“And he sent a fleet of ships to Anglesey, and they gained possession of Arfon. And then was made the bridge over the Menai; but the bridge broke and countless numbers of the English were drowned and others slain.” –Brut y Twysogion, Peniarth Manuscript 20 (Chronicle of the Princes).
On November 6th, 1282, the Welsh achieved an historic victory over the English, who had thought to surprise them by crossing the Menai Strait and driving down the coast to Aber (Garth Ceylyn), Prince Llywelyn’s seat on the Welsh north coast.
The Menai Strait is the narrow body of water that separates Anglesey from Gwynedd proper. The river-like flow changes course according to the tide. The rising tide approaches from the south-west, causing the water in the Strait to flow north-eastwards as the level rises. It then flows counter-clockwise around Anglesey until, a few hours later, it shifts, and begins to flow the opposite way.
At that point, the water runs through the Strait in a south-westerly direction from Bangor (on the mainland) and Llanfaes (on Anglesey). It was Llanfaes where the English commander, Tany, held his troops, waiting to cross to attack.
By the time the tide reverses course, the tidal flow from the Caernarfon end has weakened, even if the tide continues to rise in height throughout the straight. Thus, slack water between Anglesey and Gwynedd tends to occur approximately one hour before high tide or low tide.
On the day of the attack, the English hoped to cross near high tide, when the water would be it’s calmest. They began at noon, with high tide at 1 pm. But the Welsh swept down from the heights above the beach and stopped them. The ferocity of their attack forced the English soldiers back across the bridge, which then broke under the weight of the men, horses, and equipment. By then, the tide was in full spate, moving west at 2.5 knots.
History records that 16 English knights, another 16 squires, and 300 footmen died that day.
Prince Llywelyn believed he could capitalize on this victory by leaving his brother, Dafydd, in charge of Gwynedd and going southeast to Powys to garner support among the other Welsh lords of Wales. Unfortunately, he was lured into a trap at Cilmeri and killed only a month later, on 11 December 1282.
Dafydd ap Gruffydd was the younger brother of Llywelyn ap Gruffydd, the Prince of Wales who ruled portions of Wales, to a greater or lesser degree, since the death of his uncle (also named Dafydd) in 1246. The younger Dafydd was born in 1238, at least a decade after Llywelyn. This Dafydd spent the majority of his life in England, to which his family was forced to come when his father was imprisoned at the Tower of London by King Henry. At the time, Llywelyn had refused to leave Wales with the rest of his family, and thus was on the spot, so to speak, when his uncle Dafydd died. The family itself, however, was not imprisoned, and Dafydd grew up as a close companion to Prince Edward himself, a fact which could explain much of his later behavior.
At that point, Dafydd ap Gruffydd was only 8 years old, and in no sense prepared to put forth a claim to his patrimony. When later he did, Llywelyn refused, and the lands that he acquired were given to him by his older brother, Owain, who had split Gwynedd equally with Llywelyn. In 1255, believing he deserved more, Dafydd conspired with Owain to gain control of all of Gwynedd for themselves and were defeated by Llywelyn in the Battle of Bryn Derwin. Llywelyn imprisoned them both initially, but then accepted Dafydd back into his favor a year later and gave him lands in eastern Gwynedd centered around Denbigh,which Llywelyn had taken from the English during the Rising of 1256. Over the next five years, he brought Dafydd more and more into his confidence until suddenly, in 1263, Dafydd defected to the English (and Prince Edward). To this day historians have no idea why though various apologists for Dafydd have suggested that he was dissatisfied with what he’d acquired from Llywelyn for his five years of loyalty.
To say that Dafydd had a problematic relationship with Llywelyn is woefully understate the case. Llywelyn kept Owain Goch imprisoned until forced to release him in 1277, but he released Dafydd after Bryn Derwin and gave him lands, ultimately bowing to his younger brother’s rightful claim as a prince of Wales. He was also, throughout his life, Llywelyn’s sole heir, as Llywelyn never had a son in or out of wedlock. At the time, Llywelyn perceived Owain, the elder brother, as the greater threat.
