Advent Calendar of Castles: December 16th: Dolwyddelan Castle

 

dolwyddelan1dolwyddelan2dolwyddelan3My second purely Welsh castle. Dolwyddelan now stands on a farm guarding the Lledr Valley.

Like Dolbadarn, Dolwyddelan has very little documentary evidence. There is a tradition that Llywelyn the Great was born here, but more recent research has shown that there are other more likely locations.

Dolwyddelan was in fact probably built by Llywelyn the Great in c. 1200. It is part of his circle of mountain castles protecting the passes, Dolbadarn is another.

There is no documentary history before the conquest of Edward I except for a letter that Llywelyn the Last signed from here in 1275. Edward I besieged the castle in in 1282 until it was captured on January 1st 1283. His men wore white to be camouflaged in all the snow. The castle was sold in 1488 and by 1848 it was in ruins and in the hands of Lord Willoughby de Eresby. It was under his ownership that the keep was restored to its present condition.

The original keep would have only been two stories and the third story and the wall walk were possibly added under Edward I, the battlements and the wall walk were reconstructed by de Eresby. The west tower was also added later, possibly under Edward I.

References:

Site visit 2012

Wales Castles and Historic places: 9781850130307

Castles in wales: 9781847710314

http://cadw.gov.wales/daysout/dolwyddelan-castle/?lang=en

 

The photos are mine.

Advent Calendar of Castles:December 15th: Dolbadarn Castle

 

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Dolbadarn is the first purely Welsh castle on this list and it still sits on the hill guarding Llyn Padarn. This impressive little keep would have had total command over the Llanberis pass.

While there is no documentary evidence of Dolbadarn before Edward I’s conquest it was most likely built by Llywelyn the Great in the mid 12th century. Llywelyn mostly likely built the castle to guard the path between Caernarfon and the upper Conwy Valley. The striking circular tower is the central figure of this castle, but it would not have stood alone. There are several building surrounding it, though not much remains. There was probably a great hall, a curtain wall and mostly likely two towers guarding the western and southern approaches to the castle.

The keep itself is very well constructed and still stands at an impressive 50 feet tall. It was probably modelled on castles built by the Marcher lords, but intriguingly the door is believed to have had a portcullis at some point, which is unusual for a castle of this size and age. Additionally it had three stories, unusual in a Welsh castle, and even more oddly the stair reverses its spiral to reach the battlements, which don’t exist anymore. The reason for this reversal is not known.

Dolbadarn is best known as the castle where Llywelyn the Last most likely held his brother Owain captive for more than 20 years from c. 1255 until Llywelyn’s first defeat at the hands of Edward I when Owain was released and given lands in Llyn.

Once Llywelyn was killed in 1282 his younger brother Dafydd tried to keep fighting but he failed. He issued his last documents as Prince of Wales and Lord of Snowdon from Dolbadarn in 1283. He was captured at the castle and taken to Shrewsbury where he was hanged drawn and quartered on the 2nd of October 1283.

Dolbadarn came into Edward I’s hands, but apart from some minor repairs he largely left it alone and it sank out of history.

References:

Site visit 2012

Wales Castles and Historic places: 9781850130307

Castles in wales: 9781847710314

http://cadw.gov.wales/daysout/dolbadarncastle/?lang=en

 

The photos are all mine.

Advent Calendar of Castles: December 14th:Criccieth

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Criccieth Castle perches on top of a headland pushing out to sea.

It is an amalgam between a Welsh Castle and castle of Edward I. The original castle at Criccieth was built by Llywelyn the Great sometime between 1230 and his death in 1240. The remains of this original castle are now the inner ward and inner gate house, and it was probably modelled on the castle built by Hugh de Burgh at Montgomery. They certainly have a very similar design in gatehouses.

Under Llywelyn the Great’s grandson Llywelyn the Last, Criccieth was enlarged with the curtain wall significantly extended and the south west tower and north west tower, which would have had a trebuchet mounted on it, constructed.

When Llywelyn the Last was killed in 1282 the remaining welsh castles rapidly fell to Edward I. Criccieth was in English hands by the 14th of March 1283. Under Edward I there was a significant quantity of work undertaken on the castle. He constructed the south east tower and heavily remodelled the remainder of the castle.

Criccieth was also used as a prison. Llywelyn the Great’s illegitimate son Gruffudd was imprisoned there, for rebellion, by Llywelyn’s legitimate son and heir Dafydd when Dafydd inherited Llywelyn’s lands. Gruffudd was held there with his son Owain from 1239 until 1241 when Dafydd suffered a defeat at the hands of Henry III and had to hand the prisoners over to his cousin the English king. Gruffudd died three years later in an attempt to escape the Tower of London. Criccieth again served as a prison when Maredudd ap Rhys Gryg rebelled against Llywelyn the Last and was imprisoned in Criccieth from 1258-1259.

