Criccieth - probably a corruption from the Welsh, Crug Eryr, the rock of the Eagle - would appear to have been founded a little before 1188 as the castle of Deudraeth, or the castle between two beaches.  This was done by the Welsh princely brothers Gruffydd (d.1200) and Maredudd (d.1212) the sons of Cynan ab Owain Gwynedd.  In 1239 the fortress was called Criccieth when it was used as a prison by the princes of Gwynedd to hold political opponents.  Later in 1283 it was burned in the face of Edward I's advancing armies.  However Edward repaired the fortress and it was then used until 1404 when it was abandoned and burned.  The castle was the twin of Harlech on the opposite side of the bay.

The fortress consists of 2 distinct parts, an inner ward and an outer ward.  It was initially thought that the outer ward was the older fortress with the inner built inside it as a citadel by Edward I after 1283.  However, that view has now rightly been abandoned and the inner castle has, without any evidence, been assigned to the work of Llywelyn ab Iorwerth (d.1240).  As noted above, the castle was recorded as being founded in stone shortly before 1188 by cousins of Llywelyn.  The initial twelfth century castle therefore seems to have consisted of a battlemented polygonal enclosure with a twin towered gatehouse at the north-east end and a rectangular keep to the south-east.  Consequently the western half of the enclosure had no flanking at all.  

The gatehouse's battlements were reached via external steps, the upper floor being reached by a straight mural stair in the east wall off the main curtain wallwalk.  Later an upper floor was added fossilising the early battlements.  The original plan included a fine garderobe block to the north, which does not continue into the new higher level.  The main defence of the gatehouse consists of 3 narrow loops in each tower on the ground floor only.  That these are arrow and not crossbow loops is suggested from their small embrasures - too small for a man to sensibly fight from - and the positioning of three loops so that one archer stood centrally in the tower could fire through any of them.  The upper floors are loopless to the front.  This arrangement looks similar to the one at White Castle in Gwent.  This has a similar gatehouse, thought to have been built by Hubert Burgh in the 1220s or 1230s.  Hence the flawed argument that Criccieth gatehouse must have been built by Llywelyn ab Iorwerth.  Such arguments are of course circular and there is no way of knowing which was built first, though it should be noted that King Henry II spent money on masonry at White Castle.  Therefore the argument that Criccieth gatehouse cannot be late twelfth century is based on the supposition that no such gatehouses were built in Britain at such a time because all of those that exist are assigned
to the thirteenth century without much, or in most cases any, corroborating historical or archaeological evidence.  Despite this, historical research has now suggested that similar gatehouses at Pevensey and Chepstow might well be twelfth century.  Criccieth gatehouse was equipped with gates and portcullis, but no drawbridge, although an arch was made that could have accommodated one - not that any ditch appears to have lain before the gatehouse.

Of the 43'x32' rectangular keep not much remains although it
would have been similar in size to the keeps at Dolwyddelan II (44'x31') in Gwynedd and Machen (45'x30') in Glamorgan, as well as Hopton (45'x40') and the large tower keep in the bailey at Richards Castle (45'x33') in England.  The keep at Adare (43'x35') in Limerick, Ireland, is also of similar size.  Much of Criccieth keep is down, although two fragments still stand to the first storey to the south.  This shows that the keep was added to the curtain wall which partially made up one side and was therefore a secondary feature.  The ground floor entrance was protected by a drawbar and is therefore probably original to the construction of the tower.  Access to the second floor was probably gained via an internal stone staircase of which only the foundations remain on the west side of the north wall.  In the south side of the west wall is one side of a window embrasure at first floor level.  Possibly there was another level above this so, with the gatehouse, the tower gave some command over the inner ward.  North of the tower in a third building phase a twin garderobe was added in a little turret and access to it was hacked through the curtain which was expanded into the inner ward to make a little rectangular turret.

The rest of the inner ward consisted of a polygonal wall about 15' high with battlements, of which some traces remain to the east.  There was no parados to the wallwalk due to the narrowness of the walls.  As such the curtain was obviously mainly spear defended.  There was also no inner ward ditch, a typical Welsh castle feature.  

An outer ward was added to the inner.  This too had no ditch, although Edward I's accounts shows that he had a ditch dug to isolate the castle further from the land - just like he did at the rock of nearby Harlech.  The outer ward contains two large rectangular towers, the one facing the town having been equipped with a large war engine in the fourteenth century which gave it its name.  The other appears like a great tower with an additional forebuilding complete with mini-drawbridge to the north-east.  Like the engine tower, the upper storey has all but gone.

The original entrance to the castle seems to have been from near where the current ticket office is.  It then looped up the crag around the castle to the east, although much of the path has subsequently fallen away into the sea.  Egress was then gained to the fortress through the outer gatehouse at the south apex of the castle.  This was a simple internal gatetower with only gates for defence.  The wall on either side of the gatetower was thinner than the outer walls to the north and north-east, although the section on the north side where it runs parallel to the inner ward was also thin.  Ground level loops were also cut into this wall to the north, and a single one was cut into the east curtain near its north junction with the engine tower.  There are the foundations of a wall between the engine tower and the inner gatehouse which may possibly mark traces of an earlier ward, or a pre-outer ward barbican.

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


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