From Brynne Haug: “Dafydd’s choice to turn to Edward in 1263 and again in 1274 was self-serving in that he believed his chances better with the king than with Llywelyn. Llywelyn had little choice but to accept Dafydd back when he changed his mind: in 1267 Edward I stipulated it in the Treaty of Mongomery, and it was again a condition in 1277.”
What’s more, in late 1274, Owain ap Gruffydd ap Gwenwynwyn confessed to Anian, the Bishop of Bangor, a man, by the way, who was not an ally of Llywelyn and often opposed him, that he had conspired with Dafydd to assassinate Llywleyn, the attempt being thwarted by a snowstorm. As J. Beverly Smith writes:
“The fullest account comes from a letter which the dean and chapter of Bangor addressed to the archbishop of Canterbury in the spring of 1276. Much of the substance of the letter is, however, corroborated by two documents from the critical year itself and by an entry in the Brut y Tywysogyon. The dean’s letter relates that Gruffydd ap Gwenwynwyn and his eldest son, Owain, plotted with Dafydd ap Gruffydd to kill Llywelyn. The conspirators had agreed that Dafydd should remain in his brother’s entourage until 2 February 1274 when Owain would bring armed men by night to accomplish the deed, but a snowstorm on the night in question confounded their plans.”
Gruffydd acknowledged his guilt and actually retained much of his lands. Owain was imprisoned, as hostage to his father’s good behavior. Dafydd’s part in the plot appears to have been unknown to Llywelyn until late in 1274, when Dafydd was called to account for his actions (which he denied). It was only after Dafydd fled to England that Owain confessed to the bishop the entire plan, and Llywelyn understood fully what had been intended (Smith 1998 p. 369-373). Given Dafydd’s behavior in the past and future, particularly his pride and unwillingness to take second to anyone, Smith argues that Dafydd was the true instigator of the conspiracy (p. 376).
What must have been most aggravating to Llywelyn was that Dafydd was one of the impetuses for all of the wars against England: in 1267 and 1277 when Dafydd fought against Llywelyn on the side of the English, and again in 1282, when he forced Llywelyn to throw his weight behind Dafydd himself after Dafydd launched an attack on Edward’s castles in Wales.
Whatever his motives, Dafydd did stay true to Wales after Llywelyn’s death. In June 1283, English soldiers captured Dafydd, took him to Shrewsbury, and, in October, executed him.He was hung, drawn, and quartered, and his head displayed in the tower of London alongside Llywelyn’s.
J. Beverly Smith, Llywelyn ap Gruffydd: The Prince of Wales.
Brynne Haug, Captive Cymru: Llywelyn and Gwynedd in the Wars of King Edward.
The fortunes of the Welsh ebbed and flowed in the 13th century, but between 1255 (the Battle of Bryn Derwin when Llywelyn defeated his brothers, Dafydd and Owain) and 1277, they were on the rise.
One of the first important battles was that of Cymerau.
In September of 1256, Stephen Bauzan, Prince Edward’s officer in south-west Wales, brought a substantial force of men to Ystrad Tywi, located in the northern portion of Deheubarth at the base of the Cambrian Mountains.
Thus, on the eve of Llywelyn ap Gruffydd’s advance into Perfeddwlad, a force was arraigned against Maredudd ap Rhys Gryg, the Welsh lord of those lands. Llywelyn and Maredudd, eyeing each other with mutual concern about their own power and authority, struck an alliance, and perhaps this is the true impetus for Llywelyn’s foray east of the Conwy River. After he took all of Gwynedd under his control, he swept south, taking over all of Wales from the Dee River to the Dyfi, and then turning southwest towards Ystrad Tywi and taking all those lands for Maredudd.
Then, Llywelyn turned back east and drove towards Welshpool, through the lands of Gruffydd ap Gwenwynwyn in Powys. Further south, he took lands from Roger Mortimer, including Builth, initiating a lifelong animosity between the two men. Llywelyn found himself in possession of almost the whole of Wales and the chroniclers realized he was cut from the same cloth as the great Kings of Wales who preceded him. They began to speak of him in the same breath as his grandfather, Llywelyn Fawr.
All this activity forced Prince Edward to engage his Marcher barons–Mortimer, Bohun, Lestrange, Valence–none of whom was enthused about the idea of challenging Llywelyn. Edward was also short of funds. But he had no choice but to attempt a counter measure and try to wrest back some of the lands that Llywelyn had taken from him.
