Deganwy Castle, Gwynedd
The site of Deganwy castle, on the tip of a peninsula to the east of the Conwy estuary, dates from at least the 5th century. During the 6th century it became a major royal court of Maelgwyn Gwynedd, and it is believed that Maelgwyn imprisoned his nephew, Elphin, here. The site remained a royal court until the 9th century when the Saxons destroyed it. The area below the castle is called Maesdu (Black Meadow) and was, doubtless, the site of many bloody battles. The lower ground of the later bailey may have been the site of a settlement of serfs and bondmen; while Maelgwn's stronghold stood atop the higher of the later castle's twin peaks. It would have been largely of wood, although the defences included some dry stone walls.
Deganwy appears to have been first occupied during the Roman period, but was popular in the Dark Ages because it was safe from Irish raids. The place was burnt down when struck by lightning in AD 810. The castle was rebuilt in stone for King Henry III of England, but was finally destroyed by Prince Llywelyn ap Gruffudd in 1263. Conway Castle was later constructed just across the estuary.
Deganwy is a lesser known castle that is overlooked by the mighty castle of Conwy. Most tourists will understandably flock to the Edwardian castle and unknowingly look out across the bay to two hills which is Deganwy Castle, as I did upon my own visit.
The castle is not the easiest to find and will involve driving round some very nice residential streets looking for a footpath that takes you behind the lovely homes across a field to the two hills.
I can honestly say the determined castle-finder will be well rewarded, as the climb up both hills to explore what remains of this one important castle, provides magnificent views in all directions. You will find stone walls partially hidden in the undergrowth, but these discoveries all adds to a special experience.
~ History ~
517 - The fearsome Maelgwn Gwynedd, Lord of Anglesey, has a castle built at Deganwy.
547 - The yellow plague takes another victim in the great warlord Maelgwyn.
810 - Lightning destroys part of the castle.
822 - The Saxon king Cenwulf of Mercia, successor to Offa, invades north Wales. The castle of Deganwy is destroyed.
878 - Rohdri Mawr dies on the battlefield of Ynys Môn. Anarawd ap Rhodri becomes king of Gwynedd.
880 - Saxons again damage Deganwy Castle. Anarawd defeats a Saxon force at Conwy.
1080 - The Normans under Robert of Rhuddlan build a castle at Deganwy, but it is soon back in Welsh hands. He is killed when attacking some Welsh pirate ships under the neighbouring Great Ormes headland. On witnessing his death his men flee.
1213 - In the face of an invasion by King John, the castle is slighted by Llywelyn the Great as part of a 'scorched-earth policy' to prevent its use by the Normans. Llywelyn and his army retreat to the mountains with their supplies. King John's forces are left with the choice of starvation or retreat. When King John retreats back over the border, Llywelyn returns to Deganwy and rebuilds the castle. Re-supplied, King John later returns and destroys everything in his path until Llywelyn is forced to sue for peace.
1228 - Llywelyn imprisons his rebellious son Gruffudd in the castle.
1240 - Llywelyn dies. Anticipating that the Norman King, Henry III, would not be able to resist attempting to take advantage of the loss of his strong leadership over the Welsh, his own sons destroy the castle so as the Norman's cannot use the castle against them. The very next year, the expected invasion comes, however the Norman army can find no shelter or provisions at Deganwy and find themselves short of supplies and in danger of being trapped. Inevitably they retreat back across the border.
1244 - The castle is refortified.
1245 - King Henry again renews his hostilities in Wales and begins rebuilding Deganwy Castle.
1250 - Alan de Zesch is ordered by King Henry to fortify the bailey between the two hills and raise a tower on the east hill.
1253 - The building of the still incomplete castle is repeatedly hampered by persistent Welsh attacks. Life is extremely hard for the Normans in the castle and food is scarce. The garrison take out their hardship by slaughtering the neighbouring Welsh population during sorties and then returning with their heads as trophies. The Norman's are eventually forced to abandon the castle.
1257 - Llywelyn the Great's grandson, Llywelyn the Last, recaptures the lands to the east of the Conwy.
1263 - Following a long siege of Deganwy Castle Prince Edward's garrison of mercenaries are starved into surrendering to Prince Llywelyn the Last who, instead of holding the castle for his own, destroys it as his uncles had done before him to avoid it being used by the English.
1277 - King Henry's son & heir King Edward I advances across Gwynedd to finish his fathers work. He meets with Llewelyn's traitorous brother Dafydd to agree how Llywelyn should be defeated for payment of lands for Dafydd. En-route Edward camps at Deganwy. During his stay he considers how previous English garrisons had been starved into surrender by the Welsh and decides to abandon Deganwy in favour of a new site on a prominent rock on the Conwy River, so that his new castle can be supplied by sea. To add insult to Welsh injury, Edward decides the exact location of his new castle of Conwy should be built on top of the grave of the Welsh prince Llywelyn Fawr, and gives orders that the Welsh stone of Deganwy Castle should be used as the foundations for this castle.