Denbigh Castle was built upon the site of an earlier Royal residence as one of numerous fortifications intended to ensure the suppression of Wales following the Second War of Welsh Independence. Surviving the Owain Glyndŵr rebellion, it later acted as a Yorkist redoubt during the Wars of the Roses and withstood a six month siege during the seventeenth century Civil War.
There has been a fortification at Denbigh, which was known to the Welsh as Dinbych (rocky fortress), since at least the thirteenth century as in 1230 Llywelyn ap Iorwerth met emissaries of Henry III at a Royal residence there. However, it was not until the first War of Welsh Independence (1276-7), fought by Edward I against Llywelyn ap Gruffudd, that Denbigh Castle itself was built. Edward invaded North East Wales seizing all territory east of the River Conwy including Denbigh. The King raised new castles at his own expense at Rhuddlan and Flint but Denbigh was granted to Dafydd ap Gruffudd - the brother of Llywelyn who had fought against him in support of the English. It was Dafydd who founded the castle.
Dafydd rebelled against English rule in 1282 when he attacked Hawarden Castle which was being rebuilt by Roger de Clifford in contravention of a provision in the Treaty of Montgomery (1267). This attack ignited the Second War of Welsh Independence (1282-3) prompting Edward I to invade with a large army and overrun all of Wales. Dafydd's castle at Denbigh was significant enough to withstand a month long English siege but it ultimately fell.
To entrench his conquest of Wales, Edward I embarked on a major castle building programme with the great fortresses of Beaumaris, Caernarfon, Conwy and Harlech all raised at this time. However, Edward had insufficient funds to sustain the number of castles and garrisons required and so sought to share the financial burden of occupation with his richer magnates. Accordingly a number of Lordships were established including Chirk, Denbigh, Hawarden, Holt and Ruthin. Denbigh itself was granted to Henry de Lacy, Earl of Lincoln. With support from the King's chief architect, Master James of St George, he commenced construction of an remodelled Denbigh Castle along with the walled town. English settlers, many from Henry's estates in Lancashire and Yorkshire, were encouraged to the area with offers of fertile land that had been confiscated from the native Welsh. The settlement prospered and by 1305 there were numerous properties outside the defensive perimeter of the town walls despite the threat from Welsh rebels.
Henry de Lacy died in 1311 without any male heirs meaning the castle (along with other properties owned by the magnate) passed to his daughter Alice and then by marriage to Thomas, Earl of Lancaster. He was executed in 1322 for treason by Edward II in revenge for his part in the downfall of the Royal favourite, Piers Gaveston. Denbigh was seized by the crown and granted to Hugh Despenser, Earl of Winchester. However, Edward's regime was overthrown in 1326 by Roger Mortimer, Earl of March operating in conjunction with Queen Isabella. Mortimer took control of Denbigh although he himself was overthrown in 1330 by Edward III. Thereafter it was held by William Montagu, Earl of Salisbury who was one of the key supporters of the new King. It was most likely William who built the Goblin, Countess and Red Towers. Later Edward III sought reconciliation with the Mortimer family and Denbigh was restored to them in 1355.
In September 1400 the castle and town were attacked during the rebellion of Owain Glyndŵr. The popular revolt, caused by excessive taxation and crass management, enveloped much of Wales. At the time the then owner of Denbigh - Edmund Mortimer, Earl of March - was a minor and therefore Henry IV assigned Henry Percy (Hotspur) as Keeper of the Lordship of Denbigh. He duly installed a garrison at the castle but in 1403 he changed sides and supported Owain. His rebellion was fleeting however as he was killed at the Battle of Shrewsbury on 21 July 1403. Denbigh remained in the hands of a garrison loyal to Henry IV of England and after the rebellion petered out was ultimately restored once more to the Mortimers.
