The ruinous remains of a thirteenth century castle in the grounds of a nineteenth century house (now a hotel). The surviving fragments include the Gatehouse (one storey only) and several of the towers. At time of writing the hotel had no issue with (non-patron) visitors touring the ruins and this was actively encouraged on Ruthin tourist information boards.
Ruthin Castle Layout. By the late thirteenth century Ruthin Castle consisted of two baileys - Upper and Lower - with the former hosting the lordly residence and Great Hall. The nineteenth century house, now the hotel, was built in the south-east corner of the site.
Curtain Wall. The entire castle was built on a ridge of land with the sides quarried away to create a vertical rock-face. The curtain wall was built against it creating a very strong defence impervious to artillery attack or undermining..
Market Street, LL15 1AU
Notes: Access is via the entrance on Castle Street. Car parking is available on-site for patrons of the hotel, otherwise ample car parking around the town. One option is shown above.
1. Following his defeat in the Second War of Welsh Independence, Dafydd ap Gruffudd was captured by the English. Edward I condemned him and the unfortunate Dafydd was taken to Shrewsbury where he became the first person in Britain to be executed by being hung, drawn and quartered.
Overlooking an important crossing over the River Clwyd, Ruthin Castle may well have originated as a motte-and-bailey. However, the first known fortification dates from the late thirteenth century when it was owned by Dafydd ap Gruffudd. Following the Second War of Welsh Independence it passed to the Grey family and is now a hotel.
HISTORY OF RUTHIN CASTLE
Little is known about the first origins of Ruthin Castle. It may have been raised as a motte-and-bailey castle during the eleventh or twelfth centuries as Norman settlers vied with the native Welsh for control of the area. However, the first recorded reference to the castle dates from 1277 when it was given to Dafydd ap Gruffudd - brother of Llywelyn ap Gruffudd, Prince of Wales - following the conclusion of the First War of Welsh Independence. Ruthin, along with Caergwle and Denbigh, formed a package a territories given to him by Edward I in reward for his support for the English cause. This castle consisted of a pentagon shaped bailey which had been built on top of a ridge, the sides of which had been quarried away to form a vertical rock-face. Against this the curtain wall was built (a similar approach had been taken at Holt) creating an incredibly strong structure impervious to missile attacks or undermining and also ensured the ground level inside the castle was higher than that outside. The walls were constructed from red sandstone earning the castle the name Castell Coch yn yr Gwernfor; quite literally the red castle in the great marsh. The castle was protected on one side by a moat flooded from the River Clwyd and on the other by a deep ditch.
Dafydd's ownership was brief for he rebelled against English rule in 1282. Starting with an attack on Hawarden Castle, his revolt gained traction giving his brother little choice but to join him. During this Second War of Welsh Independence (1282-3), Edward I invaded with a significant army and overrun all of Northern Wales. The English King then embarked on a vast castle building programme constructing a chain of outposts encircling Snowdonia, the redoubt of the Welsh Princes. Across the rest of Northern Wales Edward sought to share the expense of occupation with his key magnates and accordingly granted them former Welsh owned lands. Accordingly a number of Lordship castles were established at Chirk, Denbigh, Hawarden, Holt and Ruthin.
Ruthin Castle was part of a package of lands forming the Cantref of Dyffryn Clwyd which was granted to Reginald de Grey. He was a descendant of a Norman family who had served in England since the invasion of 1066. He made extensive upgrades to the castle building much of the (now ruined) remains visible today. He added the Gatehouse and six round towers. A Lower Bailey was created with a deep ditch separating it from the Upper Bailey (which hosted the Great Hall and lordly quarters). As with other Lordship castles, Grey had support from the King's architect and mason, Master James of St George.
The Grey family retained Ruthin Castle throughout the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries but in 1400 they were a significant factor in the outbreak of the Owain Glyndŵr rebellion. In the previous years, the family had been locked in dispute with Glyndŵr over the ownership of a parcel of land at Croesau (now called Bryn Eglwys). The then owner of Ruthin Castle - Reginald Grey, Baron Grey de Ruthyn - seized control of the land and Glyndŵr petitioned the English Parliament for their support. Doubtless due to the prejudice against the Welsh at this time, his plea was ignored. Concurrently Grey schemed to further undermine Glyndŵr by failing to deliver a Royal summons ordering magnates to provide troops for a Scottish war. Grey then used his influence at court to denounce Glyndŵr as traitor. It was a foolhardy mistake - on 18 September 1400 Glyndŵr launched an assault on Ruthin burning and plundering the town although the castle withstood the assault. The rebellion grew into a significant revolt that would rumble on for 10 years. It did not end well for Grey who was captured by Glyndŵr in 1402 and ransomed for the vast sum of 10,000 marks which all but bankrupted him.
The Grey family would continue to play an important role in Royal affairs and in 1465 Edmund Grey was created Earl of Kent. His families descendants would include three Queens of Henry VIII - Anne Boleyn, Jane Seymour, and Catherine Howard - and also Lady Jane Grey, the nine day Protestant Queen who attempted to replace the Catholic Mary Tudor (Mary I) as heir to Edward VI.
In 1508 George de Grey, Earl of Kent sold the castle to the Crown. Although briefly granted by Henry VIII to his illegitimate son, Henry Fitzroy, Ruthin Castle remained in Royal ownership until it was sold by Charles I in 1632 to Sir Thomas Myddleton of Chirk. By this time the castle's defences had long since been neglected but the outbreak of the Civil War in 1642 saw them hastily restored and the site re-fortified. After having defeated the Royalist armies, Parliamentary forces eventually besieged Ruthin in April 1646. Under the command of Major-General Thomas Mytton, the besiegers launched a fierce artillery assault against the old medieval castle badly damaging the structure. Nevertheless the garrison held out for eleven weeks until the threat of undermining forced their surrender.
Along with other fortifications up and down the country, Ruthin was ordered to be slighted by an Act of Parliament. This was done in 1648 with much of the stonework carried away for use elsewhere. The ruinous site remained largely empty until the Myddleton family built a house in the south-east part of the castle ruins in 1826. This new structure was upgraded on several occasions by the Myddletons and later their descendants, the Cornwallis-West family. They sold the castle in 1923 to a clinic who converted it into a private hospital for the investigation and treatment of obscure diseases. This was closed around 1950 and, after a significant refurbishment in the 1960s, was opened as a hotel. Notable guests have included Prince Charles, Prince of Wales.
The remains of one of the two D shaped towers that formed the Gatehouse