Castles Built by the Welsh

by | Nov 30, 2020 | Castles

Due to the many times that Wales has been invaded throughout history, there are many castles there that have been built by outsiders. You can find Norman and Edwardian castles in Wales, which were built as a symbol of their power and control over the country and as a way to enforce their status there. 

However, the Welsh did also build many castles that had a major impact on the land at the time. They still remain today as a reminder of the conflict that took place through the ages and the various events that took place in the past. The Normans were known for their motte and bailey castles that were a much easier type of castle to build. You can find many of these types of castles throughout Wales, and the Welsh actually adopted this technique when they realised the advantages that came with them.

The castles that were built by the Welsh tend to be less lavish and overly complicated than some of the other castles that were built there, but this is primarily due to the lack of resources that they had during the time of building them.

How Many Castles in Wales Were Built by the English?

There is an estimated number of six hundred castles that were built in Wales, which is more per square mile than anywhere else in the world. Many of them were built by Welsh natives, but lots of them were also built by the English, who invaded Wales. After the Normans invaded in 1066, they erected many castles as a symbol of their power and status and to scare the Welsh into submission. 

Much of the Welsh population lived in fear, and as a result, most of them succumbed to the English rule and were set to work. This meant that most of the architects and craftsmen were building for the English, so the Welsh that resisted the English rule had very few craftsmen for themselves. This meant that English people had the advantage in terms of being able to build successful and grand castles all over Wales. The number of castles that they built expanded as they conquered more ground in Wales, and by the end of their rule, there were castles all over the country.

It is impossible to know for sure how many castles that the English actually built, due to the fact that it happened so long ago. However, we can gauge from the style of the castle, other records, and the resources that were used to build them, to try and tell apart Welsh native castles from those that were built by the invaders. One thing that we do know for sure is that the English ruled over Wales for a very long time, which means that a larger number of castles in Wales were likely to have been built by the English. 

Who built all of the Castles in Wales?

Throughout history, there has been a major power struggle between the Welsh and the English. This resulted in lots of castles being built, and a number of different people were responsible for building them. There was no one person that was responsible for building every single castle in Wales. We will name a few people here for you to learn more about who built which castles in Wales. 

Aberystwyth Castle was built by none other than Edward I when he made it his mission to conquer Wales. He is responsible for a number of Castles that were built in Wales, and he built this castle to strengthen his hold over the country. This castle was never actually completed, and the Welsh rebelled by capturing the castle and burning it down entirely in 1282. Just one year later, the castle began construction for the second time under the same rule, with the help of King Edward I’ trusted architect, Master James of St George. He was able to complete the castle in 1289, and it stood for a further five years before it was attacked again by Owain Glyndwr, who managed to finally capture it in 1406. 

Brecon Castle was built by Bernard de Neufmarch and was the very first motte and bailey castle. It was built in 1903 and was later destroyed in 1231 by Llewelyn ap Lortwerth. The castle was rebuilt following this destruction, but Llewelyn destroyed it again just two years later. It was then rebuilt in stone by Humphrey de Bohun in the early thirteenth century.

Caergwrle Castle started construction in 1277 by Dafydd ap Gruffudd in order to construct a circular keep that overlooked the countryside. The castle was never completed before Dafydd revolted against the rule of King Edward I in 1282. He retreated from the castle and had it slighted so that he could deny its use to the English invaders. Edward eventually began to rebuild this castle, but a fire broke out and destroyed it. The castle was left to ruin.

Caerphilly Castle is a highly regarded building that was created by Gilbert de Clare, a Norman Noble. He started to build this castle in 1268, but Llywelyn ap Gruffydd objected to the build by burning down the castle in 1270. Gilbert persisted on and created a new system of defence within the castle’s walls as he went. The castle became lavish and luxurious, and the design ideas were later used by Edward I himself. When Llywelyn died in 1282, there wasn’t much of a threat left behind from the Welsh military, and Caerphilly became the administrative centre for the considerable de Clare estate.

Cadw Castle was built around the natural environment and was the first stone castle to be erected by Lord Rhys, Rhys of Deheubarth. It was built in the late twelfth century and was later captured by King Edward I. The Welsh were not happy about this at all, and they constantly fought to get it back over time. The castle was later passed on to John Giffard of Brimpsfield who worked hard to rebuild and strengthen the castle’s defences. It moved between Welsh and English ownership until it was slighted in 1462 to prevent it from being fortified again.

Styles of Castles Built by the Welsh

The castles that were actually built by Welsh natives can be determined by a variety of characteristics which help to distinguish them from those that were built by the English. The differences between the Welsh and English castles can be used to tell the two apart.

One advantage that the Welsh had against invasion was the rugged landscape of their homeland. Those people that built the castles used the Welsh terrain of the countryside to their advantage as a primary means of defence surrounding their castles. The Welsh strongholds were difficult to navigate on foot as they were often isolated, atop rocky outcrops, protected by cliffs, and defended by deeply cut ditches. 

These castles were also much smaller than other castles, and they were much more plain and simple. They generally consisted of just one ward that depended on a two-storied keep, and this was the main source of accommodation. It also incorporated a new design for castles, which was the apsidal tower. 

One feature of a castle that was built by Welsh natives is the elongated D-shaped structure that was a strategic combination of two or more vulnerable designs such as the round tower and the rectangular keep. This was a useful feature that the Welsh could use to their advantage. The rounded end allowed defenders to have a wider area to fire at approaching enemies, which made them less susceptible to being overthrown. There was also a squared side that allowed for the expansion of the living areas to provide more room. 

It is commonly observed that many English castles used a spiral staircase that connected the different levels of the castle, but most Welsh castles used a straight flight of stairs that were set into the outer walls. 

A defence that the English made the most of when building their castles was the fortified gatehouse. However, Welsh castles did not focus on this aspect as a defensive measure and instead focussed their efforts elsewhere. Welsh castles prepared for attacks in other ways that allowed them to be ready when the time came.

Welsh Native Castles

The Welsh didn’t follow in the footsteps of the English when it came to building their own castles, though few of them are structured similarly. Out of the roughly six hundred castles that still stand today, it is estimated that less than 10% of them were built by Welsh Natives. The original number of castles built by the Welsh would have been higher a long time ago, but these are the figures of the ones that are left standing today. 

The earliest recorded castle that was planned to be built by the Welsh can be found referenced in an entry in Brut y Tywysogyon, the Chronicle of the Princes. Here, it states that Cadwgan ap Bleddyn had intended to build a castle, but he was killed before he had the chance. Only five years later, we can find a recorded mention of a castle that has survived all this time and can be seen today. This was the mound or motte at Cymer that was erected by Uchdryd ab Edwin in 1116.

It wasn’t actually until the thirteenth century that the Welsh started to build stone castles that could measure in quality to those that had been built by the English. This was the time when Llywelyn ap Lorwerth rose to power and started to build stone castles.

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