During the Wars of the Roses the Mortimer family supported the Yorkist cause. Accordingly, in 1457, the Lancastrian King Henry VI appointed his half-brother Jasper Tudor, Earl of Pembroke as Governor of Denbigh. The Mortimers refused to cede control and it took Jasper until 1460 before he took the castle but the following year he had to relinquish it when Edward of York decisively defeated the Lancastrians at the Battle of Towton (1461). Jasper tried to re-take the castle in 1468 but failed to do so and instead he burnt down the town.
Denbigh was largely neglected by Tudor monarchs who were reluctant to spend money on a fortification of questionable relevance. To save exchequer funds, Elizabeth I leased the castle to her favourite Robert Dudley (later Earl of Leicester and Lord Denbigh). He made some minor repairs to the castle but his most significant addition was construction of a large church.
By the start of the Civil War in 1642, Denbigh was ruinous but this did not stop Colonel William Salesbury from fortifying the castle once more. An experienced soldier who had fought for the Protestant cause in the Netherlands,he installed a Royalist garrison of around 500 men at his own expense. Nevertheless, with the bulk of the war fought in England, Denbigh saw little action until late 1645. After the catastrophic Royalist defeat at the Battle of Naseby (1645), King Charles had desperately sought to build a new army with which he tried to raise the siege of Chester - the only port under the King's control and essential if he was to import new forces from Ireland and the continent. However, his small force was defeated at the Battle of Rowton Heath on the 24 September 1645 and the King retreated to Denbigh Castle. Whilst Charles only stayed three nights, a Royalist army assembled at the castle again in the hope of relieving Chester but the plan came to nothing when this small force was attacked and routed by a Parliamentary army under Sir Thomas Mytton on 1 November 1645. Denbigh Castle (including the walled town) remained in Royalist hands though and it wasn't until April 1646 that it came under siege. Colonel Salesbury refused to surrender without the King's written permission which was never forthcoming. The besiegers attempted to destroy Goblin Tower as the well within contained the town's only water supply in the Summer months but the plan failed as did another to smash down part of the curtain wall. Ultimately starvation forced surrender, on honourable terms, on 26 October 1646 leaving just Harlech Castle as the sole garrison holding out for the King.
The castle saw no action during the second or third Civil Wars but in 1659 a small band of Royalist supporters overwhelmed the small Parliamentary garrison and re-took the stronghold. They were unable to hold if for long and in March 1660, to prevent further military use, it was slighted on the orders of General George Monck. The castle was never rebuilt and was allowed to fall into ruin.
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Denbigh Castle consists of the extensive remains of one of the great castles dating from the Welsh Wars of Independence. In addition to the castle ruins, the town walls can also be accessed including the remains of the Goblin Tower. A key to gain access is available from the steward at the castle.
Denbigh Castle and Town Defences Layout. The enclosed area of the town was relatively small when compared to the castle itself. Gates were located on the north and west sides whilst a steep scarp protected the eastern side of the site.
Great Kitchen Tower. King Charles I allegedly stayed in the Great Kitchen Tower during his short stay at Denbigh in September 1645
Goblin Tower. This addition to the Town Walls was probably built by William Montagu, Earl of Salisbury. A well was enclosed within and was the sole water supply for the town in the Summer months
Town Wall. The town wall is hugely impressive and should not be missed. It is accessed via a key that can be signed out from the steward in the castle.
Burgess Gate. This was the main entrance into the town with its importance evident by the elaborate chequer-work design of the masonry. The town's other major gate, Exchequer Gate, survives only as foundations.
Lord Leicester’s Church.This was built by Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester who was granted Denbigh Castle by Elizabeth I. His main residence was Kenilworth Castle but by acquiring Denbigh he became in all but name Governor of North Wales. Dudley supported the Protestant cause and was supportive of Puritan and Presbyterian beliefs prompting him to start construction of a church at Denbigh in 1578. It was never finished partly due to the Earl's son-in-law (Robert Devereux, Earl of Essex) borrowing the money raised for its construction to fund a military expedition to Ireland.
Denigh Castle is a major tourist attraction and is well sign-posted. There is a dedicated car park.
Broomhill Lane, LL16 3NH
Exchequer Gate (Foundations)
Castle Lane, LL16 3NW