Criccieth Castle

The Picturesque Ruins of Criccieth Castle

Criccieth Castle, also known as Castell Criccieth, is an extraordinary castle that truly captures the hearts of all who visit. It sits high above Tremalog Bay and is a timely reminder of all that transpired between the Welsh and English to define medieval times. While it may seem serene and beautiful sitting up there, it has a controversial and intriguing past that has been full of mishaps and detrimental instances.

The ruins of Criccieth Castle
The ruins of Criccieth Castle. Source: Wikimedia Commons

The history of Criccieth Castle

There are a lot of inconsistencies surrounding Criccieth Castle and while we may never know the whole truth, what we do know is particularly daunting. A tale of trial, error, sieges, and plenty of speculation surrounds Criccieth Castle and all of it happened in only a small amount of time. On the surface, we have astonishing views and a beloved castle, but below the surface, it becomes so much more.

The early history of Criccieth Castle

This wonderful and rustic stone castle is said to have been started in the 1230s and is suspected to have been built by Llewelyn the Great. Llewelyn the Great was a Welsh prince who held plenty of power over the castle and many other things. He built the original structures of Criccieth Castle himself, however, in 1240, Llewelyn the Great died which in turn created a large amount of disaster.

When Llewelyn the Great died, it meant that there was room to replace him as a strong ruler. This caused King Henry III of England to fight for supreme power and overrule everyone much as Llewelyn the Great once did. He then proceeded to cause a further ruckus by depriving Gwynedd of control over all of the land’s east of Conwy.

Portrait of Llywelyn The Great
Portrait of Llywelyn The Great. Source: Wikimedia Commons

Incarceration at the castle

Once Llewelyn the Great had passed, his sons began to resent each other and started to fight. Dafydd ap Llewelyn proceeded to hold his brother Gruffydd as a prisoner at Criccieth Castle. Though we aren’t sure if that is the first instance that the castle has held a prisoner, it certainly wasn’t the last time. Two decades later, Llewelyn ap Gruffudd (son of Gruffydd ap Llywelyn
1200–1244) incarcerated prince Maredudd ap Rhys Gryg.

Gaining control

It was a whole decade later when Gruffydd ap Llewelyn’s son, Gruffudd, gained control and began to fight for Gwynedds domination once again and fought ruthlessly with the English ally, Maredudd ap Rhys Gryg who was later imprisoned in the castle. After all was said and done, Gruffudd won the battle and by virtue of the Treaty of Montgomery from 1267, the Welsh and English both readily accepted him.

Though this success didn’t last very long, because soon after, more disaster arose. Gruffudd could not resist entering into more conflict but this time his arrow was aimed at the new king of England, Edward I which then resulted in a war that sent Criccieth Castle to the sidelines.  

The First War of Welsh Independence

The First War of Welsh Independence (1277 – 1283) begun when Edward I declared Gruffudd a rebel and sought to destroy him. It was then that the English started to invade Wales. English armies swarmed from all over to defeat the princes and gain power and it ended in the defeat and annexation of the remaining Principality of Wales.

Afterwards, Gwynedd was the leading principality and all of the princes had gained control over most of the country. This resulted in the remaining Welsh Princes their vassals and gained the title of the Prince of Wales.

Edward I of England
Edward I of England. Source: Wikimedia Commons

The Battle of Llandeilo Fawr

Once again, war erupted between England and Wales in to an explosive extent. Edward I had essentially planned to send his large armies into Wales in the fronts to surround Llewelyn ap Gruffudd’s army and destroy them. The English army, led by Gilbert de Clare, was then sent to subdue and hold down the southern areas while the other armies were sent elsewhere.

Gilbert de Clare and his large army had easily captured Carreg Cennen Castle from the Welsh and soon after, the men sacked the castle and later headed back to Dinefwr Castle. Though on the way misfortune struck and they were ambushed by Welsh troops. This resulted in much of the army being destroyed.

Although this was a great victory for the Welsh, the tides of war soon turned in Edwards favour when suddenly Llywelyn marched his army south. Llywelyn was killed at the Battle of Orewin Bridge on 11th December 1282.

Edward raised a new army and in 1283, the rest of the Gwynedd castles were captured, including Criccieth Castle.

The siege of 1294

The castle, which by now is no stranger to controversy now becomes victim to a siege. In the siege of 1294, Madoc ap Llewelyn who was distantly related to Gruffudd, decided to start an uprising against English rule that quickly made its way throughout Wales. The mighty castle readily withstood this siege, however, it eventually did meet its maker in 1404, when it fell into the hands of Owain Glyndwr who had the castle walls torn down and after Criccieth Castle soon became ash when he burned it.

It stayed that way until 1933 when Lord Harlech had it granted to the government.

The construction of Criccieth Castle

There were three building phases and a plethora of different periods strictly for remodelling. It is said that the 13th century was a rather late point in time for initiating a castle and that it was particularly odd in that part of Wales. It is also fairly unusual that there isn’t much to be said about Criccieth Castle.

The earliest part of the castle is said to be the inner ward which was personally started by Llewelyn the Great himself. Unlike other Welsh Native strongholds, the inner ward at the castle was beautifully protected by a gatehouse with two D-shaped towers. Those towers were then heavily protected by big gates with murder holes in the passage and arrow slits in each tower that faced outwards.

There is a possibility that some of these features are replicated from specific English castles such as Beeston Castle and Montgomery Castle. Then we take a look at the two towers of the gatehouse that have gained significant popularity as a staple piece of the castle. They provided accommodation for a while and then were raised significantly in height in the Edwardian period.

A view of Criccieth Castle from the beach. Source: Flickr

5 Criccieth Castle facts

  • Criccieth Castle was built and destroyed by powerful Welsh Princes.
  • Criccieth Castle is said to have been built in the early 13th century, though no actual confirmation has ever been found as to when the castle was actually built, and which parts were built in which century at what time.
  • The steep, inaccessible, and rugged cliffs surrounding the castle particularly on the eastern and southern sides offered the castle a great amount of protection and there are plenty of terrifying areas you could fall so only the bravest would dare to conquer the castle.
  • The inner ward is said to be the oldest Welsh part of the castle built by Llewelyn the Great.
  • These days, the castle has been preserved as a magnificent ruin and has a particularly significant layout of all the defensive elements although plenty has been lost.  The ruins of Criccieth Castle are able to be seen by visitors, and you can find prices and tickets here.

We recommend reading our article about Norwich Castle If you enjoyed this post.

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