The Dinefwr castle was built on a hill above the River Tywi, an important waterway that served as the main communication artery. The earliest mention of fortifications dates back to the mid-12th century, when Welsh chronicler Brut Y Tywysogyon reported that Dinefwr was captured by Rhys ap Grufford in 1165. He was the ruler of Deheubarth, an area stretching out in south-west Wales, a ruler strong enough to resist Anglo-Norman aggression. When he died in 1197, a furious dispute over the right to inheritance arose between his sons and grandchildren. Dinefwr Castle was repeatedly taken over by the pretenders, among others as a result of the siege and assault in 1213, and the dispute lasted until 1216, when the superior prince Llywelyn ap Iorwerth forced a family settlement. The castle was given to Rhys Gryg, one of the sons of Rhys ap Grufford. He got married to the powerful Anglo-Norman de Clare family and most likely made significant improvements and upgrades at Dinefwr. Rhys opposed Llywelyn ap Iorwerth’s decision to pay tribute to king Henry III, which resulted in the siege of Dinefwr and surrender of Rhys. The castle was then partially demolished, probably as part of an agreement between the prince Llywelyn and Rhys Gryg, but the demolition was not too big. After Rhys’ death in 1233, his lands were divided among his heirs. In 1255 prince Llywelyn ap Gruffudd donated Dinefwr to Rhys Fychan, then handed it to Maredudd ap Rhys, and eventually back to Rhys Fychan. The embittered Maredudd allied himself with English king Edward I, whom he helped to gain Dinefwr in 1277. Maredudd apparently had the castle promised in return for help, but Edward executed Maredudd in 1291 and took control of the castle.
For the rest of the 13th century Dinefwr remained the royal castle, numerous repairs were made and it was expanded. Castle was attacked during the Welsh uprising in 1316, but avoided significant damages, and the following year king Edward II gave it to his unpopular favorite, Hugh Despenser. This resulted in another attack in 1321 of the English marcher lords, who could not bear the expanding influence of the Despensers and joined the revolt led by Thomas, Earl of Lancaster. This rebellion was suppressed and the castle returned to the royal favorite. Eventually, however, in 1326 it was restored to the Crown, after the overthrow of Edward II and the fall of the Despensers family.
In 1403, the Dinefwr castle was attacked by the Welsh rebels of Owain Glyndŵr, but the siege was unsuccessful. The stronghold remained in the hands of the English, and when the revolt ended, it was repaired. At the end of the fifteenth century, the castle was in the possession of Sir Rhys ap Thomas, who carried out its rebuilding. In 1531 his grandson, Rhys ap Gruffydd, was executed for treason, and the castle was confiscated by the Crown, though later the family could get it back. In the seventeenth century, the cylindrical keep of the castle was partially modified for a summer residence, but after the fire of the eighteenth century Dinefwr was eventually abandoned.
The castle was situated on a hill north of the Tywi River. In the first half of the 13th century it consisted of a pentagonal defensive wall, cylindrical, massive keep located on the south-eastern part of the inner ward, and a northern, horseshoe tower. Due to the seventeenth-century rebuilding, there is no certainty what height the keep had originally, perhaps only the basement and the first and second floor. The original entrance to it was located on the first floor, only in the fourteenth century, the portal on the ground floor was pierced. The northern tower probably served only military and warning purposes, because there is no fireplace and latrine. The castle on three sides was secured with a ditches, it was not only necessary on the south side, where the escarpments fell steeply towards the Tywi River valley.
After the takeover by the English, the castle was significantly expanded. On the north side of the inner ward, a quadrilateral building of the great hall was erected and a quadrangle residential building next to it. It had a cellar, it had large gothic windows, it was warmed by a fireplace, and it also had a passage to the latrine turret. On the ground floor and first floor, there were probably living quarters. The building of the great hall served instead as a place for meals, feasts and greeting the guests. The entrance to the castle was additionally fortified. It ran along the southern curtain of the defensive wall and ended on a small, four-sided gatehouse. To the east of the inner ward stretched outer bailey, fortified with a defensive wall and a dry moat (ditch). Its area separated into a slightly higher northern part and the situated lower southern part, of which in the eastern wall there was the gatehouse building.
The castle survived to modern times in the form of a very well-preserved ruin with all the main elements from the Middle Ages. In the relatively weakest state there is only an outer bailey. The inner ward also shows the effects of the seventeenth-century rebuilding, which, by introducing large windows, changed the crowning of the keep and the façade of the northern residential building. Also the big stairs in the southern part of the ward are an early modern addition.
Davis P.R., Castles of the Welsh Princes, Talybont 2011.
Kenyon J., The medieval castles of Wales, Cardiff 2010.
Website castlewales.com, Dinefwr Castle.
Website wikipedia.org, Dinefwr Castle.