The fortress was possibly founded in the twelfth century, but the prefix ‘Den' probably refers to Dun, the early word for a fortification.  In twelfth century royal documents Denbigh usually appeared as Tynbey.  There was certainly a fortress here by the early 1190s when it was attacked and taken from King Dafydd ab Owain in 1196 after various sieges beginning in 1194.  This would suggest that the castle had been built either under Dafydd's rule or that of his father, Owain Gwynedd (d.1170).  At the time of its fall its garrison was augmented by the troops of Richard the Lionheart, fighting under the Welsh lords of Whittington.  In 1211 Prince Llywelyn ab Iorwerth specifically quitclaimed Denbigh to King John, but he had regained it militarily by 1214.  Llywelyn was found residing here in May 1230 when dealing with his enemy, William Braose of Builth.  In 1277 Denbigh was granted by Edward I to Prince Dafydd ap Gruffydd and, after his rebellion, the castle underwent a month long siege by the massed forces of that king in 1282.  The fact it held out for a month strongly suggests it was no wooden castle standing on a hill.  It was then passed to the Lacy family, who lost it in 1294, but regained it, after losing a battle here, in 1295.  By 1305 the ‘old town' was largely abandoned with the bulk of the population now living outside the walls.  The description of this an 'old town' bears comparison with the 'old work' at Harlech.  Both would appear to have been Welsh fortifications.  Denbigh castle was finally heavily besieged in the Civil War and battered to pieces in 1646.

The original fortifications consisted of the entire rocky hill top that was protected by a wall a mile long and punctuated by D-shaped backless towers.  It would seem possible that the whole was envisioned by King Dafydd, the brother in law of King Henry II of England.  At the same time as Denbigh may have been built, Dafydd's brother, Rhodri, was also building castles in Wales, in his case 
Criccieth castle at the other end of Gwynedd and in opposition to Harlech.  This makes much more sense than the section making up the S&W sides of the castle being Dafydd ap Gruffydd (d.1283) or Henry Lacy's pre 1293 work which are described below.

Denbigh castle occupies the highest point of the rocky crag of Denbigh.  Its S&W sides consist of a four sides forming an obtuse angle which is further defended by 4 boldly projecting D shaped turrets, running from the Bishop's tower in the north, via the two towers either side of the Treasure house to the Postern tower at the SE.  The two southern towers have later stone backs added, but are blind on their ground floors.  The two western ones have a single loop facing west.  The upper storeys are all gone.  From the SE or postern tower, a new, thicker wall ran in a semi-circle to the NW of the bishop's tower.  Quite obviously this wall post dates the S&E curtain which continues as the town wall right around the crag.  The idea that the earl first built the entire mile long enceinte in 1278 to 1281 and then the main castle after 1283 seems a poor guess in the face of the earl building the current castle after 1278 in the corner of the Welsh dun.
  To the south of the postern tower is a typical spear defended Welsh long barbican which bears comparison with the one at Castell Carreg Cennen.  This structure has three dog-legs against Carreg Cennen's two.  On the E side of the enceinte, under the Bishop's tower, is a convoluted postern of ingenious design.

The earl's Edwardian fortress has a unique 3-towered gatehouse, while the three towers of the enceinte mirror the work at Caernarfon which was built by Edward I (d.1307) and Edward II (abdicated 1327).  Built around the walls of the enceinte were the buildings of the castle, the hall and 'green chamber' to the east, the treasure house to the south and other buildings along the west and north walls.

The Welsh-built town walls, most likely built by King Dafydd ab Owain Gwynedd (1170-1200/3), are spectacular and can still be walked for half their length.  Commencing at the Red tower of Denbigh castle the walls ran north to the rectangular towered Exchequer gate.  This has been largely destroyed.  From here the wall swang NW and then north again before turning NE and running to the Burgess gate.  This ashalar built twin-towered gatehouseis quite obviously of a different built do the rubble town walls.  The building generally has shoulder headed and triangular topped apertures which point to a late thirteenth or fourtheen century origin.  The gateway is also well equipped with murder holes and portcullises.  From here the town wall followed the contours of the hill east to a D shaped tower from where it ran on to the SE to the rectangular Countess tower.  From here it again followed the countours of the crag back towards the castle where it joined the Postern tower after passing through a similar D shaped tower which emphasises the unity of the town walls and the castle S&W walls.  When the Earl of Lincoln took over the castle he added the polygonal Goblin tower and associated structures to the east end of the wall to bring another water source within the defences.  This matches the towers of the N&E of the castle and was bombarded into submission in the Civil War.

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