Edward II also added to the castle, but it was at the hands of Owain Glyndwr’s forces that Criccieth met its final fate. Criccieth at the time was held by the English and it was one of several castles that capitulated to Glyndwr’s forces in c. 1404. The castle and the town were burnt. The castle was never rebuilt although the town did recover slowly. However, without the castle the town ceased to be a garrison town and eventually became wholly Welsh.

References:

Site visit 2012:

Cadw: Criccieth Castle: 9781857602913

http://cadw.gov.wales/daysout/criccieth-castle/?lang=en

Advent Calendar of Castles: 13th of December: Caernarfon

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Caernarfon isn’t the largest or the most expensive of Edward I’s castles, but for my money it is probably the most striking.  Conwy is more impressive in many ways and Beaumaris more intricate, but the sheer immense bullishness of Caernarfon is literally breath taking, not necessarily in a good way. Edward I’s castle wasn’t the first castle on this site. The motte of Hugh Earl of Chester’s original motte and bailey castle,  built in 1088, was included inside the 1283 castle.

This was a castle that Edward I had begun after the defeat of Llywelyn the Last, the grandson of Llywelyn the Great, in 1282. Caernarfon, as an area, has a strong Roman and Welsh mythic history with the old Roman fort of Segontium on the hill above today’s town. The fort was associated with the legend of Magnus Maximus, a real usurping Roman Emperor, who became the figure of Macsen Wledig in the collection of 13th century Welsh tales known as the Mabinogion. In the Mabinogion, Macsen Wledig has a dream and describes journeying to a land of high mountains facing an island and

“at the mouth of the river he saw a great castle, the fairest that anyone had seen, and he saw the castle gate was open, and he came into the castle. He saw a hall in the castle. He thought that the roof-tiles of the hall were all of gold. The sides of the hall he thought to be of valuable, sparkling stones.”

It has been argued that Edward I used this legend in his construction of Caernarfon to help cement his own position within Welsh mythology. While the walls are not golden they are quite intentionally built with different coloured patterned stone, which is something that is done at none of his other castles. The walls and towers are also angular and this is unique amongst his other castles, which all boast circular towers. It has been argued that the walls have been built to resemble the walls of Constantinople because in the Welsh tradition Macsen Wledig has been interpreted as being the father of Constantine. It was also claimed that the body of Macsen Wledig was found in the building of the castle and it was suggested in various chronicles that Caernarfon was the site of the tomb of Constantine the Great.

Caernarfon’s mythic past aside its curtain wall is what makes it so dramatic. It’s a single curtain wall, but it is massive as there are no other outer defenses. The highest point of the castle is the Eagle Tower, so called because of the carved Roman eagles mounted on top, which stands at an astonishing 128 feet high. Given its history as a place of a conqueror I have to say I was very pleased to see the Welsh flag flying over Caernarfon.

References:

Site visit 2012

Wales Castles and Historic places: 9781850130307

Castles in wales: 9781847710314

Edward I by Michael Prestwich

http://www.mabinogion.info/maxen.htm

Advent Calendar of Castles: December 12th: Beaumaris

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Beaumaris stands on the Island of Anglesea looking across the Menai Straits and it was to control these straits that Edward I had Beaumaris built in c. 1295. It was the last of his ring of castles and was built largely in response to the rebellion of Madog ap Llywelyn. It is the largest and the most sophisticated of Edward I’s castles, probably because there was no existing structure on the site to try and build around or on top of. The native population of the area of Llanfaes was forced to move prior to the construction of the castle. It is a concentric castle with walls within walls and, something that is actually quite unusual in medieval castles, a moat that holds water.  The moat was 18 feet wide and actually had a tidal port at one side that would allow for ships to come right up to the castle for trade. The curtain wall around the moat boasts 16 towers and the massive 3 quarters of an acre of the inner ward is guarded by an interior wall boasting a further 6 towers and 2 gatehouses. This castle was virtually impenetrable before the age of cannon.  Ironically the castle is not complete. The towers were intended to be three stories not two.

Beaumaris has actually seen very little battle. Owain Gwndyr’s supporters held the castle for two years, 1403-1405, while the locals in the unwalled town that had developed around the castle suffered immensely in attempts to take the castle. It also did play a small role in the Civil War in the 17th century being held by royalists, then surrendered, then taken, then surrendered again. After that the castle largely stayed out of any historical events.

It is still an almost unbelievable castle to visit, not the least because it does genuinely have a moat. The town of Beaumaris in also home to the tomb of Joan Princess of Wales, illegitimate daughter of King John and wife of Llywelyn the Great. Her tomb was used as horse trough for a time, but thankfully the sarcophagus survived and can be seen in the Beaumaris parish church. For more on Joan click here.

