Colwyn Castles

Glan Edw, or the first Colwyn Castle, is the only motte and bailey in Elfael Uwch Mynydd commote. For this reason it is almost certainly the first castle called Colwyn. It was probably commenced in 1093 by Ralph Tosny of Clifford and taken by the forces of Madog ab Idnerth around 1135 and then rebuilt by Hugh Mortimer of Wigmore in 1144. It was not mentioned again and must have reverted to Welsh control probably with the defeat of Hugh by his Angevin enemies in the period 1148-53. Old Colwyn castle was subsequently rebuilt by the forces of William Braose of Radnor in 1195 and besieged and finally destroyed by Prince Rhys ap Gruffydd in 1196. As a consequence of this, it would seem unlikely that the castle now known as Colwyn was actually founded much before 1196 when its predecessor was abandoned. 

The new fortress was probably begun around 1200 when William Braose was granted rights of conquest in this district and was consequently probably seized from him on his rebellion in 1208. On his sons' subsequent rebellion in 1215 Colwyn was one of King John's castles which were left for Gwallter ab Einion Clud to take on behalf of his Braose allies. The castle seems to have remained in Welsh hands throughout the rule of Llywelyn ab Iorwerth, the truce brokers from England and Wales meeting there to discuss the state of the borders in 1232. On Llywelyn's death the local princes seem to have managed to transfer their allegiance easily to that of King Henry III and to have remained in possession of the castle site.

Above: Colwyn showing the ringwork with farmhouse on it from the east

The Welsh lords of Elfael paid their homage to King Henry on 3 February 1241. It is quite possible at this time that the castle was regarded as an appurtenance of Builth Wells which was granted to Llywelyn by its Braose lord in 1229. The cantref of Buellt had been seized by Henry III in 1240 and the castle there refortified by John Monmouth. In 1248 Sir Owain ap Maredudd ab Einion Clud was recorded as holding all Elfael Uwch Mynydd, and therefore by implication Colwyn castle, when it was unsuccessfully claimed from him by his cousin Roger Vaughan ab Gwallter Clud. In July 1260 Sir Owain, by then a sub-tenant of Roger Mortimer, surrendered to Prince Llywelyn after the fall of Builth Wells castle. Sir Owain seems to have weathered the following storms and in 1276/7 successfully returned to royal allegiance with the support of his many, now fully grown, sons. In December 1282, however, the old Sir Owain and his sons appear to have risen in favour of Prince Llywelyn ap Gruffydd, immediately before his death on 11 December 1282.  As a consequence of their rebellion they lost Colwyn castle and the lands of their ancestors in Elfael. The castle was then taken, or possibly rebuilt by Matilda Mortimer (d.1303), the widow of Roger (d.1282). The fortress was mentioned in 1309 and 1337, but seems to have been abandoned by 1397, when the Beauchamps were ruling Elfael from their base at Painscastle. It is indicative of its abandoned state that no mention of its use seems to have been made during the Glyndwr rebellion.

The Castles and History of Radnorshire (ISBN 1-899376-82-8) looks in great detail at both Glan Edw and Colwyn castle.  This book consists of 309 pages of A4 and examines in greater detail the history and castles of Radnorshire and Rhwng Gwy a Hafren.  Starting in the early eleventh century the book covers the age of the castles up to the Civil War of 1642-46.  Each castle description is buttressed by numerous photographs and plans of the earthworks and remains where they survive.  A new look is also taken at the battlefield of Pilleth and the evidence for the course of the battle is scrutinised.  The book also contains genealogical family trees of the major historical Radnorshire families and a full index.

Available for £39.95.

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Copyright©1994-2007 Paul Martin Remfry