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Castles are the most obvious reminder of mediaeval Wales. Symbolising the ambitions of the Welsh princes, the expansionist character of the Marcher lords and finally the subjection of an independent Wales by Edward I, castles were always more than just buildings.

The Normans introduced castles to Wales. The first castles were simple motte and bailey constructions, but they showed the locals who was in charge. In any uprising these symbols of oppression were the first target.

The Welsh princes soon realised the castle's usefulness as an offensive weapon and symbol of lordship. Early in the 12th century Cadwgan ap Bleddyn, prince of Powys, built a castle at Welshpool in reply to Roger Montgomery's nearby castle at Hen Domen. Princes like Owain ap Gruffudd of Gwynedd and Rhys ap Gruffudd of Deheubarth used castles to secure their frontiers. Soon there were hundreds of castles spread along the borderlands of Wales. Castles also provided secure accommodation for the prince and his family as at Cardigan for the princes of Deheubarth and at Dinas Brân for the princes of Powys Fadog.

A strategically placed motte and bailey castle near Llandegla, Denbighshire. Tomen y Rhoddwydd was built by Owain, Prince of Gwynedd in 1148-9 on the lands of the princes of Powys. Iowerth Goch of Powys destroyed the castle in 1157.

RCAHMW. Crown Copyright

A favoured royal residence of the princes of Gwynedd once stood here in Abergwyngregyn. The princes had their chief residence at Aberffraw on Anglesey.

RCAHMW. Crown Copyright

Llywelyn the Great built Criccieth Castle between 1230-40. Probably inspired by the castles of his enemy, Hubert de Burgh, at Montgomery, which Llywelyn attacked twice, and of his ally, Ranulf de Blundeville, at Beeston.

RCAHMW. Crown Copyright

Castell y Bere - brilliantly placed to control the Dysynni Valley, Meirionydd. Llywelyn built this castle in 1221 according to the Brut y Tywysogion (The Chronicle of the Princes) to secure the southern border of Gwynedd.

RCAHMW. Crown Copyright

Llywelyn the Great, prince of Gwynedd (1194-1240) used castles to ensure stability, both political and economic, in North Wales. His string of castles between Tegeingl (Flintshire) and Meirionydd protected the heartlands of his principality, controlled lines of communication, trade and possible invasion routes and shadowed the royal and marcher castles to the south. Castell y Bere, Degannwy, Dolwyddelan and Dolbadarn helped Llywelyn secure the economic and military resources he needed. The castles also reveal his organisational ability and an ambition to be more than simply prince of Gwynedd.

Dolbadarn Castle controlled the pass at Llanberis. Llywelyn the Great built the great round tower to match William Marshall's great keep at Pembroke Castle. Llywelyn ap Gruffudd imprisoned his older brother and rival, Owain Goch in this castle.

The National Monuments Record of Wales. Crown Copyright

Dolwyddelan Castle
Cut away reconstruction of the keep built by Llywelyn the Great, early 13th century.

C Jones-Jenkins, CADW. Crown Copyright

Similarly, his grandson Llywelyn ap Gruffudd (Llywelyn the Last) , on regaining Tegeingl in 1257, rebuilt the castle at Ewloe. Once secure in North Wales, Llywelyn sought to extend his power into mid Wales by building a castle at Dolforwyn in the Severn Valley. It was one castle too many for the Edward I, King of England. This new castle and a refusal to do homage were signs to Edward I that Llywelyn was a vassal who no longer knew his place. In 1277 Edward reminded him.

Reconstruction drawing of Ewloe Castle, c.1257. Ewloe Castle is between Flint and Hawarden in Flintshire.

C Jones-Jenkins, CADW. Crown Copyright

Aerial view of Dolforwyn Castle, built by Llywelyn ap Gruffudd in 1273 to survey the Severn Valley and counter Montgomery Castle, four miles away. It is a sign of Llywelyn's ambition he should build a castle so far south.

RCAHMW. Crown Copyright