That the castle might be early is suggested by the name
of one of its lords, Owain, who was known during the Anarchy as Owain
de la Tour - Owain of the tower. This has been suggested as the Tower
of London, but surely a prince of Powys would more likely take his name
from the great tower keep he owned high above Llangollen and visible
into the Shropshire plains - Owain of Dinas Bran Tower.
Other than this suggestion, the history of Dinas Bran is unfortunately particularly blank until the late thirteenth century.
It was first mentioned as Dynasbrin
on 21 December 1270 when the 4 princes of Powys
gathered there to dower their mother, Emma Audley (d.1278+), the widow
of Prince Gruffydd Maelor ap Madog (d.1269). Madog ap
the eldest of the princes died before December 1277. His next
brothers, Llywelyn and Owain, were killed in the war of 1282, while the
sole survivor, Gruffydd, went on to be ancestor of Owain Glyndwr
(d.1415+). On 12 April 1277 Madog ap Gruffydd came to an
agreement with the earl of Warwick and Dafydd ap Gruffydd at Chester.
By this Madog and Dafydd agreed to decide the fate of Hope
lordship by trail by a jury of 12 Welsh and 12 Chester men.
also decided to dismember what remained of the kingdom of Powys amongst
the four brothers, though they were all to share a quarter of Dinas
Bran castle. Obviously some did not agree with this
On 10 May 1277, after he and Roger Mortimer (d.1282) had
Dolforwyn castle, Earl Henry Lacy of Lincoln reported that he had come
to attack Castell Dinas Bran (Deneisbran). However, that same
at Vespers the garrison had fired the castle. On 12 May Henry
himself arrived at the site and found that the house of the castle had
all been burned, but that the tower and the walls were still intact.
He therefore recommended its repair and garrisoning as he
that 'the castle was good and strong' and that 'there was no stronger
in Wales or England'. It would appear that this was not done
the castle was allowed to fall in disrepair and ruin. This
quite obviously met other castles, viz. Harlech and Criccieth, in the
war of 1282/83. The ruin of the castle remained with the king
until 7 October 1282 when 'Dynasbran
castle which was in the king's hands at the commencement of the present
war in Wales' was granted to Earl John Warenne of Surrey. The
castle remained a ruin and the earl went on to build Holt castle as its
replacement. As no ditching was done by King Edward while he
the ruin, 1277-82, it seems logical that the great ditch must be Welsh
Dinas Bran began life as a bow shaped hill fort on a peak
commanding the River Dee and ended its life in 1277 as a castle of the
princes of Powys. Entrance to this was gained from the SW via
an inturned entrance. Along its northern side a castle was
built over a millennium and a half after the major hill fort building
period, roughly 800-300 BC. The fort had a single rampart and
ditch except to the east where there is a short section of double
rampart between the northern hillside and the modern track that winds
its way up from the saddle to the castle. Between here and
the castle counterscarp low light shows up a grid pattern which
presumably mark terraces or even plough strips. As it is so
regular it probably suggests a medieval settlement of some description.
The castle was constructed at the NW end of the straight side of the
fort and initially consisted of a large rectangular tower, 60'x50', on
the highest rocky point, slightly west of the centre of the hillfort.
The only similarly positioned tower keep on a hillfort would
appear to be Bwlch y Dinas
which is 60'x40'. Similar,
but much smaller,
rectangular towers on crags exist at Criccieth,
Dinas Emrys, Dolwyddelan
I, Dolwyddelan II
The large tower at Dinas
Bran is almost certainly the first medieval building built upon the
site, as can be seen by the adjoining walls to the bailey butting onto
it. The tower sits upon a crag that has been artificially
steepened when a rock cut ditch was dug around it to N, E&S.
This ditch runs from half way around the north straight front
of the hill fort to the west side. This ditch follows the
line of the bailey and the projecting D shaped tower half way down the
ward. As the masonry of the castle seems to come from the
cut ditch it makes sense that the two are contemporary as too does the
way in which the ditch curves around the D shaped tower.
It has therefore been argued that the castle is pretty much
one build. However, this does not preclude the tower being
built first and then ditched, or possibly having its ditch deepened
when the castle bailey was built and the ditch on that side dug.
The keep ditch and the bailey ditch do not need to be
contemporary, although it appears highly likely that the keep ditch was
deepened when the bailey ditch was dug. The countersarp,
especially to the vulnerable east appears to have been walled in stone
judging by the amount of rubble lying around here.
The bailey is oblong and runs west from the keep, from which it is
separated by a fine rock cut ditch. The ward is entered via
elongated early twin towered gatehouse commanded by the keep.
There must have been a fine bridge across the imposing ditch
to reach it. The junction of the gatehouse with the curtains
shows that they were built simmultaneously, although the thick eastern
curtain wall running up to the keep is thicker than all the other
curtains and joins the south gatetower at an unusual angle. Various
similar English examples survive at
Beeston, Bungay, Clifford,
Dover, Longtown, Pembridge, St Briavels, the
Tower of London
In Wales they exist at Caerphilly,
Carmarthen, Chepstow, Criccieth, Degannwy, Llawhaden, Neath, Oystermouth, Powis, Rhuddlan, Tinboeth and White Castle.
they can be found at Kildrummy
and finally elsewhere in Ireland at Carrickfergus,
Castle Roche, Limerick and Roscommon.
Within the bailey there is a residential D
shaped tower of Ewloe, Carndochan and Y Bere
style. This was of at least two storeys and the ground floor
residential with a fireplace. Standing next to the D shaped
hall which lay between it and the keep ditch on the sunny south side of
the castle. It's shattered
windows still stare forlornly out over Llangollen. Other
buildings lay along the west and north curtains and there was a postern
to the SW. What is outstanding about the castle is the number
of garderobes. As this was purely a Welsh castle it must
question the theory that the Welsh were backward in castle building,
ditching and sanitation.
not join me at Dinas Bran and other Lost Welsh Castles next Spring?
Please see the information on tours at Scholarly
Paul Martin Remfry