Criccieth Castle was built around 1230 by Llywelyn ap Iorwerth (Llywelyn the Great), Welsh prince of Gwynedd. The stronghold certainly existed already in 1239, because then Gruffydd ap Llywelyn, son of Llywelyn ap Iorwerth, was imprisoned there by his half-brother, Dafydd. For the second time, the castle was mentioned in 1259, when Llywelyn ap Gruffydd for a few months imprisoned Maredudd ap Rhys from the Deheubarth, as punishment for conspiring against him.
When Llywelyn ap Iorwerth died in 1240, king Henry III of England tried to strengthen his supreme power over Wales, and under the Woodstock Treaty of 1247, he deprived Gwynedd of control over all the lands east of Conwy. In the next decade, Llywelyn ap Gruffudd took up the fight to restore Gwynedd’s domination, wrestling with the English ally, Maredudd ap Rhys Gryg, who was captured and imprisoned in Criccieth Castle. In the end, Gruffudd won, and by virtue of the Treaty of Montgomery from 1267, he was accepted by the English and Welsh. However, this achievement was relatively short-lived, because the Welsh prince entered into conflict with the new king of England, Edward I, starting in 1276 the First War of Independence. During this time, the Criccieth Castle, lying on the sidelines, did not play a significant role. When the Second Welsh Independence War began in 1282, the English king decided to conquer all of Wales. Criccieth was conquered in 1283, there is no mention of battles or siege, it is only known that Henry of Greenford was paid at that time for filling the castle with an English garrison. After the Welsh defeat, Edward I issued significant funds to build a chain of strongholds protecting the conquered areas of North Wales. It also included renovations and modernizations of some former Welsh castles. In the years 1285-1292, 353 pounds were spent on Criccieth, a sum sufficient for extensive construction works.
In 1294, Madoc ap Llywelyn began an anti-English uprising that quickly spread to most of Wales. Criccieth Castle was one of many attacked in 1294. However, the fortification of the castle and its location by the sea made it possible to supply from the Bristol ships and, as a consequence, keep for a few months until the arrival of reinforcements and suppress rebellion (6000 herrings, 550 large salted fish, 30 wheat quarters, 27 quarters of beans, 20 pounds of twine for crossbows, 50 stockings and 45 pairs of shoes, as well as 24 salted pigs and 18 cheeses were delivered). Damage to the castle is unknown, but significant sums were spent on its maintenance in the fourteenth century, during the reign of Edward II and Edward III. The latter gave the castle to his son Edward (Black), the Prince of Wales. He, however, appointed the first native Welsh constable of the castle, since the stronghold was taken over by the English. Hywel y Fwyall received this honor in exchange for services during the Battle of Poitiers in 1356.
During the next Welsh revolt of Owain Glyndŵr, caused by excessive taxation and hard English rule, in 1400 almost all of north-west Wales was taken over by rebels, with the exception of isolated strongholds in Criccieth, Aberystwyth and Harlech. This time, thanks to the French support at sea for the Welsh people, supplies and meals could not be delivered to the castle in Criccieth. As a result, in 1404, the English garrison surrendered, and the Welsh destroyed the stronghold. From that moment, the castle remains in ruin.
The castle was situated on a high, rocky promontory, situated southwards towards the waters of Cardigan Bay. It is assumed that the oldest, Welsh part of the castle, built by Llywelyn ap Iorwerth, was later the upper (inner) ward. It consisted of a polygonal circumference of the defensive walls closing the ward, to which a powerful gatehouse led from the north, inspired by Norman constructions. It was made up of two massive horseshoe-shaped towers, flanking the passage between them, additionally secured by a portcullis, double doors and numerous arrowslits, including those placed in the ceiling of the gateway (murder holes). In the ground floor of the gatehouse, there were two defensive-guard rooms, and the upper two floors house large rooms occupying both towers and a connector between them. There was also a mechanism for lifting and lowering the portcullis. Interestingly, the floors, unlike the ground floor, on the outer side did not have any windows or arrowslits. This was probably compensated by a timber porch, perhaps a hoarding, hung in the openings in the upper floor masonry. The gate towers were crowned with battlement.
In the inner ward there was a stone water tanker, additionally powered by a small spring. Residential building was low, rectangular, protruding in front of the defensive wall on the south-eastern side and a smaller timber framed building attached to the perimeter wall. In the 60s or 70s of the 13th century, Llywelyn ap Gruffudd added to the castle a southern outer bailey, walled with a stone fortifications and a rectangular tower on the south-western side.
During the English expansion of Edward I, the main gate was raised and the south-east tower of the upper ward and the south-west tower of the outer ward were raised and rebuilt. A northern ward was also created with a four-sided tower placed in the extended corner. This tower is known the Engine Tower, some scholars consider it as a building from the first phase of development, but at best it was built in Llywelyn ap Gruffudd time, and raised during the reign of Edward I. The tower probably served as the basis for medieval siege machines, it also shows the remains of two latrine shafts.
The castle has been preserved in the form of a ruin with a clear layout of all defensive elements. Its main and at the same time the best preserved part is the main gatehouse of the upper ward, consisting of two huge flanking towers. The defensive wall surrounding the inner ward also survived in good condition, only the ground parts and foundations have survived from the remaining fragments. The ruins are open to visitors.
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Taylor A. J., The Welsh castles of Edward I, London 1986.
Website castlesfortsbattles.co.uk, Criccieth Castle.