Ewloe



Ewloe is another Welsh castle, viz Carndochan, Dolbadarn, Dolwyddelan I, Dolwyddelan II, etc etc, about which virtually nothing is known historically.  Sadly what is ‘known' on the internet is mostly free of any original facts, but not free from much 'creative' thinking.  To scrimp these ‘non-facts' off Wikipedia, the keep would appear to be early thirteenth century as ‘Llywelyn the Great built a similar D shaped tower at Castell y Bere... in the 1220s'.  The twin falsehoods of both statements are dealt with in the associated links.

What can be shown as fact is that Ewloe castle lies south of the Wepre brook, which was obviously regarded as the frontier between Chester and Gwynedd at some times in the Middle Ages.  In the 1260s border commissions between England and Gwynedd met there to arrange terms of truce and adjust any infringements of prior agreements.  If this is the case, then these meetings may have been taking place at Ewloe castle, a convenient meeting place.  The name Ewloe was first recorded in 1284 when goods were taken from Ewelawe wood for the royal garrisons in the area.  Again  Ewelowe wood was used for the local garrisons needs in 1301 with the specific mention that this wood belonged to the princes of Wales.  No mention of a castle is made until the year before 7 July 1311 when an inquisition was held to find the king's rights to the manor of Ewloe.  This recorded many things, the gist of which was that Prince Owain Gwynedd (d.1170) of Wales held Ewloe as demesne.  After him it was held by his son, Dafydd ab Owain (d.1200/03) and then by Llywelyn ab Iorwerth (d.1240).  On his death Dafydd ap Llywelyn (d.1246) held Ewloe until his death when King Henry III (d.1272) occupied it with the Four Cantrefs in Wales.  He then made Roger Mohaut (d.1260) his justice of Chester and he attached Ewloe to Hawarden (Haurthyn) and Moldsdale (Mouhaldesdale), to which it had never before belonged.  Further he made a park in
Ewloe wood and held them until Llywelyn ap Gruffydd recovered the Perfeddwlad from Henry III.  By doing this Llywelyn ousted the Roger from Ewloe and restored (affirmavit/iafferma) a castle in the corner of the wood.  This fortress 'was in great part standing at the time of the inquisition'.  

Obviously the inquisitors had not remembered their history quite correctly, or at least what they remembered does not coincide with what was recorded contemporaneously with the events they recall.  Certainly the Perfeddwlad (Four Cantrefs) passed from Owain Gwynedd (d.1170), to his son, Dafydd ab Owain (d.1200/3), who lost them to Llywelyn ab Iorwerth (d.1240) in 1197.  Their first major error is that Dafydd ap Llywelyn (d.1246), died seized of the Perfeddwlad and Ewloe, for he lost them to Henry III in 1241.  Roger Mohaut was only justiciar of Chester from 27 May 1257 until 29 September 1259 and Llywelyn ap Gruffydd is said by the Welsh Chronicles to have gained all the Perfeddwlad except for the two castles of Dyserth and Degannwy in November 1256.  Quite obviously one of these sources is wrong and most likely it is the fourteenth century chronicles, rather than the fourteenth century inquisition.  It would therefore seem likely that Roger held Ewloe as a hunting preserve until his death about 24 June 1260 at Castle Rising in Norfolk.  As he only held Ewloe for 3 years at the most and half a year at the minimum, it is unlikely that he did anything to Ewloe castle, especially as he held Hawarden castle only 2 miles SE and Mold itself 5 miles to the west.  Henry's two Welsh castles, Dyserth and Degannwy, fell in 1263 and Hawarden is reported as having been captured and destroyed by Llywelyn in 1265.  On 28 June 1260 the king seized the estates of the recently deceased Roger and also those of his widow, Cecily Aubigny.  That same October the king allowed Roger's will to be executed.  At this point Roger's son, Robert Mohaut (d.1275), must have been a minor as his parents had only married a little before November 1243, making Robert about 16 at the most.  He certainly married either this year or the next, so was at liberty.  Whatever the case, he soon attacked Prince Llywelyn for in 1267 the treaty of Montgomery delivered him from Llywelyn's custody.  Robert died young, aged no more than 32 in September 1275 and so did not see the reconquest of the Perfeddwlad in 1276/7 by Edward I, who, after refusing the Mohaut claim, became lord of Ewloe by right of conquest and escheat from the prince of Wales.  Ewloe then remained a royal estate.  Quite obviously the only people likely to have built Ewloe castle in the second half of the thirteenth century would have been Llywelyn ap Gruffydd (d.1282), but the inquisition stated quite clearly that he restored it, not built it.  However, the assumption that this must have been in 1257 is clearly wrong as Llywelyn would probably not have been secure enough in Moldsdale until after the death of Roger Mohaut in 1260 and quite possibly until after the fall of Hawarden in 1265.  He would then have held Ewloe in reasonable security until 1276 when the Marchers attacked his lands in force.

