Chirk Castle was built by Roger Mortimer who was granted the area in 1282 after the defeat of Llywelyn ap Gruffudd in the Second War of Welsh Independence. The Mortimers were powerful Marcher Lords who had been important magnates in the border region since the twelfth century. Roger Mortimer had commanded a portion of the English army during the recent war and was rewarded with the grant of Chirk. However, Edward I also had other motives as the King had insufficient resources to sustain the number of castles and garrisons required for the permanent suppression of the Welsh. Accordingly he sought to share the financial burden with his richer magnates and did so by establishing a number of Lordships at Chirk, Denbigh, Hawarden, Holt and Ruthin. In each of these areas the Lord was responsible for building a castle to secure the area.
Work on Chirk Castle started in 1295 and continued through until 1310. The original design was very similar to the great concentric castles of Edward I that had been started in the preceding decade. The likeness is such as to suggest Roger Mortimer may have had assistance from personnel who had worked with Master James of St George, the King’s chief architect, on those projects. However like Beaumaris Castle, itself a late addition to the network of Welsh fortifications, Chirk Castle never seems to have been completed. The outer defences were never built whilst only four of the six intended towers of the Inner Ward were started. Even these structures were probably never fully completed.
Roger Mortimer supported the rebellion of Thomas, Earl of Lancaster in 1322. When that revolt failed, he was imprisoned in the Tower of London and his estates, including Chirk, were confiscated. Roger died in the Tower in 1326 but the same year his nephew, Roger Mortimer of Wigmore who was also imprisoned, escaped and fled to France. There he joined with Queen Isabella, Edward II's estranged wife, and they returned and overthrew the King. The Mortimer estates were restored but Roger was himself overthrown and executed in 1330. Chirk once again reverted to the Crown.
Edward III granted Chirk Castle to Richard FitzAlan, Earl of Arundel in 1335. He was one of the richest men in the Kingdom but his family seat was at Arundel Castle and he had little use for Chirk so it remained unfinished. Richard was one of the Lord Appellants, magnates who rebelled against Richard II in 1388 and forced the King to govern under supervision. When Richard II regained control of his Government he sought revenge and in 1397 Richard FitzAlan was executed. Chirk was confiscated by the Crown once more but Richard's son, Thomas FitzAlan, joined forces with Henry Bolingbroke who in 1399 overthrew the King. Bolingbroke became Henry IV and the FitzAlan estates were restored.
Thomas FitzAlan, Earl of Arundel made significant modifications to Chirk Castle presumably as a precaution against the Welsh rebellion of Owain Glyndŵr which had commenced in 1400. These upgrades seemingly consisted of enhancements to the southern curtain wall doubtless filling the void that had been left by the incomplete work of the previous century. Thomas FitzAlan went on to serve with Henry V in France but died from dysentery at the siege of Harfleur in 1415. He left no male heir and Chirk Castle reverted to the Crown.
The castle passed through several owners in the fifteenth century but most notable was Sir William Stanley who made the decisive charge against Richard III at the Battle of Bosworth Field (1485). However, ten years later he had fallen out of favour and in 1495 was executed by Henry VII due to his support of Perkin Warbeck. Chirk Castle was taken back into Crown ownership until 1563 when Elizabeth I granted it to Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester. After his death in 1588 it passed through several owners before being sold in 1595 to Thomas Myddelton, a London merchant and founder of the East India Company.
Thomas Myddelton was the younger son of the Governor of Denbigh Castle but he had left Wales to make his fortune in London. He was a founding investor in the East India Company, which brought him significant wealth, enabling him to establish a country seat in Essex. He was knighted and in 1613 became Lord Mayor of London. He also invested heavily in Copper mines in Denbighshire ultimately becoming the foremost landowner in the county. Chirk Castle was his residence as well as the administrative centre for his Welsh operations and he commenced the wholesale conversion of Chirk from border fortress to stately home. His additions included a new north range, complete with fine dining and drawing rooms, plus a new hall, buttery and kitchen.
