The remains of a thirteenth century castle built by Llywelyn ap Iorwerth in the early thirteenth century. The impressive round Keep, inspired by similar towers of the Norman-English Marcher Lords, is unique in that it is the only such structure to have a portcullis. Aside from the Keep the rest of the castle only exists as foundations.
Dolbadarn Castle Layout. The castle’s northern defences were constructed first with the Round Keep and the southern enclosure following soon after. The presence of a northern tower, as shown, is uncertain. The east building was added in the early fourteenth century.
Notes: The castle is found off the A4086 near Llanberis. The site is sign-posted but has no vehicular access. There is a large (pay and display) car park in the immediate vicinity.
Dolbadarn Castle was built by Llywelyn ap Iorwerth, Prince of Gwynedd to control a key route into Snowdonia. The design of its Round Keep was influenced by the fortifications of the Norman Marcher Lords and stood as a symbol of his power and status. The castle remained a Royal residence until the final defeat of Llywelyn ap Gruffudd in 1283.
HISTORY OF DOLBADARN CASTLE
Dolbadarn Castle was built sometime before 1230 by Llywelyn ap Iorwerth to control the Llanberis Pass; an area of valuable livestock pasture and a key route into Snowdonia which was the redoubt of Gwynedd, the pre-eminent Welsh kingdom. Llywelyn had spent much of the previous decades fighting his opponents to become the undisputed ruler of Gwynedd and, despite coming into conflict with both King John and Henry III, ultimately united most of the Welsh Princes under his rule. Furthermore he sought to maintain his position with key alliances with Norman Marcher Lords. To this end his son Dafydd would marry Isabella who was the daughter of William de Braose, Lord of Brecon. Likewise Llywelyn's own daughter, Helen, married John (later Earl of Chester). Undoubtedly influenced by such connections, Llywelyn started to demonstrate his status with a number of castles of which Dolbadarn was one.
The castle was built in a number of phases and was laid out to an irregular plan with the curtain wall matching the rugged terrain on which it was built. The great round Keep was added to the scheme shortly after and was consciously modelled on the similar structures built at Bronllys, Longtown, Pembroke, Skenfrith and Tretower. The Keep is a rare example of a multi-storey Round Tower built by a Welsh Prince and is unique in that it was fitted with a portcullis.
The death of Llywelyn ap Iorwerth in 1240, compounded by the Welsh inheritance traditions which saw titles divided rather than passed to a single heir, led to a power shift in favour of the Normans. Henry III sought to assert his authority and at the Treaty of Woodstock (1247) stripped Gwynedd of control of all lands to the east of Conwy. By 1255 though, Llywelyn ap Gruffudd (the Last) had defeated his opponents and at the Treaty of Montgomery (1267) was recognised by English and Welsh alike as overlord of Wales. During this period he imprisoned his elder brother, Owain ap Gruffudd, in Dolbadarn Castle; he would spend nearly 20 years incarcerated there living in the top floor of the Keep.
Llywelyn ap Gruffudd came into conflict with Edward I in 1276 after the Welsh Prince failed to perform homage on multiple occasions. The English King invaded the following year and overran the eastern portion of the Principality although Dolbadarn itself, in the central heart of Snowdonia, was far removed from this conflict and saw little action. Nevertheless Llywelyn was defeated and in the Treaty of Aberconwy (1277) accepted the permanent loss of all lands east of the River Conwy. He was also required to release Owain ap Gruffudd from Dolbadarn Castle.
The Second War of Welsh Independence started in 1282 initiated by Dafydd ap Gruffudd, younger brother to Llywelyn. The Prince had little choice but to support this folly and this time Edward I resolved to conqueror Wales in its entirety. Llywelyn himself was killed in December 1282 at the Battle of Orewin Bridge whilst Dafydd fled first to Dolwyddelan, then onto Castell-y-Bere and finally to Dolbadarn Castle. One by one the English took these strongholds and Dafydd was eventually captured on 21 June 1283. He was taken to Rhuddlan Castle and subsequent hanged, drawn and quartered at Shrewsbury.
Following the conquest of 1283, Dolbadarn Castle was plundered for building materials in support of the construction of Caernarfon. Nevertheless it remained the administrative centre for the Royal manor with some repairs being made in the early fourteenth century and the east building was added at this time. The castle may have been reactivated and used as a prison during the 1400 rebellion led by Owain Glyndŵr for it has been suggested that Lord Grey, captured at Ruthin Castle, was held at the site. Little is known about the castle's history thereafter but the external stone stairway was added no later than the mid-eighteenth century by which time Dolbadarn had become a picturesque ruin.