The castle was erected on the order of English king Edward I, right at the beginning of the First Welsh War of Independence in 1277. The English troops in the march along the North Wales coast quickly defeated the Llywelyn ap Gruffudd and deprived him of all territory east of the Conwy River. Edward strengthened his victory by building strongholds, which were later referred to as the “Iron Ring”, whose task was to obey Northern Wales. Flint was the first of them, it was formed on the deserted bank of the River Dee, just a few days walk from the royal city of Chester. The area was devoid of defensive hills, but for the English, access to the sea was important, which provided the opportunity to carry supplies. Construction was progressing very fast, performed by 970 diggers, 300 carpenters and 200 stonemasons, it was supervised by Richard L’Engenour, but it was also visited by the main mason master of king Edward, James of Saint George. In 1282, the work was completed, and English colonists and merchants were brought to the castle’s settlement.
Five years after the construction started, Welsh forces under the command of Dafydd ap Gruffydd, brother of Llywelyn ap Gruffudd, besieged the castle during the next war against English rule. In 1294 Flint was attacked again during the revolt of Madog ap Llywelyn. This time the commander of the castle, William de la Leye, was forced to set fire to the town to prevent it from being captured by the Welsh. The castle remained unconquered, and the town was soon rebuilt. Flint until 1311 was certainly in good condition because it was visiting king Edward II.
In 1399, King Richard II stayed in the castle, but he was a prisoner, held by his cousin Henry Bolingbroke, Earl of Derby, the future Henry IV. Two years earlier, Richard had expelled Henry from the country and then seized the goods of his uncle, the Duke of Lancaster, John of Gaunt. Henry took advantage of the king’s involvement in the campaign in Ireland and returned in 1399 organizing his opponents. One of them, Henry Percy, Earl of Northumberland, assisted in capturing Richard and transported him to Flint, where he was forced to abdicate. Than he died in a prison at Pontefract Castle, murdered or starved. Soon after, at the beginning of the fifteenth century, the castle once again confirmed its military value during the Welsh rebellion of Owain Glyndŵr. The invasion of 1403 destroyed only the town, while the stronghold remained unconquered until the uprising fall in 1408.
During the English Civil War, the castle was occupied by Royalist forces, then in the years 1643-1645 it changed hands twice. Eventually, it was captured by the armies of Parliament in 1647, after a three-month siege. To prevent its re-use, the castle was destroyed on Oliver Cromwell’s order.
The castle was built on rocky terrain jutting out towards the wide mouth of the River Dee. The plan of the stronghold may have been inspired by the fortified town of Aigures Mortes in France, where Edward spent some time during the Crusades. Flint referred to that building (Tour de Constance) by a separate, cylindrical tower – the keep, located in the south-eastern corner of the castle. Such a location allowed it to both flank the entrance gate to the castle on the west side and dominate the outer ward in the south. It was the safest place in the castle, protected from the east by the river and from the other sides by an irrigated moat and defensive walls. The tower of Flint was the only keep so erected among the castles of Edward I.
The keep was accessible only by the drawbridge, on its northern side, facing the courtyard of the main part of the castle. However, it did not have a portcullis. The steps led to the outer, vaulted gallery in the thickness of the wall, equipped with numerous arrowslits. The walls were 7 meters thick in the ground floor, up to 5 meters thick above. At the bottom there was a well, above which there was a hole in the ceiling, allowing water to be supplied to the upper floors. Vertical drains in the walls with outlets to the moat were used to clear the latrines from the upper floors. There were five rooms on the first floor, accessible from the inside of the tower, one of which was a chapel. Above the preserved first floor, there must have been at least a second floor. When in 1301 the castle passed into the hands of Edward, Prince of Wales, a new wooden structure was added to the top of the tower.
The remaining buildings of the castle consisted of a quadrangle of defensive walls and three cylindrical corner towers. Their upper floors were occupied by living quarters. The internal buildings of the courtyard were only wooden, attached to the inner sides of the defensive walls. The gate was located in a small gatehouse. It was located in the southern curtain of the wall. It was entirely located inside the perimeter and did not protrude in front of the face of the walls. It led to the fortified outer bailey, where the moat and waters of the Dee River were an additional defensive zone. Further, on the south-west side, a small town stretched (about 500 x 300 meters), surrounded only by wood and earth fortifications with a double ditch and ramparts.
Until today, the castle has survived in the form of ruin with three corner towers of varying degrees of maintenance, fragments of defensive walls of incomplete heights and a keep visible to the height of the first floor. Only a short fragment of the outer bailey’s defensive wall has survived. The surroundings of the castle changed drastically due to the lowering of the water level. The castle is available for free for sightseeing, including the possibility of entering to the keep.
Gravett C., The Castles of Edward I in Wales 1277-1307, Oxford 2007.
Kenyon J., The medieval castles of Wales, Cardiff 2010.
Lindsay E., The castles of Wales, London 1998.
Taylor A. J., The Welsh castles of Edward I, London 1986.