At Edward’s behest, Bauzan again set out (hard to see why Edward entrusted this mission with him, given the disaster of the previous year, but he did). On 31 May 1257, he reached Llandeilo Fawr and camped. During the night, Maredudd ap Owain and Maredudd ap Rhys drew their forces close. At dawn, they attacked in a shower of lances and arrows. For two days, the English cowered under the onslaught. Rhys Fychan, an ally of Edward and Prince Llywelyn’s nephew, who’d encouraged the whole endeavor, slipped away and made for Dinefwr. This was the Welsh court of Maredudd ap Rhys Gryg, to which he thereby transferred his allegiance.
The next day, the English attempted to retreat to Cardigan, but at Coed Llathen the force lost many of its supplies. Then, at Cymerau, the Welsh and English forces met openly on a battlefield. The Welsh so routed the English that 3000 men were recorded as having fallen. It was an embarrassing and epic defeat for Edward. Unfortunately for Llywelyn, his alliance with Maredudd ap Rhys Gryg was irrepairably damaged by his acceptance of Rhys Fychan back into the fold, and Maredudd defected again to the king before the year was out.
These details come from:
Marc Morris, A Great and Terrible King, Edward I and the Forging of Britain.
Today is the 735th anniversary the death of Llywelyn ap Gruffydd, the last native Welsh Prince of Wales. He was ambushed and cut down by Englishmen, somewhere in the vicinity of Builth Wells (Buellt in Welsh), Wales, late on the afternoon on 11 December 1282. It was a Friday.
And then Llywelyn ap Gruffudd left Dafydd, his brother, guarding Gwynedd; and he himself and his host went to gain possession of Powys and Buellt. And he gained possession as far as Llanganten. And thereupon he sent his men and his steward to receive the homage of the men of Brycheiniog, and the prince was left with but a few men with him. And then Edmund Mortimer and Gruffudd ap Gwenwynwyn, and with them the king’s host, came upon them without warning; and then Llywelyn and his foremost men were slain on the day of Damasus the Pope, a fortnight to the day from Christmas day; and that was a Friday.
—-Brut y Tywysogyon, Peniarth manuscript 20 (The Chronicle of the Princes)
His head was carried to King Edward I, who ordered that it be displayed on a pike, in London. Apparently, it stayed on display for over 20 years. The rest of his body is purportedly buried at Abbey Cwmhir, northeast of Rhayader in Powys.
I wrote Footsteps in Time because there seemed to me to be few events in history where the fate of a nation hinged so profoundly upon the death of one man and I couldn’t stand that it ended the way it did. So I changed it :). At the time, historians said that if Llywelyn had lived only a few more weeks, all of Wales would have flocked to his banner. We’ll never know the truth of that, but his star was in the ascendancy and King Edward was within weeks of running out of both patience and money.
Llywelyn’s brother, Dafydd, was eventually captured and hanged, drawn, and quartered, the first man of significance to experience that particular death. His death was practice for what Edward did to William Wallace, two dozen years later. Gwenlllian, Llywelyn’s daughter and only child, was kidnapped from Aber and sent to a convent in England, where she remained a prisoner her entire life.
At Llywelyn’s death, Wales fell under English rule, and Edward declared his own son, Edward II, the new Prince of Wales.
That this happened, and that it is little remarked in historial records, should not come as a surprise. History is written by the victors, as this comment from an English travel writer, William Camden, dating to 1610, makes clear: “following rather his owne and his brothers stubberne wilfulnesse than any good hope to prevaile, would needes put all once againe to the hazard of warre, he was slaine, and so both ended his owne life, and withall the British [meaning, not English] government in Wales.”
I visited the site in May at Cilmeri where Llywelyn’s death is commemorated by a lone stone marker.
Aber Garth Celyn was the seat of the Princes of Wales since Aberffraw and Deganwy were destroyed sometime in the early middle ages. With the fall of the Royal House of Wales and the subsequent conquering of Wales by Edward I, the location of Garth Celyn was lost to history. It is only in the last 20 years that we have a better idea of where it might be.
