The first timber motte and bailey castle was created shortly after the Norman conquest in the 11th century, on a rocky slope overlooking the main medieval route from Chester to North Wales. It was built by Hugh Lupus, Earl of Chester and entrusted to the Montalt family, serving as his stewards.
In the thirteenth century, in the time of the weak reign of the English king Henry III and the Second Barons’ War, the Welsh prince Llywelyn ap Gruffudd supported Earl of Leicester, Simon de Montfort, in exchange for Havarden’s resignation. However, the defeat and death of Earl at the Battle of Evesham in 1265, meant that the castle was never handed over, prompting Gruffudd to attack and destroy the stronghold.
The successor of Henry III, king Edward I in 1277, in a quick campaign, defeated Welsh forces and occupied all lands east of Conwy, including Hawarden. In 1281, work began on the rebuilding of the castle, which, due to the minority of Roger de Montalt, was placed under the protection of the powerful Lord, Roger de Clifford. This was a violation of the Montgomery Treaty of 1267, which forbade the reconstruction of Hawarden. In 1282, Llywelyn’s brother, Dafydd ap Gruffudd, besieged the castle and captured Roger, which led to the outbreak of Second War of Welsh Independence. Edward I quickly invaded the opponents, this time defeating the whole principality. Llywelyn ap Gruffudd was killed during the Battle of Orewin Bridge, and his brother Dafydd was captured and eventually condemned to quartering by the English.
The English victory meant continuing work on the already-stone castle in Hawarden, which, however, lost its strategic importance due to the conquest of the entire North Wales. In the fifteenth century, it passed into the hands of the Stanley family, the main supporters of Henry VII. They hosted the king twice in the castle, in 1490 and 1500, probably because of the neighboring deer hunting park.
During the English Civil War, Hawarden was garrisoned by royalists and was one of the key posts surrounding Chester. The city was strategically important because it controlled access to North Wales, including the royal port of Conwy, which hoped to bring in soldiers from Ireland. Consequently, control over Cheshire was a priority for Parliament. In 1643, its forces under the command of Sir William Brereton and Sir Thomas Middleton attacked Hawarden and captured the castle. In response, the royalists, reinforced by 3,000 Irish soldiers, besieged a 120-strong garrison. Thomas Middleton initially refused to surrender, but in the face of additional royalist supports, the garrison capitulated at the end of 1643. The castle was safe for the next two years, until the great defeat of the royal army at Naseby. Hawarden was besieged in May 1645. There was no direct attack, but with the destruction of the last royalist field army at the Battle of Rowton Heath, Hawarden surrendered on the instructions of king Charles I. After the surrender, the castle on Parliament’s order was slighted, to prevent its further military use.
The main element of the castle from the 13th century was a stone cylindrical keep, erected on an earth mound. The entrance to it was defended by a portcullis, inside there was a chapel and a living chamber. At the foot of the hill a polygonal defensive wall, created a castle ward. The entrance to the stronghold was from the eastern side, through a long passage of the gatehouse, which was a two-story building with a drawbridge and a sally port. It led to nearby earth, D-shaped fortifications to allow access to the neighboring pond, as the castle had no internal water source other than rainwater. In the inner ward of the castle, a two-story building of the great hall was erected, as well as economic buildings, including a kitchen. The south-east corner of the walls was defended by a semicircular tower.
To this day, the lower part of the keep, fragments of defensive walls and a part of the wall of the building of the great hall with two gothic windows have been preserved. The remaining elements of the castle survived only at the level of foundations or slightly higher elements.
Kenyon J., The medieval castles of Wales, Cardiff 2010.
Taylor A. J., The Welsh castles of Edward I, London 1986.
Website castlesfortsbattles.co.uk, Hawarden castle.