Considering the above history, it is generally assumed that Llywelyn must have built the round tower at the west end of the castle.  There is nothing illogical about this, but it has to be admitted that the style of tower is archaic for the late thirteenth century with its mural stair rising through the wall on the artillery vulnerable south side, rather than a safer spiral stair vice to the east which would have been protected by the inner ward.  Possibly then the tower was built in a hurry or when the builder could not acquire or spend the time fashioning expensive stones to make a spiral stair.  To make a flight of curving steps was obviously easier and quicker.  

Although the round west tower appears integral with the outer ward south curtain, indeed it can be said to be a part of it, not projecting at all to the south, it is quite obvious that the northern curtain which swings to the north side of the inner ward is of a different build.  This seems to leave Ewloe as a four phase castle.  The first element seems to be the revetment of the inner ward into an irregular rock motte with a summit of about 100' across.  This ‘castle' had a hole in the wall entrance to the NE.  Then the D shaped tower was built as a keep upon this ‘motte'.  There is no reason why these two events might not have been close together in time, although it would seem unlikely that they happened simultaneously as the inner ward revets the rock.  Next the large round tower with a diameter of about 40' was added 70' to the west of the inner ward on its own crag and finally the outer curtain to the north with its hole in the wall entrance was added.  Judging by the building styles at least a hundred years should be allowed between the first work and the last.

However, a castle does not exist of stonework alone.  The ditching all around the castle is of the highest order and not what would be expected at a Welsh castle where ditching is usually poor, without English expertise, viz. Carreg Cennen, Criccieth, Dolbadarn, Harlech, Y Bere.  There are further earthworks to the south, perhaps to protect the castle from artillery fire, but they are considerably less impressive than those at Berkhamsted.  Prince Llywelyn only certainly built one other castle and that was Dolforwyn.  This has a large rectangular keep at one end, which was probably there before ‘Llywelyn's castle' was built the enceinte between that and the round tower at the other end of the site.  In this it is rather mimics Ewloe.  It is therefore possible that Dolforwyn, like Ewloe might have a divided lordship.  This is seen in Lincoln castle, where two lords seem to have shared the castle, each having their own quite different keep on a motte.  The same form of castle can be seen at Machen in South Wales where there is a round tower and a rectangular tower on separate rocky mottes.
 The odd castle out in this is the twin mottes at Lewes, where there is no record of a divided lordship.  Regardless of the layout of Ewloe there are plenty of similar sized round towers in Wales and the Marches.  A list of similar round towers serving as keeps can be found in the description of Llanstephan castle and a general list of round keeps examined on this site is found under Dundrum.

For all the historical information (what little there is of it), it really leads the historian no further to an answer of who built Ewloe castle and why.  It has been suggested that the castle being so poorly sited and overlooked was to do with it being more of a hunting lodge rather than a fortress.  It has also been suggested that the castle was built here in remembrance of the alleged defeat of Henry II at this very spot in 1157.  Both suggestions seem unlikely considering the defensive ditches and towers, plus the total lack of facilities for hunting parties and the unsuitability of the site for horses.  The D shaped tower is obviously a status building, being some 52' long by 36' wide.  This had a basement and a single storey above.  It was entered at first floor level via a later forebuilding.  From the entrance doorway a mural stair ran up within the south wall to the battlements above.  At first floor hall level there is a rectangular window to the south which, although it was barred, is hardly defensible as would have been expected at a real defensive castle.  Internally it looks as if the embrasure was equipped with seats and was therefore not designed for crossbow use.  Such a keep was hopelessly inadequate by the thirteenth century when Llywelyn ap Gruffydd added the round tower and the implication is that the keep and its inner ward should be seen as twelfth century.  However, rather than attributing the initial castle to Owain Gwynedd (d.1170), it might be more sensible to attribute it to Madog ap Maredudd (d.1160), a man who would have built a castle on the south side of the Wepre if he was fortifying it against the men of Gwynedd.  This would certainly fit in with Powysian campaigns to regain the Perfeddwald in the 1150s.  Further the castle is more like Carndochan, which also would appear to have a more Powysian origin than a Venedotian one.





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