ABERYSTWYTH CASTLE, SY23 2AU
Postcode: SY23 2AU
Lat/Long: 52.413293N, 4.089868W
Notes: The castle is located at the heart of Aberystwyth and is easily located. Numerous car parks in vicinity.
WHAT IS THERE TO SEE?
The limited ruins of one of Edward I’s earlier Welsh fortresses. Some elements, the Gatehouse for example, stand to a reasonable height but access is limited to ground level only.
1. Aberystwyth was one of series of castles built by Edward I following the conclusion of the first War of Welsh Independence in 1277. Other castles built at this time were Builth, Flint and Rhuddlan.
2. Gilbert de Clare was also known as Gilbert Strongbow.
3. The two children of Rhys ap Gruffud were Gruffud ap Rhys and Maelgwn ap Rhys. Gruffud was chosen by his father to inherit his titles and estates prompting Maelgwn to attack Aberystwyth. He captured his brother and handed him over to the Normans who imprisoned him in Corfe Castle. Although eventually released and restored to most of his lands, he didn't recover Aberystwyth Castle during his lifetime. His sons however won the support of Llywelyn ap Iorwerth, Prince of Wales who compelled restoration.
4. Owain Glyndŵr captured the castle in 1404 and held it against the English until re-taken by Henry of Monmouth, Prince of Wales (later Henry V) in 1408. He used cannon during his siege; the first recorded military use of cannon in Britain.
Aberystwyth Castle Layout. Like the rest of Edward I’s Welsh castles, Aberystwyth was built in a concentric configuration albeit the terrain on which it was positioned dictated a diamond rather than square or rectangular shape. Like Harlech it only had one Gatehouse Keep.
Northern Turret. The northern turret of the inner defences.
Initially established by Gilbert de Clare, Aberystwyth Castle became embroiled in the politics of Wales as the native populace struggled against Norman incursion. After the first War of Welsh Independence it was rebuilt as a major Edwardian Castle but continued to have a turbulent history until the early fifteenth century.
HISTORY OF ABERYSTWYTH CASTLE
The first castle at Aberystwyth was an earth and timber ringwork fortification built by the Norman baron Gilbert de Clare. He had been granted Cardiganshire by Henry I in 1109 in order to bring the area under effective control and Abersytwyth Castle was his key mechanism to achieve this. Initially built on a site near the mouth of the River Ystwyth it had a turbulent history from the start. Griffith ap Rhys put the castle under siege in 1116 but failed to take it. He tried again around 1135 and this time captured and burnt the timber castle. He gave it to his brother, Cadwalader, who rebuilt the fortification and married Alice de Clare, daughter of Gilbert, legitimising his ownership. But in 1142 Cadwalader quarrelled with his elder brother Owen Gwynedd who marched on Aberystwyth Castle and burnt it.
The destruction of the first and second timber castles at Aberystwyth had occurred during a period known as the Anarchy in England. When Henry I died in 1135 he had wished his daughter, Matilda, to succeed him but instead his nephew, Stephen, took the throne. Civil War ensured and this distraction - along with a significant Norman defeat at the Battle of Crug Mawr - saw Norman ambitions in Wales curtailed. However the Civil War ended in 1154 when Henry II ascended to the throne and a united England again looked west. Roger Fitz Richard (grandson of Gilbert de Clare) moved his forces into Wales in 1158 and built a new castle at Aberystwyth. Sited on a different (currently unknown) location, this was again attacked by the Welsh; Rhys ap Gruffud, Lord Rhys destroyed this third castle in 1164.
Lord Rhys would remain in possession of Aberystwyth until his death in 1196 and seemingly re-built, at least partially, the castle of Gilbert de Clare. But his two sons - Gruffud and Maelgwn - would fight over his inheritance. Disinherited by his father, Maelgwn stormed the castle and handed his brother over to the Normans. Gruffud would later be released but Maelgwn would attempt to hold onto Aberystwyth. When Gruffud died in 1202, his claim to the castle transferred to his two sons - Rhys and Owain - who were supported by Llywelyn ap Iorwerth (Llewelyn the Great), Prince of Wales. In anticipation of the assault Maelgwn razed the castle. Llywelyn commenced a new fortification on the site which was granted to Rhys and Owain.
In 1212 Maelgwn, seeking to rebuild his own power, joined the Normans in an attempt to restore Wales under their control. Rhys and Owain refused to submit prompting the King John of England to send Foulke, Viscount of Caerdyff and Warden of the Marches to compel them. They sued for peace upon his arrival and Aberystwyth Castle was handed over - a Norman castle once more! But the ever ambitious Maelgwn was enraged as he had sought the property himself; he besieged the Normans in the castle, took it and razed it to the ground. He rebuilt the castle around 1214 but no later than 1221 Llywelyn ap Iorwerth once again led a force and captured the it. He destroyed it at this time to prevent further use.
In 1272 Edward I ascended to the throne of England ending years of weak Royal Government which had enabled Llywelyn ap Iorwerth and his successor, Llywelyn ap Grufford, to limit and reverse Norman incursion in Wales. Edward I however sought to re-establish Royal control in all areas where it had been eroded under his father and grandfather including Wales. When Llywelyn ap Grufford refused to pay homage to Edward, the King invaded commencing the First War of Welsh Independence. By 1277 Grufford had sued for peace and Edward sought to consolidate his victory with new castles including a new fortification at Aberystwyth. In line with other such castles built after this first war - Rhuddlan and Flint being key examples - it was constructed in a concentric configuration augmented with twin drum Gatehouse Keeps. As with the earlier castles, it quickly became a target; in 1282, whilst still under-construction, it was captured and burnt initiating the Second War of Welsh Independence. Although retaken, the attack had caused extensive damage; Edward I dispatched his principal castle architect, Maser James of St George, to re-assess the plan and get the project back on track. He duly did so and by 1289 it was finally complete. The new castle was quickly tested as in 1294 it was besieged during the rebellion of Madog ap Llywelyn; the castle's defences and waterfront location proved adequate to the task with the garrisoning holding out and re-supplied by ships from Bristol.
By the fifteenth century the castle was ruinous having suffered extensively from its exposed coastal position on the Irish Sea - a survey of 1343 generated for Edward, Prince of Wales (later known as the Black Prince) suggested extensive dilapidation of the internal buildings and timber fittings. This made it an easy target during the Owain Glyndŵr rebellion whose forces seized the castle in 1404. It remained in Welsh hands until re-captured in 1408 by the future Henry V.
The general stabilisation of Wales throughout the later fifteenth century - and especially after Henry VII came to the throne in 1485 - led to reduced relevance for Aberystwyth Castle. The structure and defences were allowed to decay although some administrative uses were still made of the grounds including the establishment of a Mint producing silver shillings on behalf of Charles I in 1637.
When the Civil War commenced in 1642 Aberystwyth was, like most of Wales, Royalist. Troops were raised from the area but the castle itself saw no action for its ruinous condition made it unsuitable for defence. Instead resistance efforts focused on Harlech Castle further to the north which held out against Parliamentary siege until March 1647. Nevertheless despite its limited use during the war, the castle was slighted by Order of Parliament in 1649 to prevent any possibility of further use as a military establishment.