Owain Goch & Dolbadarn Castle

From the Cadw Guidebook for Dolbadarn Castle

n 1255 Llywelyn ap Gruffydd defeated his brothers Owain (d.1282) and Dafydd (d.1283), in battle at Bryn Derwin. Owain was imprisoned, and Llywelyn set about reasserting the authority of Gwynedd and thereafter extending it to a supremacy over much of the rest of Wales.

In the 16th century, at the time the antiquarian John Leland was writing, the traditional view was that Owain ap Gruffydd (also known as Owain Goch - Owain the Red) served his long captivity at Dolbadarn Castle. He was held there until 1277, when Llywelyn was forced to release him under the terms of the Treaty of Aberconwy. In a contemporary poem, Hywl Foel ap Griffri laments Owain's captivity, describing him in the opening line as: Gwr / ysydd yn nhwr / yn hir westai (a man who is in the tower, long a guest). Hywl upbraids Llywelyn: Why does brother not forgive brother? It pertains only to God to dispossess a man.

The reference to a tower in this poem suggests that Leland's sources may have been correct in identifying Dolbadarn as Owain prison. A man of his status would, no doubt, have occupied the best chamber on the upper floor of the tower (shown in an illustration by Chris Jones-Jenkins at right). He may, at times, have had the freedom of other parts of the stronghold, perhaps even being permitted occasional escorted excursions beyond the confines of the castle walls.

After his release, Owain was free to enjoy a few years of life in relative peace on his estates in west Wales. Some have speculated that his long imprisonment broke Owain's spirit though, as he never again mounted a serious challenge to his brother Llywelyn's rule.


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