An Iron Ring of Castles

During the late 1270’s and early 1280’s, particularly after the death of Llywelyn ap Gruffydd, Edward I began construction of a string of castles in Wales that circled the country.  The north, in Gwynedd, had always been a hotbed of Welsh resistance and resentment of English authority and it was there he built some of the most impressive of his monuments.  http://www.castlewales.com/edward1.html He began in the northeast with three castles: Hawarden, Flint, and Rhuddlan, all built before the 1282 war. Hawarden was the first castle attacked by Dafydd ap Gruffydd on Palm Sunday, 1282, when he started what became the final war with England.  Edward began Flint in 1277, bringing in up to 2300 English workers to build it.  Llywelyn ap Gruffydd submitted to Edward I at Twthill, the old timber castle at Rhuddlan, after which Edward immediately pulled down Read more…

Murder and Mayhem in the Early Middle Ages

It is common knowledge among anyone who’s spent time wandering the history of Wales that murder and mayhem among the ruling families for power was common. David Walker (Medieval Wales, 1990) writes:  “Early entries in the Welsh Annales are brief in the extreme, but there are hints of ugly deeds.  In 814, Griffri ap Cyngen was slain by the treachery of his brother; in 904, Merfyn ap Rhodri of Gwynedd was killed by his own men; in 969 Ieuaf ab Idwal of Gwynedd was seized by his brother Iago and imprisoned; in 974, Meurig ab Idwal was blinded” (p. 6). He further points to the book Courtier’s Trifles by Walter Map, who satirized the reign of Gruffydd ap Llywelyn (1039-63 AD), who ruled all of Wales from 1055 until his death.  He writes:  “I name Hywel, whom you caused to be Read more…

Aber Castle (Garth Celyn)

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 Read more…

The Rising of 1256

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 Read more…

Deganwy

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, Read more…

Castell y Bere

  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 Read more…

Llywelyn ap Iorwerth Takes the Throne

Upon the death of Owain Gwynedd in 1170 AD, his eldest son, Hywel, purportedly a most capable man, succeeded to the rulership of Gwynedd.  In Wales, all sons, regardless of their legitimacy, can inherit, provided their father had acknowledged them.  This should have been the case with Hywel. As I wrote in this post, the downside of this enlightened approach to illegitimacy is that it divided the kingdom between all the heirs and fostered animosity among brothers over their portion of their inheritance.  Such was the case when Owain Gwynedd overcame his brothers to take the throne, such was the case many years later after the death of Llywelyn Fawr, and such was the case in 1170. Thus, Dafydd ap Owain Gywnedd conspired with his mother (Owain Gwynedd’s second wife, Cristina) and brother Rhodri to usurp the throne from Hywel, the eddling, Read more…

Dolbadarn Castle

Dolbadarn Castle is only 6 1/2 miles as the crow flies from the Menai Straits, and yet, the topography of the area is such that it was built by Llywelyn Fawr (Llywelyn the Great) to guard the mountain pass from Caernarfon to the upper Conwy Valley.  ‘Its position at the tip of Llyn Padarn allowed the garrison to blockade anyone’s movement through that part of the north, then as now a main link to the rest of Wales. The military worth of the spot was evidently recognized as early as the 6th century but surviving masonry dates no earlier than the 1200’s.’ http://www.castlewales.com/dolbd.html Llywleyn Fawr built the castle in the early 13th century and it was one of the last defenses of Dafydd ap Gruffydd–Llywleyn Fawr’s grandson–in 1283 after Edward had defeated Llywelyn ap Gruffydd, Dafydd’s brother (Paul Davis, Castles of Read more…

Senana, Mother of Llywelyn ap Gruffydd

Senana, by all appearances, had to have been quite a woman.  She was the daughter of Caradog ap Thomas ap Rhodri ap Owain Gwynedd, the great king of Gwynedd during the twelfth century.  Her husband was the illegitimate son of Llywelyn Fawr, the great Prince of Wales. Llywelyn Fawr ruled Wales with a strong hand, and as his death approached, he made a fateful choice:  that Dafydd, his legitimate son through his wife, Joanna, herself an illegitimate daughter of the King John of England,  would rule after him.  In so choosing, he put Wales on a course for inevitable conflict. Llywelyn Fawr died in 1240 and Gruffydd immediately began agitating for his own power.  By 1241, Dafydd had imprisoned him in Criccieth Castle, along with his eldest son, Owain.  Senana pleaded first with Dafydd to free her husband and son, Read more…

Historiography of the Welsh Conquest

Thank you to Brynne Haug for the next installment of her essay on the conquest of Wales. The following video is of our visit in May 2014 to Caernarfon Castle, the centerpiece of King Edward’s conquest of Wales. ___________ While there has been some measure of historical debate on the benefits and detriments of the English conquest of Wales on the country itself, the majority of scholars have agreed that in terms of identity and culture, the conquest had a negative impact. Wales prior to 1282 was fiercely independent, its people pastoral and very much devoted to the land on which they lived. In the years that followed the conquest, however, Edward I, in an attempt to “civilize” the Welsh, built walled towns throughout Wales and brought English settlers to live in them. Thus, by the beginning of the fourteenth Read more…

The Succession (1170 AD) in Gwynedd

1170 AD was a tough year in Gwynedd. It was the year Owain Gwynedd died and as is often the case with a strong king, his death brings about a vacuum waiting to be filled with intrigue and fratricide. Because his brother, Rhun, had already died, Hwyel ap Owain Gwynedd, the second son, was the eldest surviving son. Unfortunately for Hywel, Owain had a lot of sons and the contention among them at their father’s death was fierce. While the tradition in Wales, under Welsh law at the time, was to split the kingdom among all the surviving sons, in practice, this rarely happened amicably. Hywel, although beloved of his father and his choice to succeed him, did not survive 1170, as he was killed by two of his younger brothers, Dafydd and Rhodri, who conspired against all of their Read more…

The Conquests of Llywelyn ap Iorwerth

Llywelyn ap Iorwerth, born around 1172, was the grandson of Owain Gwynedd and ruled Wales from the late 12th century (certainly by 1200) to his death in 1240 AD.  He married Joanna (Joan), the eldest (albeit illegitimate) daughter of King John of England. Llywelyn “proved to be the greatest and most constructive Welsh statesman of the Middle Ages. In his long career he succeeded, by constant warfare, by tactful yielding under pressure and by masterly resilience the moment that pressure was relieved, in bringing under his control most of Pura Wallia. When he died in 1240, full of honor and glory, he left a principality which had the possibility of expanding into a truly national state of Wales. There was a moment when an independent Wales seemed about to become a reality.”  http://www.castlewales.com/llewelyn.html The Chronicle of the Princes (Ystrad Fflur edition) details the events of Read more…