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Hawarden Castle

In park just SE of town, Flintshire, north Wales

Map link for Hawarden Castle

Copyright 1996 by Lise Hull

he name Hawarden Castle is probably better known as the grand stately home of W.E. Gladstone, former British Prime Minister, which is not open to the public. However, nestled in the lovely, albeit at times marshy, wooded park associated with Gladstone's home, the extensive remains of Hawarden "Old" Castle may be explored by entering an unobtrusive stone archway in the town's center. While not of Welsh origin, Hawarden Castle played a key role in the wars for independence of the 13th century.

The site of the castle has an ancient past that dates back to at least the Iron Age. The marvelous earthwork embankments are directly attributed to the prehistoric period at Hawarden and give the castle a uniquely imposing presence, despite its otherwise simple design. In the midst of the low rolling mounds rises the later stonework castle, with its impressive round keep adorning a Norman motte, the history of which is unclear. In fact, much of the history of the castles' construction is vague or confusing.

Some form of masonry castle was present on the motte during the 1260s, for it was at Hawarden that Llywelyn the Last met Simon de Montfort's son Henry, and was granted possession of the stronghold. However, Llywelyn was not to gain full control of Hawarden Castle, and, in retaliation for England's deception, he stormed the castle in 1265, captured the English lord, Robert de Montalt, and then destroyed the structure. By 1267, Montalt had been returned to power at the castle but was required to swear to never again fortify the site. Not surprisingly, within 10 years the motte had been refortified with an impressive round keep, which still exudes a sense of intimidation as well as impudence.

The keep is a great structure, standing about 40 feet tall, and its construction may well have been overseen by Edward's favorite master mason, James of St George. The bulky cylinder's placement atop the motte greatly accentuated its command over the region; however, we can now only imagine that presence, as the keep dwarfs us and towers well above our heads but seems diminished, secluded as if almost engulfed by earthworks and the tree-covered parkland.

Originally two stories high, the keep was octagonal on the interior, and contained a chapel, and was defended by an encircling curtain wall. Remains of the original gateway are still visible, as are the impressive windows, marking the site of the great hall. The smooth stone walls of the curtain and keep are still in excellent condition.

Hawarden's most significant role in the struggle for Welsh independence came in 1282 when it was attacked by Llywelyn's brother Dafydd ap Gruffydd. Angered by King Edward's seeming lack of respect, Dafydd staged a night siege on the stronghold in the month of March. Although he succeeded in capturing the castle and its constable, Roger Clifford, Dafydd's actions forced his brother Llywelyn to become involved in another rebellion against the crown. By the end of the year Llywelyn had been killed, and Dafydd was on the run, only to be captured and executed the following year. Hawarden Castle was retaken by the English king, never again to be the target of a Welsh uprising.

Hawarden Castle's history continued to be impacted by warfare and devastation into the mid-1600s, when it saw its final action during the Civil War. At first, it was garrisoned by Royalist troops who maintained control of the structure except for a brief time in 1643, and then until March 1646, when the castle was surrendered to Parliamentary forces. After that time, the castle was slighted and never restored, fated to remain in ruin and later to become part of the estates of nearby Hawarden House, erected in 1752.

Although not as well known as other castles in north Wales, Hawarden, along with the nearby castles of Caergwrle and Ewloe, have their own important stories to tell. Such castles are everlasting symbols of Welsh perseverance and Welsh individuality, and reinforce the fact that Wales is indeed a separate entity, despite it's union with Britain.

 

Lise Hull owns and operates Castles of Britain, an information and research web site providing a wide range of information on the castles of Britain. Mrs. Hull has a Masters Degree in Historic Preservation, and has visited well over 160 castles in Wales, England, Scotland and Ireland. She welcomes any and all questions concerning the castles of Britain, and invites people to visit her web site or contact her directly via e-mail at: castlesu@aol.com.

 

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