There are two castles at Aberystwyth.  The first lies on top of a rise two miles south of the present castle and was probably built by the Clares before 1116, when it was unsuccessfully attacked by the Welsh under Prince Gruffydd ap Rhys of Deheubarth (d.1137).  This first castle was subsequently destroyed by Owain Gwynedd (d.1170) and his brother, Cadwalladr ap Cynan (d.1172) in 1136.  In 1143 the castle had been rebuilt and was held by Cadwaladr when it was burned by his nephew, Hywel ab Owain (d.1170).  In 1208 the castle belonged to Maelgwn ap Rhys (d.1230) when he destroyed it lest it fell to his enemies led by Llywelyn ab Iorwerth (d.1240).  King John rebuilt the castle in 1211, but it fell to Maelgwn and his nephew, Rhys Ieunac (d.1222) the same year.  In 1221 Prince Llywelyn took it from Rhys, but before 1234 it had passed into the hands of Rhys' brother, Owain ap Gruffydd (d.1235).

The first earthwork castle lies south of the River Ystwyth on high ground.  The later main castle lies north of the river, close to the shore and this fortress was built, or possibly rebuilt between 1277 and 1289 by Prince Edmund (d.1296), the brother of King Edward I, using royal forces and masons.  The initial design was not a great success and part of the outer castle rapidly fell into the sea.  Afterwards the castle was sacked in 1282 and Master James St George was brought in to effect repairs.  In all the fortification of Aberystwyth cost over £4,300 - less than half that expended on refurbishing  Harlech castle.  This would again suggest that much of Aberystwyth castle was already standing before the Edwardian masons arrived in 1277.  During the French emergency of 1370 the castle was garrisoned by a constable and 10 archers.  In 1404 it fell to Glyndwr and was massively damaged in the subsequent 1408 siege by Prince Hal.  The castle fell again to the guns of the parliamentarians in 1646.

The castle is now concentric in plan and consists of a diamond shaped outer ward, with two small twin towered gatehouses to the east and NW.  There are the remains of round towers at the other 3 cardinal points.  Set within this was an irregular inner ward which backed against the long SW outer wall.  This had a massive twin towered gatehouse to the east, directly behind one of the outer gatehouses.  
This style of great twin towered gatehouse with twin round stair turrets to the rear can also be found in Wales at Caerphilly, Harlech and Llanstephan, but in England only at Tonbridge in Kent.  There are also the enlongated versions of such gatehouses at Llangibby and Beaumaris.  

At Aberystwyth on the other side of the inner ward to the great gatehouse was a small D shaped gatetower, standing behind another twin D towered outer gate.  The two outer gates are similar to those found elsewhere in the British Isles.  English examples survive at
BeestonBungay, Clifford, Dover, Longtown, Pembridge, St Briavels, the Tower of London and Whittington.  In Wales they exist at Caerphilly, Carmarthen, Chepstow, Criccieth, Degannwy, Dinas Bran, Llawhaden, Neath, Oystermouth, Powis, Rhuddlan, Tinboeth and White Castle.  In Scotland they can be found at Kildrummy and Urquhart and finally elsewhere in Ireland at Carrickfergus, Castle Roche, Limerick and Roscommon.

At a later date a new wall was added down the SW side of the inner ward.  This contained a central D shaped tower and made the inner ward concentric.  What date these works are is open to question, and all that can realistically be said is that the division of the inner ward from the outer probably dates to after 1276 and before 1290.

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


Copyright©2010 Paul Martin Remfry