Strategically located Rhuddlan was the site of the clash of Welsh rulers of Gwynedd and Norman earls from borderland marches, since the eleventh century. The latter in 1086 on the initiative of Robert of Rhuddlan erected on the nearby Twthill, a timber – earth, motte and bailey stronghold. The conflict between the Welsh and the Anglo-Normans lasted throughout the 11th and 12th centuries, eventually ending in a war between Welsh prince, Llywelyn ap Gruffudd and the king of England Edward I in 1277. Edward invaded North Wales, erected a new stronghold at Flint, and headed towards Rhuddlan, where in September 1277 he began building the castle. Three months later, the newly founded town and stronghold were officially granted the English Crown, after the signing of the Treaty of Aberconwy, between Llywelyn ap Gruffudd and Edward I.
Work on the castle began under the supervision of master Bertram from Gascony, but soon the construction was handed over to the master of Savoy, James of Saint George, who directed it until the end of work in 1282. During the Second War of Welsh Independence, which broke out in 1282, the castle could suffer during a series of raids, but it was not captured. A year later, after its completion, efforts were made to improve the castle’s defenses by providing it with the chance of supplying from the sea. For this purpose, the Clwyd River has been made navigable for more than two miles.
In 1282 Elisabeth was born at the castle, the eighth daughter of Edward I, and two years later the Statute of Rhuddlan was signed in it. It passed all the lands of former Welsh princes to the English Crown and introduced English public law into Welsh lands. Edward could now nominate royal officials, such as sheriffs, constables, and bajlifs, to collect taxes and enforce English law. Now Welsh law was practiced only at the local level.
In 1294 the castle was attacked during the Welsh uprising of Madog ap Llywelyn, but it was not captured. It remained in the hands of the English and was one of the places where king Richard II stopped in 1399 on the way to Flint, where he was taken prisoner by a rival, Henry IV. In 1400, the castle was again attacked by the insurgent forces of Owain Glyndŵr. This time the town was seriously damaged, but the castle survived unconquered again.
At the turn of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, the state of the stronghold deteriorated, due to the reduction of its strategic and administrative significance. It was re-garrisoned during the English Civil War in the 17th century. It was controlled by royalist troops, loyal to king Charles I. After the Battle of Naseby, the victorious parliamentary forces led by Thomas Mytton, besieged Rhuddlan in 1646. Two years later, at the behest of Oliver Cromwell, the castle was partially demolished to prevent its further military use.
Rhuddlan was erected as a concentric, symmetrical castle with the inner ward on the diamond plan. Its defense was made up of two corner, cylindrical towers, one from the north and one from the south. They had four storeys and were crowned with battlements like the defensive walls. In the eastern and western corners, gatehouses were erected, each of them consisting of two huge, cylindrical towers flanking the passage. At the northern tower there was a small wicket gate. The defensive walls of the castle had a thickness of up to 3 meters and were crowned with battlement. Each curtain had a machicolation box in the middle, and on the sides, next to the towers, bulges holding latrines. The inner ward was occupied by timber and half-timber frame buildings, which adjoined the inner faces of the defensive walls. There was a great hall, a chapel, kitchen and royal apartments in them.
The outer ward was surrounded by an outer ring of defensive walls, extended towards the Clwyd River embankment. It was strengthened by 9 towers open from the inside and two full towers on the river, on the west side. The entrance was provided by two gates: the Town Gate on the north side and the Friary Gate on the south side. The additional water gate was located on the west side and probably overlooked the timber pier. The outer zone of defense was provided by a wide dry moat. Its western part reached the river and formed a dock for boats delivering supplies.
The castle has been preserved to modern times in the form of a legible ruin. It survived most of the circumference of the defensive walls of the main castle and practically entirely the twin-tower western gate and corner south tower. The north tower and the eastern gate are unfortunately badly damaged. Little has also survived from the outer perimeter of the fortifications, of which the currently best preserved element is the south tower defending the original dock (Gillot Tower). In full splendor you can also admire the castle’s moat. The castle is open to visitors from March 24 to November 4 from 10.00 to 17.00.
Kenyon J., The medieval castles of Wales, Cardiff 2010.
Taylor A. J., The Welsh castles of Edward I, London 1986.
Website castlesfortsbattles.co.uk, Rhuddlan Castle.
Website wikipedia.org, Rhuddlan Castle.