One possibility put forth by CADW, the Welsh Archaeological society, is at ‘y Myd’–a man-made mound to the west of the Aber River in North Wales. “Excavations at Abergwyngregyn, near Bangor, unearthed the remains of a medieval hall dating back to the 14th century, the period when Llywelyn the Great and Llywelyn the Last were fighting for Welsh independence.” [a note from Sarah–that the archaeologist would say this is somewhat surprising since Llywelyn was killed in 1282, otherwise known as the 13th century. If the best they can do is the 14th century, then there’s no evidence this hall dates from the time of the princes.]
“A test dig on the same site in 1993, revealed medieval pottery, a bronze brooch and a coin dating back to the post-conquest era.
“You can see a large area with some substantial walls and the floor plan of a medieval hall with large wings either side,” said John Roberts, archaeologist for the Snowdonia National Park Authority.
These excavations were covered over in 2010 to protect them.
Another possibility for the location of Garth Celyn, and the one I chose for my books, is just on the other side of the river and includes a still-standing tower, situated on a hill overlooking the Lavan Sands and with a view of Anglesey.
From the Garth Celyn web page (the page is gone, so I just have to quote it here): “During the centuries between 1283 and 1553, the English crown owned the home and allowed it to become derelict, while at the same time expunging any mention of ‘Garth Celyn’ from the written record. It is not until the time of Henry Vlll, that his surveyor, John Leland notes, ‘the palace on the hille still in part stondeth.’
Then, on June 14, 1551, Rhys Thomas of Aberglasney, appointed by Roger Williams, the surveyor of crown lands in north Wales, to be the deputy surveyor, obtained a lease for himself for the house. Subsequently, on 27 April 1553 King Edward VI, seriously ill with tuberculosis, granted the royal manors of Aber and Cemais to William Herbert, earl of Pembroke and William Clerke. Rhys Thomas and his wife, Jane, then built a house among the ruins of the palace.
Culturally speaking, one of the most important records of Garth Celyn is found in the letters written in the last months of Prince Llywelyn ap Gruffydd’s life to Edward I and the Peckham, the Archbishop of Canterbury.
The royal llys of the Welsh princes excavated on Anglesey does not include a motte, and bears no relationship to the kind of Norman construction CADW is proposing the Llywelyns either built or repurposed at Aber. In addition, Welsh rulers were moving from one royal llys to another as administrative centers from before the Normans arrived in Britain. http://www.angleseyheritage.com/key-places/llys-rhosyr/
As the house itself, the following is a written account from 1874:
Aber Village August 1874
The castle of Llywelyn is but a few minutes walk from the centre of the village.
To reach it by the quickest and most picturesque road you have to traverse the nook at the back of the mill and to scramble over the loose stones that rise about the surface of the widespread stream. Once over the somewhat perilous brook, you have to pass a gate, then a field, still following the side of the watercourse. Mounting a steep rustic ascent you find yourself a few minutes more before a huge barbaric Round Tower, the principal and almost only vestige of Llywelyn’s Castle at the present day. Attached to this Tower is an interesting looking structure built entirely we are told of the ruins of the ancient palace. It is at present used as a farmhouse. This most picturesque house is well worth a visit, though from its private isolated character it is known to few out of its immediate neighbourhood.
The farmer’s wife, though little prepared for the intrusion, nevertheless kindly allowed us to traverse the house, contenting herself with showing us alone one particular room in the tower, a clothes press and four chairs, evidently as old as the building itself and quite as primitive.
She also favoured me with a bit of lighted candle and led me to the steps of a vast cellar or dungeon under the tower, telling me to inspect it if I wished, which I hastened to do – I beg pardon, I did not hasten, for the steps down to it were so slimy, damp, and shaky, that any over haste would have been accompanied with serious bodily harm, so needs was to be slow and cautious.
On descending into this cavern, as well as the faint light of the candle would permit of, I noticed several contiguous cells with prison – like apertures. Could these possibly have been dungeons? At least there were good reasons for the conjecture. At the further end of the cavern, or cellar, or prison, or whatever it was and had been, I could perceive the commencement of a subterranean passage, which led, I was afterwards informed, to some solitary spot in the glen – for what purpose, must be left to the imagination, for there are no printed memorials to the spot, nor any written ones, unless Lord Penrhyn, the owner of the property, happens to have any such in the archives of his Castle.