References:

Site visit 2012

Wales Castles and Historic places: 9781850130307

Castles in wales: 9781847710314

http://www.castlewales.com/beaumar.html

The photos are all mine.

Advent Calendar of Castles: December 11th: Conwy Castle

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Conwy is the first I’ll be discussing of a series of castles built by Edward I in his domination of Wales. Conwy was built in 1283 and remains one of the most impressive surviving medieval fortifications in Britain.

The ring of castles Edward built around Wales, especially in the north, were constructed both to impose his authority on the area and to ensure that any expensive future rebellions was squashed. Edward used the towns and castles he built to import Englishness. He brought in English settlers and English laws and made the towns havens of the English. It wasn’t until the 1700s that the Welsh really had towns they could call their own, the Welsh at the time didn’t really live in towns because they tended to be a disparate agricultural community.

Edward I  took the Conwy valley in 1283 and very quickly began to erect a garrison town and the castle. By 1287 the castle was largely finished. This castle sits on a rock base which provided enough security that it was not necessary for Edward I to have the walls with in walls that are a feature of many of his other Welsh castles.

Edward lavished more money on Conwy than any of this other welsh castles, spending 15 000 pounds, an extraordinary sum for the time. He built the castle and the wall on the site of Aberconwy Abbey, one of the most important Welsh abbeys and the burial place of probably the most important Welsh Prince, Llywelyn the Great. Llywelyn’s body was moved by the monks and his sarcophagus can now be found at Llanwrst parish church.

Edward I was actually held at Conwy under siege by Madog ap Llywelyn in 1295, but the castle didn’t fall. Conwy was also taken by the forces of Owain Glyndwr in the 1400s.  Glyndwr came very close to taking Wales out of the hands of Henry IV, but in this particular case it was two of his kinsmen who took the castle. Rhys and Gwilym Tudor, yes those Tudors, took the castle through trickery. They waited till the garrison was at prayer and then, some stories say by pretending to be carpenters, snuck in and took the castle in 1401. They held it for months before it was traded back for funds for the rebellion.

References:

Site visit 2012

Wales Castles and Historic places: 9781850130307

Castles in wales: 9781847710314

http://www.walesdirectory.co.uk/his/cas/conwy.htm

http://www.castlewales.com/edwrdcas.html

http://cadw.gov.wales/daysout/conwycastle/?lang=en

http://www.castlewales.com/glyndwr.html

http://www.castlewales.com/conwy.html

The photos are all mine.

Llywelyn The Great

Today, the 11th of April, is the anniversary of the death of one of the most important Welsh Princes. I am not going to be writing about him in detail. I have written about his wife before and that can be found here.

Llywelyn succeeded in almost uniting much of Wales and in holding off the English. Sadly his dream of a united and independent Wales was not to last. Wales was largely conquered by the English under the reign of Edward I, little more than 40 years after Llywelyn’s death.

He died on the 11th of April in 1240 and was buried beneath the high altar of Aberconwy Abbey, but about forty years later Edward I wanted the land the abbey stood on to build Conwy Castle. So the monks moved the coffin containing Llywelyn’s body by river to the newly built abbey at Maenan. During the dissolution of the monasteries the coffin was moved for safe keeping to St Grwst’s church where it was forgotten about and was found covered with rubbish some 200 years later. It was then moved to the chapel in Llanrwst parish church. No one knows what happened to Llywelyn’s body.

You can see Llywelyn’s coffin below. When I saw it in 2012 it was located in a chapel out the back of the church and was quite difficult to find. There were no directions to it at all and nothing except a small sign propped up inside to distinguish it from the other random monuments in the room.

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Many castles you see today in Wales were in fact built by the English. Castles such as Pembroke, Manorbier, Cilgerran and Carew.  There are, however, Welsh built castles and Llywelyn was responsible for part of several of them. Such as:

Criccieth 2CricciethCriccieth Castle

 

Dolbardarn 2DolbardarnDolbadarn Castle

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Llywelyn  truly made a mark on Welsh soil and was a great Prince who deserves to be remembered.

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Statue of Llywelyn in Conwy, which is much smaller than it appears and much smaller than it should be.

References

http://www.englishmonarchs.co.uk/llywelyn_the_great.htm

The photos are all my own.

Incidentally I discovered Llywelyn many years ago in Sharon Kay Penman’s fabulous book Here Be Dragons.  As this blog is largely non fiction I don’t usually recommend historical fiction. I am making an exception in this case. Here Be Dragons is a truly wonderful book and everyone should read it.

