Home | Main Menu | Castle Index | Historical Essays | Related Essays | What's New | Links

Deganwy Castle

on twin hills behind the town, Aberconwy & Colwyn, north Wales

Map link for Deganwy Castle

All photographs copyright © by John Northall

Above: view of the Welsh-built revetment wall and tower base of the upper bailey of Deganwy Castle
Below: the strongly situated northern side of the upper bailey with Conwy Morfa and Penmaenbach in the background.

 

 

Frances Lynch 1995.

Th twin rocks of Degannwy have been the focus of settlement and warfare for more than a thousand years but, because they have been fought over so ferociously, little survives for the modern visitor to see. However, though the castle walls have been reduced to little more than rubble, the hilltop is still an evocative place.

During the post-Roman period the hill became a place of major political importance, the court 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.

Documents show that the Norman Robert of Rhuddlan built a castle here in 1080, but nothing remains of it. It was later regained by the Welsh, and in 1191 Giraldus Cambrensis described it in the Itinerarium Cambriae as a "noble structure." However, it was soon to be destroyed as part of a scorched earth policy in the face of threats from King John.

When Llywelyn ap Iorwerth regained the castle in 1213 he rebuilt it in good style. Only a little of this castle survives today. In 1228 it is recorded that he imprisoned one of his sons here. After Llywelyn's death in 1240 his sons were not strong enough to resist the English advance and demolished the castle in anticipation of its loss. When the English arrived in 1245 they were forced to shiver in tents, so effective had been the Welsh destruction.

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.

 

Below: The earthwork defences of the western bailey rampart. The base of Mansell's tower lie on top of the small hill and the incomplete 'mantlet' defensive step is to the left of the summit.

 

The One Thousand Years of Deganwy Castle

by John Northall

 

The twin hills above the modern village of Deganwy housed a fortress that was in use from at least the Roman era until its final destruction in 1277. Hardly anything now remains of the castle but history has left us an intriguing insight into this once grand stronghold.

Roman Period