Eleanor (Elinor in Welsh) de Montfort (1252-1282) was the wife of Llywelyn ap Gruffydd, the last Prince of Wales. She was the daughter of Simon de Montfort, who was killed in the Battle of Evesham by the forces of Edward I when she was only thirteen. Her mother, Eleanor of Leicester, was the youngest daughter of King John of England and his wife, Isabella of Angouleme. Interestingly, that made Elinor’s mother and Joanna, Princess of Wales and the wife of Llywelyn Fawr (Llywelyn ap Gruffydd’s grandfather), half-sisters. Joanna had been born in 1191. After Simon de Montfort’s death, Elinor and her mother) found refuge at the Dominican nunnery of Monargis in France. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Joan,_Lady_of_Wales
J. Beverely Smith writes: “Llywelyn’s decision to marry Simon de Montfort’s daughter was revealed in dramatic circumstances at the end of 1275. Eleanor was travelling from France to join the prince [whom she had already married per verba de presenti–or inabsentia] when she was detained at sea and taken into Edward’s custody. She sailed in the company of her brother Amaury, and the king was jubilant at a capture which placed Montfort’s son and daughter in his hands and revealed, hidden beneath the ship’s boards, the arms and banner of the Montforts” (1998:390). Finally, by Edward’s lights, he had real justification for re-entering Wales and forcing Llywelyn to submit to England once and for all. Note that Elinor was also Edward’s cousin.
For Llywelyn’s part, he had decided to marry Elinor after the events of 1274 when his brother, Dafydd, and other conspirators had tried to kill him. Nobody knows why he’d waited this long to marry (he was now approaching 50 years old) but his failure to father a child with any woman up until then might have played a role–once married, there was no chance to father a child with another woman who might prove more fertile, AND have that child acknowledged by Edward and/or the Church.
In the end, Edward kept Elinor captive for three years, until after Llywelyn had lost the war of 1277 and submitted to Edward at Rhuddlan castle. Elinor and Llywelyn were married (again) on October 13th (the Feast of St. Edward) in 1278, at the cathedral church at Worcester. Edward gave Elinor away.
Wales remained at peace until 1282, when Prince Dafydd’s men launched a surprise attack on English castles on Palm Sunday. Elinor herself died in childbirth on June 19, 1282 at Garth Celyn, and was buried across the Menai Strait at Llanfair Abbey, beside her aunt, Joanna. No trace remains of her grave.
From The Chronicles of the Princes (Red Book of Hergest): “And then, on the Feast of St. Edward, the marriage of Llywelyn and Eleanor solemnized at Winchester, Edward, king of England himself bearing the cost of the banquet and nuptial on the feast of St. festivities liberally. And of that Eleanor there was a daughter to Llywelyn, called Gwenllian and Eleanor died in childbirth, and was buried in the chapter house of the barefooted friars at Llanvaes in Mona. Gwenllian, after the death of her father, was taken as a prisoner to England, and before she was of age, she was made a nun against her consent.”
I bet you didn’t know there was a Welsh Rising of 1256 did you? This date, even more than the Battle of Bryn Derwin in 1255, is the point at which Llywelyn ap Gruffydd began to assert his authority in Wales beyond Gwynedd and to place himself squarely in the forefront as the inheritor of his grandfather’s vision of a Wales united under one, supreme Prince.
In 1256, Prince Edward of England was only seventeen years old. He had been ceded lands in Perfeddwlad, or Gwynedd Is Conwy (Gwynedd east of the River Conwy), by his father, King Henry. But both his parents still held authority over them, for the most part, and had been responsible for overseeing their welfare. They had not done a good job, as usual giving sycophants and hangers-on Welsh lands about which none of the parties involved cared a whit.
These lands, by no coincidence, had been fully in the control of Llywelyn Fawr before his death, and at the death of Prince Dafydd, had fallen under English control. In November 1256, at the request of the people themselves, Llywelyn took his men across the Conwy River and into what was then English territory. They conquered the entire area, with the consent of the people in it, within a week.
Much of these lands Llywelyn then gave to Dafydd, his brother, whom he’d just released from prison. Only eighteen himself, Dafydd had united with Owain in 1255, but with his defeat, had suffered only a short incarceration before Llywelyn forgave him–and established him as a fully authoritative Prince of Wales in his own right.
