is there? Witnesses to the Carew creature have, as early as 1801 and as late as 1969, described the hairy fiend as a shadowy, bulky, gorilla-like animal, which is absolutely at complete odds with what the old tales tell us about the nature of the animal that is believed to have provoked the legend in the first place. But, before we jump the proverbial gun, let us return to the saga of Sir Roland Rhys, who – with some hindsight – sounds very much like the cruel and maniacal Hugo Baskerville of The Hound of the Baskervilles infamy.
A bad tempered drunk, and one with a deep propensity for violence, bullying and cruel humor, Rhys would host huge banquets, invite friends and local dignitaries over to dine with him, and then mercilessly taunt them, goad them, and pummel them with insults. And, more often than not on such nights, he would parade, for one and all to see, his very own macaque, which went by the memorable moniker of – wait for it – Satan. By all accounts, Satan was highly intelligent, devious, cunning, and could eerily mimic Rhys’ laughter which he, Satan, would also direct at Rhys’ guests – many of whom were highly fearful of the wild beast that would appear in their midst dressed in nothing less than butler-style, posh garb. And, no: I am not making this up!
Legend suggests that it was a dark, stormy, rainy, and wind-filled night (in a saga like this, could it really have been anything less?) when there was a loud and echoing knock on the old, mighty, wooden door of Carew Castle. Rhys, blind drunk on a staggering amount of spirits even by his impressive standards, made his stumbling way to the door. He was confronted by a Flemish tradesman who, having rented land in the area from Rhys, brought over his rent money which was then overdue by several days. Or, rather, the man had brought part of the money with him. Hard times had unfortunately befallen the man and he pleaded with Rhys to be given a few more days to try and get the outstanding payment together. Rhys, unsurprisingly for such a cold character, was having none of it whatsoever – not only because of the money issue, but also because Rhys’ son was seeing the man’s daughter, a relationship upon which Rhys deeply frowned. So, he took a most different approach to resolving the matter. It was a terrible and bloody approach, too.
In a fashion that eerily paralleled the scene in The Hound of the Baskervilles where Hugo of that name lets loose his pack of hunting dogs on the daughter of a local yeoman who has dared to snub his – Hugo’s – advances, Rhys loosened the chains that kept the monkey from roaming too freely and wildly, and goaded it to attack the petrified man – which it duly did, tearing into his flesh in a savage and violent fashion. Fortunately, the man managed to escape the clutches of the laughing, dwarfish, hairy butler. He staggered out of the door, weak, dizzy and disoriented from both shock and significant blood loss, and collapsed in a helpless heap in the grounds of the castle. Even more fortunately, a kindly servant – one hardly enamored by the violent actions of his master and his attendant hairy fiend – bandaged the man’s wounds and intended on giving him shelter in his own quarters until the turbulent storm finally subsided. But the night’s calamitous events were not yet over. The main-course was just about to surface.
As the servant helped the man gain his footing and guide him to shelter and safety, loud cries and crazed laughter broke out in the main dining hall. The servant raced to the room and was faced with a terrifying sight: by the time the man flung open the door, Rhys was dead, his throat brutally torn open – and not at all unlike that of Hugo Baskerville in Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s novel, when he was attacked and killed by the glowing-eyed, fiendish dog of the book’s title. The body of Satan, somewhat appropriately, when one takes into consideration the name of the maniacal monkey, was burning fiercely in the great, stone fireplace that dominated the room. But, neither creature nor master was destined to stay quiet for long. Even the very grave itself could not contain them. To this day, their hysterical cackling, maniacal laughter, and spectral forms, continue to be heard and seen in and around Carew Castle – and particularly so on wild and windy nights that so closely resemble the long gone thunderous eve upon which alcohol-fueled Sir Roland Rhys and savage, mad Satan met their infernal, terrible ends.