Dryslwyn Castle

The castle crowns the summit of an isolated hill rising from the Afon Tywi flood plain.  The castle was initially founded by a prince of Deheubarth, possibly Rhys ap Gruffydd (d.1197) or his son, Rhys Gryg (d.1234), the latter certainly being lord of the district by 1227.   Maredudd ap Rhys inherited the castle on Rhys' death in 1234 and ruled his lands from Dryswlyn castle until 27 July 1271 when he died within the fortress, leaving the castle to his son, Rhys ap Maredudd (d.1292).  The castle endured its first known siege by royal forces in 1245 and its history as a princely castle came to an end in 1287 when it was captured by the Crown after a desperate and famous siege in which part of the wall was brought down burying the attackers in a mine.  The site of the siege mine is still plainly obvious in the outer defences and not in the rock of the inner ward as is often claimed.

There is a walled borough on the lower summit of the hill, which like the castle itself, was modified and repaired throughout the fourteenth century, but no new building work seems to have been undertaken.  In 1370, during a French invasion scare, the castle contained a constable, Sir Rhys ap Gruffydd, and 10 archers.  Some 30 years later the castle was captured in 1403 during the wars of Glyndwr.  It remained in rebel hands for some 3 years before being abandoned and largely demolished.

The earliest castle consisted of a strong, irregular limestone rubble walled ward, about 120' east to west by the same deep, which now mostly stands some 3' high.  To the east, part of the curtain wall was remodelled to make a garderobe with 2 shafts reached up stone steps.  At the north-east corner are the remains of the original hole in the wall gateway.  This was later expanded eastwards to make it an internal gatehouse within which are the remains of steps to the wallwalk.  These features survive only
as foundations, but the lower jambs of the portcullis slot remains within a cobbled passageway. 

On the south side of the gateway is the original round tower keep, 40' in diameter with walls 12' thick.  It is set mostly within the defences, just like the keep at Dinefwr.  Dryslwyn keep was originally entered at first floor level from external steps built above a broad north-west buttress.  A ground floor doorway with segmental stone head, is a later insertion.

Within the ward are the foundations of the early great hall with a later one at right angles on its east side.  The original hall has a segmental-headed doorway in the north wall, with a narrow window to its west.  In the centre are the stone foundations of the hall fire hearth and the outline of a small prison in the corner of the enceinte to the north. 

A separate building phase consisted of a middle ward constructed on the north-east side of the inner ward, again with a hole in the wall gateway to the east.  This ward did not contain all of the original earthwork ward, with the re-entrant to the north-west remaining as just an earthen rampart almost the same size as the castle inner ward.  At a later date another bailey was then added to the north-east.  The entire north-west front of the castle was covered by a massive town ward.

Within the original inner ward, a new apartment block and chapel tower were added on the south side, directly overlooking the Tywi valley, probably at the same time as the outer ward was built and the inner ward gatehouse constructed. 
The projecting chapel on the east side was at first floor level and still contains the remains of 3 lancet windows.  This blocked a postern gate in the original curtain wall at this point.  The 2 storey apartment block to the west of the chapel has 2 pointed windows in the lower storey and the jamb and embrasure of a third, while in the upper storey a single similar opening survives with the jamb and embrasure of a second opening.  This wall and the north-west wall of the outer ward are much thicker than the other walls.  The outer ward projecting rectangular gatetower is also of a peculair design, as really is the whole castle.  This suggests that the whole was built while the castle was under Welsh control, ie. before 1288.  With the substantial settlement grown around the north side of the fortress Dryslwyn is the largest known castle in Wales built by a Welsh lord. 

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