As the Chronicle of the Princes states for 1256:
“In this year the gentlefolk of Wales, despoiled of their liberty and their rights, came to Llywelyn ap Gruffudd and revealed to him with tears their grievous bondage to the English; and they made known to him that they preferred to be slain in war for their liberty than to suffer themselves to be unrighteously trampled by foreigners. And Llywelyn at their instigation and by their counsel and at their request, made for Perfeddwlad, and with him Maredudd ap Rhys Gryg; and he gained possession of it all. And after that he took the cantref of Meirionydd into his hands. And the land that belonged to Edward, the earl of Chester, the son of king Henry, he gave to Maredudd ab Owain, and Builth he gave to Maredudd ap Rhys, and keeping naught for himself, but only fame and honor.”
According to CADW, Wales has more castles per square mile than any other nation. Carew Castle is one of them.
Carew Castle, located on the Caeriw River in Pembrokeshire, southwest Wales, is one of the few castles that displays architecture from the Norman period through the Elizabethan, with archaeological evidence showing indications of settlement dating back 2000 years. The name ‘Carew’, Caeriw in Welsh, is an anglicized combination of, “caer” meaning fortress, and “rhiw” meaning hill–not that the area on which it stands is hilly: “Its position is low-lying, but still prominent in the flat land around the tidal reaches of the Carew river. The castle stands at the end of a ridge at a strategically excellent site commanding a crossing point of the then-still navigable river.” http://www.castlewales.com/carew.html
The name also might come from ‘Caerau’, simply the plural, ‘forts’.
Tradition states that the original castle was built by Gerald de Windsor, a Norman who came with Arnulph de Montgomery, the first Norman Earl of Pembroke. Gerald married Princess Nest, daughter of Prince Rhys ap Tudur of Deheubarth. Her daughter, Angharad, was the mother of the travel writer, Gerald of Wales. (source: Carew Local History Group/Dyfed Archaeological Trust). Sir Nicholas’ ancestor William, eldest son of Gerald de Windsor, was the first to adopt the title ‘de Carew’ (‘from Carew’), according to the Norman (rather than Welsh) tradition.
In the 13th century, Sir Nicholas de Carew was a high ranking officer and distinguished soldier in the time of Edward I. He fought on behalf of the king in Ireland and in Europe (he does not appear to have played much of a role in the Welsh wars up until 1282). He was responsible for much of the medieval construction of Carew Castle between 1280 and 1310. He died in 1311 and was buried the parish church of Carew Cheriton, where an effigy of a knight believed to be that of Sir Nicholas remains today. He was succeeded by his son John. http://www.carewcastle.com/
The castle passed to Rhys ap Thomas in 1480, who was the leading Welsh supporter of Henry Tudor, later King Henry VII of England, who knighted him after the Battle of Bosworth Field. After that family fell into disfavor, it came to Sir John Perrot in 1558. He was convicted of treason in 1592, at which point the castle was let to tenants. http://www.castlewales.com/carew.html. According to the Carew Local History Group, it returned to the descendants of the Carew family in the 17th century (Thomas Carew, 3rd Baron Kesteven died in 1915 of wounds recieved in WWI), and the family retains ownership today.
My eldest son is named ‘Carew’, so we have a particular affinity for this place ?
Deganwy is one of those castle-forts that has become part of the legend of Wales, although very little of it remains.
