Dinefwr, like Castell Carreg Cennen and Dryslwyn, was another early castle of the princes of Deheubarth, which may have begun its existence as a castle of the Clares during the Anarchy.  It lay about a quarter of a mile south-west of an earlier Roman fort and was rebuilt by the elder brothers of Rhys ap Gruffydd (d.1197) in 1151.  The castle passed back to the Normans, who may have been responsible for the great rock cut ditch that surrounds the site.  If this is true, it is possible that they also built the stone castle with the rock quarried from the ditch.  In 1164 Rhys retook the castle again in his wars against Henry II (1154-89).  The castle was mentioned by Giraldus in 1188.  In 1189 the Lord Rhys (d.1197) imprisoned 2 of his troublesome sons here.  Such an imprisonment might well suggest that a great tower stood here.  In the struggles that beset Rhys' principality he found it necessary to retake the castle again in 1192.

By the thirteenth century the fortress was claimed to be the capital of the kingdom of Deheubarth.  As such it certainly attracted enemies with Maelgwn ap Rhys (d.1230) being evicted from this castle and Llandovery in 1204.  In January 1214, King John's troops, allied with Prince Rhys Ieunac (d.1222), a grandson of the Lord Rhys (d.1197), successfully attacked the castle after fighting a pitched battle outside its walls against Rhys Gryg (d.1234), his uncle.  The castle wall was stormed and then the central tower attacked by men with scaling ladders.  Although they failed to break into the tower, the castle did surrender on terms the next day. 

The castle fell to the great offensive by Llywelyn ab Iorwerth in South Wales during the winter of 1215 and was returned to
Rhys Gryg (d.1234).  However on 30 August 1220, he dismantled it before being beaten by the forces of Prince Llywelyn at the battle of Carmarthen.  The fortress was obviously rebuilt and Rhys remained in possession, passing it on to his son, Rhys Mechyll (d.1244).  On Rhys' death war was raging through Wales and in 1246 King Henry III (1216-72) took the castle into his own hand from Rhys' widow, Matilda Clare, and held it until her son, Rhys Fychan (d.1271), came of age in 1248.

The fortress suffered repeated attacks in the Welsh wars, Rhys Fychan (d,1271) being expelled from the castle by Llywelyn ap Gruffydd in 1256 as he preferred to stay loyal to King Henry III (d.1272).  Rhys went to Carmarthen and Prince Edward's bailiffs raised a large relief force to retake Dinefwr for Rhys.  Prince Rhys then left this army under the walls of his castle and suddenly fled within, changing sides and leaving his erstwhile English allies to be massacred as they attempted to return to Carmarthen.

After Rhys' death in 1271, the castle passed to Rhys Wyndod, his son.  In 1276 royalist forces from Carmarthen appeared under the castle walls and induced Rhys and his brothers to surrender.  The king then ordered the castle kept by a royal garrison, although he allowed the princely brothers to keep their lands.  At the beginning of the war in 1282, Dinefwr, Llandovery and Castell Carreg Cennen were seized by the rebels and on 17 June a royalist army under the earl of Gloucester was defeated nearby.  As late as 1319 it was recorded that parts of Dinefwr castle had not been repaired since they were burned.  Presumably this burning occurred in 1282.

During the war of 1282-83, Rhys Wyndod was one of the last princes to remain fighting.  However, on his surrender, King Edward refused to turn Dinefwr castle over to Rhys ap Maredudd of Dryslwyn, another great grandson of the Lord Rhys (d.1197) who claimed it.  This was a partial cause for his rebellion in 1287 and Rhys' death by hanging in 1292.  The castle then remained as a royal fortress in the district, containing a constable and 6 archers in 1370 during a French invasion scare.

The castle earthworks from an angular inner ward, about 160' east to west by 120' north to south, backed against a steep fall down to the Rover Tywi to the south.  Such a ward bears comparison with those of Dryslwyn and Dinas Powys.  East of the main enceinte lay a large rectangular outer bailey about 200' north to south by 150' wide which itself was divided into 2, an upper ward to the north and a lower ward with rectangular gatehouse to the south.  

The core of the castle consists of a fine round keep, 45' in diameter, now standing 2½ storeys high in the south-east corner of the ward.  Round keeps seem particularly prevalent in South Wales, but others can be found throughout western Europe.  
Entrance to the tower was at first floor level via steps up the keep exterior, somewhat similar to the layout at Dolbadarn.  Much later a bridge was built across to the entrance from the south curtain.  The peculiar centre of Dinefwr keep appears to be the original internal wall of the tower which had a passageway all the round at this level.  A similar design is seen in the Snowdon Tower at Kildrummy in Scotland and at Hawarden as well as at the uncompleted towers at Beaumaris.  The current ground floor entrance appears to belong to the same date as the hall block.  Despite unsourced claims to the contrary, the keep was likely the tower attacked in 1214. 

The main castle enceinte has been destroyed to the east, where the corner of the ward seems to have been totally quarried away.  This enceinte consisted of a pentagonal ward which currently has a hole in the wall gateway to the south-west, where it is closely covered by the keep.  A postern lay to the south-east and was covered by the only flanking in this entire ward, a shallow rectangular turret at the south-west apex of the site.  Excavation has shown that a second building phase saw 2 walls added with the hole in the wall gateway to make a small, rectangular internal gatetower.  Around the same time a round tower was added to the northern apex of the site in a peculiar manner so that it did not project to the east and only about half of it projected to the north. This odd arrangement is similar to the tower added at the apex of Ewloe castle.  It is possible that this tower was built by Prince Llywelyn ab Iorwerth or Prince Llywelyn ap Gruffydd as a sign of their lordship over these castles.  The same may be true of the castles of
Dolforwyn, Ewloe and Machen and perhaps echoes the double motted castles of Lincoln and Lewes in England.

The north front of the original castle has been replaced by a large slightly projecting rectangular tower housing a solar block.  At the same time the round north tower was chamfered off internally to make it a D shaped tower.  Possibly simultaneously a new south wall was built to the enceinte with a new twin towered, internal gatehouse and a boldly projecting rectangular turret at its north end.  The bulk of the barbican was probably built slightly after this, judging by the butt joint it makes with this turret.  Part of the old enceinte to the south-east seems to have been retained as the north wall of the long barbican.  
Other versions of long barbicans exist at Denbigh, Carreg Cennen and Castell y Bere.  All would appear to be totally Welsh in origin.  

The outer ward to the east was once walled and had a projecting gatetower centrally to the east.  This appears to have been the entire flanking for the ward, which again would suggest an early date for its construction.  This virtual complete lack of flanking suggests that the bulk of the site was Welsh built, even the later hall block to the north being pretty deficient in flanking.

The final phase in the castle's life seems to have been the addition of a long, narrow hall overlying the curtain between the rectangular tower to the east and the D shaped tower at the north apex of the site.  Possibly this addition is the only English work at the site.

Why not join me at other Lost Welsh Castles next Spring?  Please see the information on tours at Scholarly Sojourns.


Copyright©2017 Paul Martin Remfry