Dolforwyn Castle was built by Llywelyn ap Gruffudd in 1273 as a counterweight for the nearby Montgomery Castle. Gruffudd was formally recognized as prince of Wales by king Henry III under the Treaty of Montgomery, and he probably hoped that the construction of Dolforwyn would protect him against possible English aggression.
Henry III died in 1272, and his successor, Edward I, at first satisfied himself with maintaining peaceful relations. Soon, however, they deteriorated and in 1276 the Welsh-English war broke out. Dolforwyn Castle was besieged by the English forces under command of Roger Mortimer, Earl of March at the end of March 1277. During the fighting, the English used siege engines, probably trebuches, because during the excavations more than 50 stone missiles were found. Despite the shelling, however, the capitulation was decided by the lack of water supply, the castle was surrendered at the beginning of April 1277.
Dolforwyn was granted to Mortimer, who made many modifications to the castle, among other things he tried to add a new well. With the total conquest of Wales by Edward I, the stronghold, however, became strategically unnecessary. The garrison was maintained until the end of the 14th century, but in 1398 the castle was in bad condition. In a short time it was also completely abandoned and fell into total ruin.
The castle was built on a plan similar to a rectangle, along the natural ridge of the hill. The entrance to the castle was defended by a dry moat carved into the rock, which sides were secured with transverse walls to prevent potential enemies from penetrating the ditch. Just behind it was a perimeter wall with gate and next a rectangular keep, preceded by a small yard. Keep stood on the highest point of the hill, originally it was a two-story building. The constable’s chamber was located on the first floor and was accessible by external and internal timber stairs. In the English period, the keep was rebuilt: two rooms were created on the ground floor, a treasury was probably located in the smaller western one, in the east there was a great hall connected to the upper floor. Then the windows were also rebuilt for larger ones.
At the opposite end of the castle there was a cylindrical tower, another tower on the plan of the horseshoe was placed in the curtain of the north-western wall. The cylindrical tower had atypical entrances: one portal on the ground floor and another on the first floor, reached by external stairs. The economic and residential buildings were located in the main ward by the defense walls. The north – west range had two floors. Inside, a large stone pillar supported the hearth on the first floor, and a large bowl-like niche was probably used to dry the grain. In the English period, this range was extended to the horseshoe tower and connected to it by a portal at the basement level. On the eastern side of the ward there was a brewery and a bakery with ovens. The main castle ward was divided by a ditch carved into the rock, over which a timber bridge was moved. Written records from the 14th century inform about the functioning at the castle of the hall, Lady’s Chamber, the kitchen, the granary, the brewery and the bakehouse, but not all of them can be identified today. On the northern side, behind the cylindrical tower and the second ditch, there was originally a settlement founded by Llywelyn.
A characteristic feature of the castle were quite archaic structural solutions, visible especially in the corners of the perimeter wall, leaving considerable blind spots and in poor securing the entrance gate. Apart from the front ditch and a simple defensive wall, it had virtually no protection, and the keep hidden behind it did little to increase the defense of the whole castle.
In the Welsh period, the castle only had to rely on rainwater. Roger Mortimer dug a well in the castle, creating a room around it next to the horseshoe tower. This small building was partially vaulted and had a mechanism for pulling buckets of water.
The castle survived to modern times in the form of a poorly preserved ruin with a readable layout of all parts, additionally well described and illustrated on the information panels. Such a form of showing the architecture and functioning of castles would be useful also in Poland. Until the 1980s, the ruins were practically invisible by the bare eye, and they were excavated during many years of archaeological works.
Davis P.R., Castles of the Welsh Princes, Talybont 2011.
Kenyon J., The medieval castles of Wales, Cardiff 2010.
Website castlesfortsbattles.co.uk, Dolforwyn castle.