This plan http://www.castlewales.com/deganwy1.html shows a reconstruction of the early medieval fort. It was the seat of “Maelgwyn Gwynedd, the foremost historical figure of the 6th century in north Wales, patron of St Cybi and St Seiriol, but reviled as a drunken tyrant by the chronicler Gildas. Excavations on the western summit in 1961-66 confirmed occupation in the 5th and 6th centuries.” http://www.castlewales.com/deganwy.html
“The area below the castle is called Maesdu (Black Meadow) and was, doubtless, the site of many bloody battles. The lower ground of the later bailey may have been the site of a settlement of serfs and bondmen; while Maelgwn’s stronghold stood atop the higher of the later castle’s twin peaks. It would have been largely of wood, although the defences included some dry stone walls. These were excavated by Leslie Alcock in the 1960s. A dozen sherds of Dark Age pottery, imported from the Mediterranean, were also discovered, showing the exceptional taste and far-reaching contacts of Gwynedd’s Royal dynasty. Deganwy appears to have been first occupied during the Roman period, but was popular in the Dark Ages because it was safe from Irish raids. The place was burnt down when struck by lightning in AD 860.” http://www.earlybritishkingdoms.com/archaeology/deganwy.html
Robert of Rhuddlan built a castle at the site in 1080, which the Welsh captured, to the point that Gerald of Wales called it a ‘noble structure’ in 1191. King John burned it to the ground early in the 13th century, Llywelyn Fawr rebuilt it in 1213, and then Dafydd destroyed in advance of the English attack in 1245, to the point the English “were forced to shiver in tents”.
“The campaign of Henry III saw the construction of walls and towers, the ruins of which survive today. The castle, with towers on each hilltop and a bailey on the saddle between, had an associated borough which received a charter in 1252. It was under construction from 1245-54 but was never completely finished. As Henry became more embroiled with his own troubles, the power of the Welsh prince Llywelyn ap Gruffydd was growing. In 1263, after a long siege, he captured this outpost of English power and systematically demolished it. When Henry’s son, Edward, advanced across this territory in 1283 he camped at the ruins of Degannwy, but recognizing the greater strategic value of a riverside site and also the political impact of a castle across the river Conwy, which up until then had been the frontier of the essential Gwynedd, he founded his new castle at Conwy. Degannwy was abandoned.
The ruins visible today belong mainly to Henry III’s castle. The defences of the bailey – earth banks and ditches on the north side, the base of two D-shaped gatehouse towers, and the curtain wall hastily built by Edward I on the south – can still be recognized. The mass of fallen masonry near the base of the gatehouse is a relic of the demolition of 1263.” http://www.castlewales.com/deganwy.html
In looking through historical documents, there is a striking resemblance between one of the last letters that Llywelyn ap Gruffydd wrote to Edward I, a month before his death, and the famous speech by Patrick Henry. From Llywelyn:
We fight because we are forced to fight, for we, and all Wales, are oppressed, subjugated, despoiled, reduced to servitude by the royal officers and bailiffs so that we feel, and have often so protested to the King, that we are left without any remedy . . ..
Compare it to Patrick Henry’s speech to the Virginia Assembly:
Our petitions have been slighted; our remonstrances have produced additional violence and insult; our supplications have been disregarded; and we have been spurned, with contempt, from the foot of the throne. In vain, after these things, may we indulge the fond hope of peace and reconciliation. There is no longer any room for hope . . .
Welsh rulers fought the English/Norman rule from 1066 to 1282, but even after the Welsh conquest by Edward I, other men stepped up to foment rebellion, some with more success than others.
One was Madog ap Llywelyn (1294-95): Frustrated by high taxes, forced levies for Edward’s wars, misuse of power by his officers (sound familiar?), Madog rose to lead an organized rebellion at Michelmas in 1294, just as Edward was preparing to cross the English Channel for a continental campaign. He immediately abandoned that plan and turned his attention to Wales. http://www.medievalists.net/files/08100401.pdf
Madog himself wasn’t particularly noble in his ideals–he was a distant relative of Llywelyn ap Gruffydd but who had not been an ally. Back in 1256 the Prince of Wales dispossessed his family of their lands, they fled to England and to Edward. Upon Llywelyn ap Gruffydd’s death, Madog expected a return to his fortunes, expectations which failed to materialize. Madog’s forces overran Caernarfon and occupied the castle. Other castles across Wales were besieged and many towns put to the flame, including Caerfphilly, Harlech, and Conwy. http://www.worldlingo.com/ma/enwiki/en/Madog_ap_Llywelyn Ultimately, of course, Edward’s armies defeated Madog’s and captured him.
