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The Llys at Rhosyr, Anglesey

Copyright 1998 by Daniel Mersey

Castles, of course, would not have always been the most comfortable of places to have lived, even by medieval standards; the nobility had the means to create their own versions of a modern holiday home, be it a hunting lodge or an elegant manor house.

One of the royal courts of the Princes of Gwynedd - the pre-eminent Welsh state - was uncovered in the summer of 1996, in a good state of preservation due to the deep covering of sand which had blown over it from the nearby coastline.

Below: Statue of Llywelyn the Great at Conwy.

This llys (the term used for a high status Welsh secular site) stood at Rhosyr on Anglesey, and was excavated by the Gwynedd Archaeological Trust. At least three major buildings have been found, in addition to other ancillary structures; a well preserved perimeter wall also exists.

One of the buildings was, as one might expect, a large hall; the hearth place was off-centre, and an adjoined range of rooms lay along the side. The Rhosyr hall was discovered to be equal in size to the largest previously known hall in Gwynedd (the Bishop of Bangor's residence in Llandudno). Despite the layout being similar to contemporary English halls, the Rhosyr excavations seem to suggest that the Princes lived "a curiously un-luxurious lifestyle". The buildings are rather basic - probably being built of timber on dry stone footings, and may have been roofed in thatch for the early part of their use.

Small finds include ring brooches, a spur, strap-ends, a small knife, pottery (including examples from eastern England and Bordeaux) and a few coins (minted at London, Canterbury, Gloucester and Berwick). The latter two finds may be indicative of long distance trade.

Despite these rather meagre finds for a royal site, it is certain that Rhosyr was a royal court: Welsh Gwynedd was divided into a number of administrative areas each housing a royal township, and one of these was known to have existed at Rhosyr. According to Neil Johnstone: "There can only be one high-status dwelling on the royal estate, and it belonged to the Prince".

After the death of Llywelyn and the Fall of Wales, the llys at Rhosyr was dismantled and became derelict. 18th century Antiquaries mentioned seeing the sand covered, ruined walls at Rhosyr, but by the turn of this century, nothing survived to be seen of the llys except the name of the field in which it once stood - cae llys ("field of the court").

SOURCE: "Welsh royal court found in sand" British Archaeology 18 (October 1996).

Daniel Mersey

 

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