Very little remains of Holt Castle other than the sandstone base on which it was built and a small amount of masonry that survives from the inner wall of the castle. There are no traces of the outer bailey. A market cross is visible near the parking shown below.
NO OFFICIAL SITE
Holt Castle Layout. The castle was a substantial irregular pentagon shaped structure that was surrounded by a seasonally flooded moat. The Water Gate was added by Richard II around 1398. The Outer Bailey was a semi-circular configuration that surrounded the castle.
Market Cross. The cross is found near the footpath to the castle.
Notes: Castle is accessed via a footpath off Castle Street (sign-posted for pedestrians). On-road car parking is available nearby. The market cross can be found at the parking option shown above.
Holt Castle Remains. What little is left of the castle is from the inner walls of the central courtyard.
1. Following the Second War of Welsh Independence (1282-3), Edward I sought to ensure the conquest of Wales was financially sustainable for the English Crown. He had insufficient funds to sustain a large number of castles and the associated garrisons so instead sought to shift some of the burden onto the nobility. Accordingly a number of Lordship castles were established; Chirk, Denbigh, Hawarden, Holt and Ruthin were all fortifications established in this manner.
One of a number of Lordship fortresses built following the Second War of Welsh Independence, Holt Castle was constructed by John de Warenne, Earl of Surrey. An impressive five sided structure with vast round towers, it was besieged for eleven months during the Civil War and only fell once the garrison had been starved out.
HISTORY OF HOLT CASTLE
Located near a fording point over the River Dee, Holt was given to John de Warenne, Earl of Surrey in 1282 by Edward I following the Second War of Welsh Independence. The King was spending a fortune building Royal Castles to dominate the conquered territory and sought to share the burden of building outposts with his richest magnates. Accordingly Holt was given to Warenne as part of a wider package of lands that formed the Lorships of Bromfield and Yale - one of five new Marcher Lordships the King created that year. Warenne duly commenced construction of Holt Castle almost immediately both as a key fortress in the still hostile Welsh Marches and as an administrative centre for the Lordship. With extensive estates elsewhere however Warenne was an absentee landlord; he would go on to campaign for Edward I in Scotland winning a decisive victory against the Scots at the Battle of Dunbar (1296) but would later be defeated at the Battle of Stirling Bridge (1297).
Warenne died in 1305 and was succeeded by his grandson, also called John, who completed the castle around 1311. At this time it was known as Castrum Leonis - Castle of the Lion - in reference to a stone carving that dominated the entrance passage. Built upon a sandstone plinth, Holt Castle was a masonry castle from the start and consisted of a five side structure with substantial round towers on each corner. A moat, flooded for much of the year, was cut out of the rock and surrounded the structure on three sides whilst the fourth was protected by the river itself. A gatehouse tower, known as the Chequer Tower, was built in front of this structure on its own rocky pinnacle and provided dual drawbridge access into the castle itself. An outer bailey, which seems to have been broadly semi-circular in layout, surrounded the castle but it is not known for certain if it was enclosed by a wall or simply earthworks. Interestingly a survey of 1620 listed all the (by then ruinous) buildings in the outer bailey included barns, brewhouse, a kiln, pigeon house, smithy, stables and a structure described as the 'Welsh Courthouse'.
Beyond the outer bailey of the castle was a planned village, built concurrently with the castle as a secure home for the English inhabitants, and in 1315 had a population of around 650. It was laid out to a grid pattern and was probably protected by earthworks to control access and provide defence as, when initially built, the native Welsh were not allowed to live within the enclosure. This was relaxed eventually and by 1391 half the residents of Holt were Welsh.
During the troubled reign of Edward II, Holt Castle was briefly controlled by Thomas, Earl of Lancaster. He was an opponent of the King who had masterminded the trial execution of the King's unpopular favourite, Piers Gaveston. John de Warenne, Earl of Surrey opposed Lancaster but Holt was one of numerous properties overrun during the dispute. Holt was returned to Warenne after the execution of Thomas in 1322.
John de Warenne was the last of his line and when he died in 1347, his estates passed to Richard FitzAlan, Earl of Arundel. His son, also called Richard, became one of the key magnates (known as the Lords Appellant) who sought to limit the power of Richard II. The King eventually got his revenge and in September 1397 FitzAlan was executed for treason and the Lordships of Bromfield and Yale were taken into Crown ownership and morphed into a new principality of Cheshire. The King seemingly held Holt Castle in high esteem for he nominated it as a secure stowage for valuable Royal treasures moved from London in 1398. He commissioned work to replace the postern gate with a dedicated Water Gate complete with a deep water channel from the river.
In 1399 Henry Bolingbroke (later Henry IV) invaded England to overthrow Richard II. He was joined by a number of magnates, tired of Richard's draconian rule, and was aided by the King's absence in Ireland. As Bolingbroke moved into Wales to capture the King upon his return, he seized Holt Castle by a surprise attack through the new Water Gate. Despite the ease with which Henry had captured Holt the fortress nevertheless withstood assault and siege during the Owain Glyndŵr rebellion.
Holt Castle later passed to the Stafford family but was confiscated when Henry Stafford, Duke of Buckingham was executed for treason in 1483 by Richard III. Thereafter it was granted to Sir William Stanley and this was affirmed by Henry VII for the former's support during the Battle of Bosworth (1485). However, in 1495 Stanley was executed for treason for his support for the pretender, Perkin Warbeck. Holt Castle was taken back into Crown ownership but was later granted to William Brereton until he too was executed - in this case for adultery with Queen Anne Boleyn. The castle remained in Royal hands for the rest of its operational life.
By the time of the Civil War, Holt Castle was in a poor state of repair but was nevertheless garrisoned by Royalist forces due to the strategic importance of the nearby crossing over the River Dee. In November 1643 Parliamentary forces under Sir William Brereton seized control of the bridge but were unable to take Holt Castle which was under the command of Colonel John Robinson of Gwersyllt. Unsurprisingly, Parliament was unable to sustain control of the Holt Bridge with a hostile garrison in the immediate vicinity. The castle remained in Royalist hands throughout the war and in September 1645 saw the last Royalist army cross the River Dee over Holt Bridge en route to the Battle of Rowton Heath. Decisively defeated, the Royalist war effort was now in terminal decline and Parliamentary forces moved into Cheshire in force. Holt, along with Chester, was besieged. Under the command of Sir Richard Lloyd, the castle held out for eleven months but eventually surrendered in January 1647.
After the war Parliament ordered the castle to be slighted to prevent further military use. Between 1675 and 1682 masonry was removed from the castle by Thomas Grosvenor to build his mansion at Eaton Hall. Today little remains - only the sandstone plinth on which the castle had been built and some small amount of masonry remains from the inside walls.