A second was Llywelyn Bren in 1316 who rebelled against Edward II, somewhat despite himself. His real argument was with Sir Payn Turberville whom Edward had appointed to rule Glamorgan after the death of its Earl. As always seemed to be the case with these royal, English appointments, he was tyrannical and vicious. Llywelyn made some statement to that effect, which Turberville reported to Edward II, who then called Llywelyn to account. Instead of allowing Edward to hang him, he fled and fomented rebellion, although he ultimately surrendered rather than have the full weight of the Marche brought down on his countrymen’s head. This page has a detailed description of what went on: http://edwardthesecond.blogspot.com/2010/01/uprising-in-south-wales-1316.html
Ultimately, Hugh Despenser had Llywelyn removed from the Tower of London and murdered.
One of the hardest things to read about is the infant/child mortality rates that were prevalent up until the invention of antibiotics–and certainly in the Dark and Middle Ages. It may be that it was much worse in Victorian England, when cities grew large, but looking at King Edward I’s progeny, your heart just bleeds for him and his wife (even if he was a tyrant to the Welsh!).
Edward and his first wife, Isabella, produced 16 children. Of those, five were sons. Of those, John lived five years; Henry, six. Alphonso lived until he was eleven, and only Edward, their last child, born in 1284, lived to adulthood and inherited the kingdom.
Of their 11 daughters, five lived to adulthood and six died before the age of three. As a mother of four, to think about losing a child is awful and the mind shies away at the very thought. It is the one thing I cannot even begin to contemplate. As a human being, how do you survive losing half your children to disease? Or more than half?
On top of which, out of his 19 total children (3 by his second wife, Marguerite), 8 lived to grow up. However, only two lived what we would consider longish lives. The mean for the adult women is 41.8 with a median of 35; the mean for adult men is 36.6 with a median of 38. Combined, the mean is 39.8 and the median is 35/38. That is much worse than the Welsh/Marcher nobility documented here: http://www.sarahwoodbury.com/life-expectancy-in-the-middle-ages/
Children of Edward I:
Daughter: 1255 (stillborn)
Katherine: 1261-1264 (age 3)
Joan: 1265-1265 (infant)
John: 1266-1271 (age 5)
Henry: 1268-1274 (age 6)
Eleanor: 1269-1298 (age 29)
Daughter: 1271 (infant)
Joan: 1272-1307 (age 35)
It does not seem that either Eleanor or Joan died in childbirth, or if they did, the child died with them and there is no record of their births.
Alphonso: 1273-1284 (age 11)
Margaret: 1275-1333 (age 58)
Berengaria: 1276-1278 (2)
Daughter: 1278 (infant)
Mary: 1279-1332 (53)
Son: 1281 (infant)
Elizabeth: 1282-1316 (aged 34) She was married to Humphrey de Bohun (4th Earl of Hereford) and died in childbirth, having attempted to give birth to her 11th child in 13 years.
My daughter says that Castell y Bere is in ‘the freaking middle of nowhere’ which is why King Edward couldn’t convince any English settlers to live there after he conquered Wales. Plus ‘it’s really, really windy.’
Potentially, that is all you need to know about Castell y Bere, but if that turned you away from visiting, that would be unfortunate. Historically, Castell y Bere was also one of the most important castles of the Welsh Princes–certainly it is one of the largest and most elaborate. It sits on elongated plateau of rock in the Upper Dysynni Valley. Because of its central location (at the time), it helped Llywelyn Fawr, who built it, control the territory along the old mountain road from Cadair Idris to Dolgellau. It also guards the territory between the Dyfi and Mawddach estuaries (see above mentioned ‘freaking middle of nowhere’). Llywelyn built it with luxuries in mind, and included stained glass windows, inlaid tile, and stone carvings (Paul Davis, Castles of the Welsh Princes).
Llywelyn Fawr began the castle after a dispute with his son, Gruffydd in 1221 AD. Llywelyn took these territories for himself, and began work on Castell y Bere. His grandson, Llywelyn ap Gruffydd, added onto the structures, eventually creating a sprawling complex of buildings, surrounded by a system of walls and ditches that made the castle virtually impossible to assault. It was the last castle to be taken in 1283, after the fall of Prince Llywelyn ap Gruffydd, surrendering to King Edward’s forces without a fight.
King Edward maintained the castle (to the tune of 265 pounds) from 1286 to 1290, but Adrian Pettifer states in his book Welsh Castles, ‘the castle proved too remote to be supplied in times of siege.’ It was burned during Madog ap Llywelyn’s uprising in 1294 and never restored.