Dryslwyn Castle was built by Rhys Gryg, one of the sons of the powerful Lord Rhys. During the Second War of Welsh Independence it was attacked by a large English force and finally fell after a bitter three week siege. It was captured by Owain Glyndŵr in 1403 and was later deliberately slighted to prevent further military use.
Dryslwyn Castle occupies a strong naturally defensible position on the summit of a rocky outcrop overlooking the Towy (Tywi) valley. The site was possibly the location of an Iron Age (or earlier) settlement but the first known fortification was the castle which was established around 1220 possibly by Rhys Gryg. He was one of the sons of Rhys ap Grufford, Lord Rhys who was ruler of Deheubarth and had been sufficiently powerful to resist Anglo-Norman incursion into South Wales. However, following the death of Lord Rhys in 1197, bitter fighting broke out between rival claimants with the dispute continuing until 1216 when Llywelyn ab Iorwerth (the Great) forced a settlement on the family. The package of lands granted to Rhys Gryg included the site of Dryslwyn Castle.
Rhys Gryg married into the powerful Anglo-Norman de Clare family in 1219 and this enhancement to his status seems to have prompted the building of Dryslwyn Castle as well as upgrades to his main caput at Dinefwr Castle. Both castles were similar in plan. At Dryslwyn, the Inner Ward was dominated by a circular Keep which was originally covered in mortar and whitewashed doubtless giving it a striking appearance. What is now known as the Middle Ward, was originally protected solely by earthworks and a timber palisade. Empowered by his new fortifications, Rhys initially opposed Llywelyn ab Iorwerth's decision to pay homage to Henry III which prompted the Welsh Prince to bring an army south to compel him to surrender. Rhys duly fell into line.
Following the death of Rhys Gryg in 1233, his lands were divided between his sons. Dryslwyn Castle passed to his younger son, Maredudd ap Rhys, whilst Dinefwr passed to the elder son, Rhys Mechyll. However, by the 1250s the two factions were squabbling over the extent of their respective territories. The disagreement was made worse by the intervention of Llywelyn ap Grufford who sided with Maredudd ap Rhys. Seeking to exploit the situation, an Anglo-Norman army sought to intervene but was defeated at Cymerau. Eventually both sides were reconciled. During his tenure, Maredudd rebuilt the castle's Middle Ward in stone.
The Anglo-Welsh relationship changed significantly upon the death of Henry III in 1272. His successor, Edward I, lost patience with LLywelyn ap Grufford and commenced the First War of Welsh Independence in 1276. By Summer the following year Welsh opposition in the South and East had crumbled with Rhys ap Maredudd (son of Maredudd) seeking terms with the English King. He was duly allowed to keep his lands and in the subsequent years made further modifications to the castle including adding the Outer Ward complete with a projecting Square Tower. However, Rhys greatly resented the fact that his early submission to the English had not led to better rewards. The situation was made worse when relations between Rhys and Robert Tiptoft, Justiciar of South Wales, deteriorated in the 1280s. In June 1287 Rhys rebelled and captured Carreg Cennen, Dinefwr and Llandovery castles. The English responded by deploying three significant forces from Carmarthen, Chester and Montgomery. By 15 August 1287 these three armies had converged on Rhys at Dryslwyn and besieged the castle. The English forces had over 11,000 men under Edmund, Earl of Cornwall. After a fierce siege, which utilised both trebuchet throwing machines and undermining, the castle surrendered on 5 September 1287. Rhys escaped but was disinherited and in 1292 was captured. He was taken to York where he was put on trial for treason, convicted and executed in April 1292.
For the rest of the thirteenth century Dryslwyn remained under Crown control with periodic repairs being made along with a number of upgrades. It was attacked during a Welsh uprising in 1316 but avoided any significant damage. The following year Edward II granted the castle to his unpopular favourite, Hugh Despenser the younger. This prompted a further attack in 1321 from the Marcher Lords who resented the extending influence of the Despensers. The castle was returned to Royal ownership in 1326 following the overthrow of Edward II and the Despenser family. By the mid-fourteenth century the castle had been neglected and was in a poor state of repair.
During the Owain Glyndŵr uprising, Dryslwyn Castle was surrendered by its Governor, Rhys ap Gruffudd, to the rebels on 4 July 1403. Glyndŵr held court at the castle where he outraged the English by rejecting a plea from John Skidmore, constable of Carreg Cennen Castle, for safe conduct for English women within the Royal castles besieged by the rebels. By 1409 the forces of Henry IV had re-asserted their authority in the Towy valley and Dryslwyn Castle was taken back into Crown control. However, a decision seems to have been made to abandon the fortification at this time with the walls being partially demolished. It was never restored.
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Dryslwyn Castle consists of the ruins of a thirteenth century castle that was the subject of a violent siege in 1287 and later deliberately slighted after the Owain Glyndŵr uprising. Situated on a natural rocky summit, it affords excellent views of the surrounding countryside.
Landscape. The castle occupies a rocky outcrop that stands in a prominent position overlooking the Towy valley.
Dryslwyn Castle Layout. The castle originally consisted of two wards but a third was added by Rhys ap Maredudd in the 1270s. Earthworks provided additional protection for the castle to the north.
Dryslwyn Castle. At the time of its construction Dryslwyn was one of the largest masonry castles built by the native Welsh Lords and was comparable to the fortresses of the Marcher Lords. A small town grew up on the rock adjacent to the castle.
Earthworks. The northern approaches were protected by substantial earthworks which provided protection for the town.
Ruins. The castle is in ruins but the layout can still be clearly appreciated.
River Towy. The river provided access west to Carmarthen and west to Llandovery.
Dryslwyn Castle is found just off the B4297 south of Dryslwyn. There is a small car park which offers ample parking for visitors. Note the path to the summit is quite steep and strong footwear is recommended.