Richmond Castle

Richmond Castle in North Yorkshire is one of my favourites and this is at least partly due to the relatively intact St Nicholas’s Chapel which dates to the late 11th century. It was in this chapel that I came the closest I have ever come to telling off another tourist. I was standing there marvelling at the fact that it had survived, that it had the original circular windows, the original barrel vaulted ceiling and the remains of a tiny bit of the original paint. Then a woman came in with two friends and she just stood there complaining that the windows were too small and didn’t let in enough light. I didn’t tell her off, but it was a near thing.

So St Nicholas’s Chapel is where I’m going to start. It was built in the late 11th century and is an excellent, if a bit mutilated, example of a castle chapel.

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In this photo you can see the beautiful round windows and the edge of the barrel vaulted ceiling. These windows would have been the backdrop to the altar and there may have been a pane of stained glass in the central window.

Around both sides of the room was a bench and an arcade with columns. The bench would have been used as a seat and although the columns have been torn away you can see the remaining stubs in the photo below.

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The walls would have been painted, probably in yellow or cream with red to mark out the lines of masonry. Some of the red paint survives and can still be seen, just, in the top of the arches.

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St Nicholas’s Chapel is one of the earliest parts of the castle, but Richmond’s origins are a little obscure. It was definitely one of the castles erected in the aftermath of 1066, but there are conflicting sources as to exactly when it was built. It was probably founded by Alan Rufus in around 1070. He was related to the Conquerer and he’d commanded the Bretons at the Battle of Hastings. Count Alan had the earliest surviving parts of the castle built, including long stretches of the stone curtain wall, the great gateway in the ground floor of the keep and Scolland’s hall.

Scoland's hallsIMG_1147IMG_1137You can see Scolland’s Hall, the entrance to the keep at the bottom of the great tower and some of the curtain wall in the above photos.

Scolland’s Hall is itself a fascinating part of the castle. It is named after one of the constables of the castle who died between 1146 and 1150. The hall itself dates to the late 11th century making it, apart from the great tower of Chepstow Castle, perhaps the earliest surviving domestic interior in England. It is two stories and the great hall and solar would have been raised up on the first floor above the undercroft. You can see the sockets in the walls where the beams supporting these rooms would have been. IMG_1168 IMG_1167

After Count Alan died in 1089 Richmond castle passed to his two younger brothers in turn and then eventually to his nephew, who was also called Alan. He was the first to style himself as Earl of Richmond. He also married the daughter of the Duke of Brittany, harking back to the first Alan’s origins. Unfortunately Earl Alan died before he could inherit the Duchy of Brittany.  His son Conan however managed to claim it and it was Conan who probably built the great tower of Richmond Castle.

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The Great Tower of Richmond Castle.

Unfortunately for Conan he was eventually forced to turn his Duchy over to Henry II and he betrothed his daughter Constance to Henry’s third son Geoffrey. Their marriage was a perfect example of the complexity or heiresses and marriage which I have discussed at length in an earlier postGeoffrey himself is probably my favourite of Henry II’s sons and if he hadn’t died tragically in a tournament in 1186 the 12th and 13th centuries could have been very different because John may never have been king.

The honour of Richmond was a bone of contention between Henry and Geoffrey with Henry continuing to with-hold it even after he allowed Geoffrey to marry Constance and become Duke of Brittany. Henry was never adept at sharing power and this is what largely cost him his relationship with his sons and his wife.

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Henry II

The castle itself didn’t play any more major roles until 1207 when the constable Roald was at odds with King John. Roald refused to state the value of the castle’s contents for taxation purposes so King John stripped him of his office and forced him to buy it back with 200 marks and four palfreys. The castle was also caught up in the conflict when the north of England rose up against King John in 1215. There isn’t any record of a siege at Richmond when King John retaliated, but Roald was captured and kept imprisoned in the castle until 1216.

The honour and castle remained the possession of the Dukes of Brittany throughout the 12th and 13th centuries but it was repeatedly confiscated by the King and there was actually some work done on it by Henry III and Edward I. In fact it is likely that Edward I finished the so called Robin Hood Tower which stands over the St Nicholas Chapel. You can see the remains of the tower on the right.IMG_1155

By 1538 Richmond was declared derelict. It became an object of fashionable tourism in later years and was painted by many artists including Turner. It was repaired in the early 19th century to stop it actually falling down. It was leased to the army from 1854 and Baden-Powell commanded there in 1910. The castle passed to the Ministry of Works around 1931 and eventually became the property of English Heritage in 1984.

Richmond castle has a long hisory. It is a beautiful castle with some of the most interesting and early surviving castle structures in England, especially the St. Nicholas Chapel. But, if tiny scraps of possibly 11th century paint and barrel vaulting aren’t your thing then the view from the top of the great tower alone is well worth the visit.

IMG_view from the top 21132 view from the top

The information from this post comes largely from the signs at Richmond Castle and the English Heritage Guide Book. The photos are all my own.