The First Castle
Hawarden Castle stands upon a rocky outcrop overlooking the main medieval access route from Chester into North Wales. Possibly the site of a fortified Iron Age (or earlier) hillfort, the site was certainly settled by the Anglo-Saxons whose village was called Haordine (meaning high enclosure). Shortly after the Norman Conquest, a motte-and-bailey castle was constructed by Hugh Lupus, Earl of Chester to the east of the current site. Initially an earth and timber structure this castle was held for Hugh by the Montalt family, his Stewards, who would retain ownership until the fourteenth century.
Treaty of Montgomery (1267)
The weak and ineffective rule of Henry III (1216-72) led to the rise of Llywelyn ap Gruffudd (the Last) as Prince of Wales. Although the English King had attempted to assert his authority over the principality, by 1255 Gruffudd had emerged as the leader of the native Welsh. He further expanded his power during the Second Barons War - in which he enthusiastically supported Simon de Montfort, Earl of Leicester’s rebellion with the two magnates meeting at Hawarden Castle. Although promised control of the site by Montfort, the Earl's defeat and death at the Battle of Evesham (1265) meant custody of the castle was never handed over prompting Gruffudd to attack and destroy the site. The custodian, Robert de Montalt, was captured in this assault. Nevertheless Henry III made peace with the Welsh by sealing the Treaty of Montgomery (1267) and, although Hawarden was returned to the Montalts, it prohibited rebuilding the castle for a period of thirty years. The Welsh Prince's recently built Ewloe Castle was to be the sole fortification in the immediate area.
First War of Welsh Independence
Henry III died in 1272 and was succeeded by his son, Edward I. The new King initially upheld the provisions of the Treaty of Montgomery but relations with Gruffudd soon broke down in particular over his failure to pay homage to Edward. Although the Welsh Prince had attended a meeting Shrewsbury in November 1274, Edward had been ill and unable to attend. Subsequent summons went unanswered; he refused to attend Chester in August 1275, Westminster in October 1275, Winchester in January 1276 and Westminster again in April 1276. Following the latter, the English resolved to make war on Gruffudd and when no answer was received from this threat, a feudal summons was issued on 12 December 1276. Edward ordered his forces to rendezvous at Worcester on 1 July 1277. The English army quickly overwhelmed the Welsh and seized all territory to the east of the River Conwy including Hawarden. Construction of a number of major fortifications, including Flint and Rhuddlan, started at this time. In 1281 work also started on rebuilding Hawarden Castle which, due to the minority of Roger de Montalt, had been placed in the care of the powerful Marcher Lord Roger de Clifford. This was in direct contravention of the Treaty of Montgomery.
Second War of Welsh Independence
During the First War of Welsh Independence, the English had been supported by Dafydd ap Gruffudd - the brother of Llywelyn - who was rewarded with Denbighshire. However Dafydd soon became disillusioned with the new regime and Clifford's rebuilding of Hawarden Castle was the final straw. In March 1282 he attacked the new castle capturing Roger in the process. This attack put Llywelyn ap Gruffudd in a difficult position as he felt compelled to support the uprising. The reaction for the Edward I was inevitable – the furious King invaded Wales once more, this time overrunning all of principality. Llywelyn was killed at the Battle of Orewin Bridge on 11 December 1282 and Dafydd was eventually captured then hung, drawn and quartered in Shrewsbury.
The English victory in the Second War of Welsh Independence meant work on the castle continued. The site was dominated by the circular Keep, with an elaborate internal design similar to some of the towers at Caernarfon suggesting the influence of Master James of St George, Edward I's famous mason. Protected by its own portcullis, this tower included its own chapel and living accommodation within. The site also had a large and complex barbican, almost as long as the entire bailey, which was a two storey structure with a drawbridge and sally ports. A large 'D' shaped earthwork is generally believed to have be an additional feature of the barbican and may well have been intended to enable access to the adjacent pond as unusually the castle seemed to have no internal water supply other than collected rainwater.
Hawarden passed to the Stanley family, key supporters of Henry VII, in the fifteenth century. They hosted that King at the castle twice - in 1490 and 1500 - with the attractiveness of the site to the Royal doubtless boosted by the adjacent deer park.
During the Civil War Hawarden was garrisoned by the Royalists and was one of the key outposts surrounding Chester. That town was strategically vital to the King's cause as it controlled access into North Wales, which including the Royalist port at Conwy, through which he hoped to import large numbers of soldiers from Ireland. Accordingly control of Cheshire was a Parliamentary priority and their solders wrestled to gain the upper hand in the county throughout Autumn of 1643. On 11 November 1643 a Parliamentary force under Sir William Brereton and Sir Thomas Middleton attacked Hawarden and seized the castle.
The Royalists immediately counter-attacked with a force of 3,000 Irish troops which had landed at Mostyn, some 12 miles north-west of the castle. The 120 man garrison, comprising of troops from Sir Thomas Middleton's Regiment, refused to surrender and a siege commenced. Faced with additional Royalist reinforcements, the garrison capitulated on 3 December 1643.
Chester, and accordingly Hawarden, was not threatened again until Spring 1645 after the devastating Royalist defeat at Naseby. Parliamentary forces advanced on Chester starting an extended series of siege works to capture the Royalist stronghold. Hawarden was besieged as part of this process in May 1645. No direct assault was mounted but, with the destruction of the last Royalist field army in England at the Battle of Rowton Heath on 24 September 1645, there was no hope of relief. Chester fell in February 1646 and the following month, upon the orders of Charles I, Hawarden surrendered.
Following the surrender, Hawarden Castle was slighted by orders of Parliament to prevent any further military use. The wider estate and been forfeited to the Government and in 1651 it was sold, along with the Lordship, to John Glynne. He was a member of the Long Parliament but did not reside at the site. In the eighteenth century a mansion house was built and became the Glynne's main residence. In 1809 Sir Stephen Richard Glynne had modifications to the house and it was renamed Hawarden Castle - the ruined medieval structure became known as the "old" castle at this time. The entire site passed to the Gladstone family in the mid-nineteenth century who commissioned some ‘restoration’ work on the old castle. The family still own both old and new castles to this day.
Originally a motte-and-bailey fortification that was destroyed by Llywelyn ap Gruffudd, it was the rebuilding of Hawarden Castle in contravention of the terms of the Treaty of Montgomery which ignited the Second War of Welsh Independence. Still in use three hundred and sixty years later, it changed hands several times during the Civil War.
The castle is located within the Gladstone estate and is not sign-posted. A car park is found near the estate entrance and then proceed through the red gates and follow Dig Lane until you see the Keep. See below for more details.
The old castle is open a couple of afternoons per year, normally in the Summer. Full access to the Keep, including the parapets, is possible. Outside of these open afternoons, the Keep can be viewed from the adjacent path which, although not a right of way, is routinely open for public access.
Car Park /
Old Hawarden Castle