Castle of the Week 94 – Criccieth Castle

There isn’t much of Criccieth castle left now, but what there is shows you that it must have been a magnificent stronghold in its heyday. It’s on top of a rocky promontory which juts out into Tremadog Bay in North Wales and is a mixture of Welsh and English architecture.

Surprisingly, no signs of an Iron Age or timber castle have been found and it is believed that the first castle on the site was started at the beginning of the 13th century by Llewellyn the Great; certainly in 1239 his son, Gruffydd, was imprisoned there by his half-brother Dafydd.

It was a time of unrest between the English and Welsh and the castle changed hands several times in its early years. In 1241, Dafydd was defeated by Henry III and the prisoners handed over to the English King. Five years later Dafydd died, by which time he had lost virtually all his power and lands. His nephew, Llewellyn, was left to regain the house of Gwynedd’s prestige. His efforts led to him being made Prince of Wales in 1267 and for the next few years his court frequently visited Criccieth.

The castle towers over the village below and is approached by a short steep path to the dominating twin-towered gatehouse, although only the shell of the semi-circular towers now remains. The gatehouse fully covered the landward approach to the castle and would have deterred many invaders with arrow-slits and battlements, a portcullis and murder holes. It was probably part of the original Welsh castle, together with the inner ward, south-east tower, inner curtain wall and inner gatehouse.

Llewellyn was killed in battle in 1282 and the castle was captured by Edward I in 1283 and extensively rebuilt over the next 9 years. The north tower was adapted to bear a catapult while the south gate became the gateway between the inner and new outer baileys. All the walls, towers and the gatehouse were probably heightened at that time.

In 1294 it was besieged by the Welsh. There was a garrison of 29 men under Sir William Leyburn together with 41 townspeople seeking refuge. They held out through the winter and, when Spring came, supplies came by sea from Ireland breaking the siege. In 1296 it became a prison again, holding prisoners from Edward’s war in Scotland. In the first part of the 14th century, Edward II repaired the castle and built some new towers.

At the beginning of the 15th century, Owain Glyndwr managed to take back control of most of Wales and, in 1404, he besieged Criccieth. The garrison under the constable consisted of 6 men-at-arms and 50 archers. However, Glyndwr was supported by the French fleet which blocked sea access so the garrison surrendered and the castle was burnt down, since when it has not been rebuilt.

It remained Crown property until 1858 when the ruins were sold to an MP. In 1933 the castle was given to the State and is now maintained by Cadw (Welsh Historic Monuments).

Now as an extra treat, here are two exclusive screenshots from Stronghold 2 featuring Criccieth Castle (with thanks to FireFly). Click on the images to bring up the full-sized version:

Write-up provided by GillB. Pictures courtesy of Castle Xplorer.