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
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
been built either under Dafydd's rule or that of his father,
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.
1211 Prince Llywelyn ab Iorwerth specifically quitclaimed Denbigh to
King John, but he had regained it militarily by 1214.
was found residing here in May 1230 when dealing with his enemy,
William Braose of Builth.
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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
The idea that the earl first built the entire mile long
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
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
castle, the hall and 'green chamber' to the east, the treasure house to
the south and other buildings along the west and north walls.
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.
not join me at other Lost Welsh Castles next Spring?
Please see the information on tours at Scholarly
Paul Martin Remfry