Thomas died in 1631 and was followed by his son, also called Thomas. During the Civil War he became a prominent Parliamentary General partaking in numerous actions in the border region. Wales however remained predominantly Royalist and accordingly in 1643 Chirk Castle was seized by forces loyal to the King. The Royalists held Chirk Castle for the rest of the war but in 1646 Myddelton successfully bribed them to return control to him. Thomas moved back into Chirk but over the next decade he grew increasingly dissatisfied with the Cromwellian regime. The death of Oliver Cromwell in 1658 and the ineffective leadership of his son, Richard Cromwell, prompted the Royalists to seize the initiative and, through a secret organisation known as the Sealed Knot, planned a nationwide coup to restore the King. However the mechanics of state were ahead of them and most of the would-be ringleaders were arrested before the plot could be hatched. In the North West though, Sir George Booth successfully raised Lancashire, Cheshire and North Wales against the Government. Chester was taken (albeit not Chester Castle) and the bulk of the force then moved out towards York but were intercepted at Winnington Bridge on the 19 August 1659 and dispersed. The Republican forces, under General Lambert, then moved on Chirk Castle and on 24 August 1659 after a brief bombardment, which destroyed the Guard and Bell Towers plus the eastern curtain wall, the garrison surrendered.
Charles II was restored to the throne in 1660 and Chirk Castle was returned to Thomas Myddelton. He died in 1663 leaving a 12 year old son called Thomas as his heir. During his minority his grandmother, Mary Napier, oversaw the repair work on Chirk Castle which was undertaken between 1664 and 1678. The work included rebuilding the eastern portion of the castle including construction of Bachelor and Old Maid Towers (on top of the medieval foundations of the original Guard and Bell Towers) plus a substantial new range.
The Myddeltons continued to reside at Chirk Castle and in the early nineteenth century some restyling was done to create the Gothic themed courtyard frontage to the East Range as well as substantial landscaping of the grounds. Early in the twentieth century Chirk Castle was leased to Thomas Scott-Ellis who again landscaped the surrounding area including destroying portions of Offa's Dyke and submerging another section under a great artificial lake. The castle passed into State care in 1978 and was handed to the National Trust in 1981.
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Chirk Castle is a stately home that evolved from a late thirteenth century castle and is set within a superb 400 acre park. The towers of the medieval castle remain standing but all have been extensively modified. Offa's Dyke ran through the site and some earthworks remain visible including a section which is submerged below an early twentieth century lake. The castle and estate are in the care of the National Trust and, like so many of their sites, is very well presented.
Chirk Castle Layout. The castle was originally intended to imitate the great concentric castles built by Edward I in North Wales and it seems likely that Roger Mortimer had assistance from personnel who had worked with the King's Mason, Master James of St George. Ultimately the project proved too much for the Mortimers and it was never completed to the planned design. Instead subsequent modifications focused on the reduced Inner Ward.
Chirk Castle. Although owned by the National Trust, the Myddleton family have a grace and favour residence within the castle. This makes Chirk the only Welsh castle dating from the campaigns of Edward I that is still lived in today.
Inner Ward Towers. Four of the six intended towers of the Inner Ward were built but even these were probably never fully completed. Today they stand at the same height as the curtain wall but the original intent would have been for them to be at least one storey taller.
Inside the Inner Ward. The north and east wings of the Inner Ward courtyard served as the main accommodation for the Myddelton family.
Interior of Adam's Tower. The medieval tower was gutted and stonework removed to facilitate the installation of a Grand Staircase.
Magistrates Room. So called due to an engraving, this was one of the earliest rooms created by the Myddeltons.
Chirk Castle was built by Roger Mortimer following the Second War of Welsh Independence. Its design imitated the concentric castles constructed in the proceeding decade by Edward I but the full scheme of defences were never completed. The castle was badly damaged during a short siege in 1659 and was later rebuilt into a magnificent stately home.
Chirk Castle is found to the west of the town and is well sign-posted. There is a dedicated on-site car park.
Chirk Castle Estate Access
Offa's Dyke (Submerged Section)
Offa's Dyke (Earthworks)