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Castell Dinas Brân, Wales

Castell Dinas Brân is a medieval castle standing high on a hill above the town of Llangollen in Denbighshire, Wales. It is also the site of an Iron Age hillfort. Dinas Brân translates as Crow City in English, but it is usually known as Crow Castle.

The first building placed at Dinas Brân was not the castle which now stands in ruins on top of the hill but an Iron Age hillfort built around 600 BC. An earthen rampart was constructed probably topped by a wooden palisade and this was further protected by a deep ditch on the shallower southern slope. The walls of the hillfort encircled a village of roundhouses.

Dinas Brân is in what was once the ancient Kingdom of Powys (5th century - 1160). The last Prince of Powys, Gruffydd Maelor died in 1191 and the kingdom was divided into Powys Fadog in the north and Powys Wenwynwyn in the south. His son, Madog ap Gruffydd Maelor was lord of Powys Fadog and founded the nearby Valle Crucis Abbey. Although no archaeological evidence has been found some records suggest he ruled from Dinas Brân. If a structure did exist it would have been a wooden fortification probably consisting of a wooden palisade surrounding a hall and other buildings. These early records further say it was destroyed by fire and then the new castle was built on the same site, therefore little prospect for finding any archaeological evidence of the early building remains. An even earlier structure has been suggested, belonging to Elisedd ap Gwylog from the 8th century (Ried, 1973). It was this Elisedd who is named on the Pillar of Eliseg and is one of the founders of the kingdom of Powys, but again no physical evidence for any structure at Dinas Brân has been found.(Kightly, 2003)

The castle visible today was probably built by Gruffydd II ap Madog son of Madog ap Gruffydd Maelor sometime in the 1260s. At the time Gruffydd II ap Madog was an ally of Prince Llywelyn ap Gruffudd Prince of Wales, with Powys acting as a buffer state between Llewelyn’s heartland of Gwynedd and England. Dinas Brân was one of several castles being built following the signing of the Treaty of Montgomery which had secured Wales for Llywelyn, free from English interference. Indeed the castle at Dolforwyn Castle near Newtown ordered to be built by Llywelyn around the same time has some similarities to Dinas Brân and may have been the work of the same master mason. (Kightly, 2003)

Gruffudd died in 1269 or 1270 and the castle passed down to his four sons. Madoc the eldest son was the senior, but each of the sons may have had apartments at the castle. The peace between Llewellyn and Edward did not last long and in 1276 war started between England and Wales. Edward’s larger armies soon invaded Wales and the support for Llewellyn crumbled. Two of the brothers made peace with Edward, the second brother Llewellyn and Madoc. However, the castle was not in Madoc’s control as the surrender document with the English refers to conditions relating to the recapture of Dinas Brân. Meanwhile Henry de Lacy, Earl of Lincoln arrived in Oswestry with forces to capture Dinas Brân. As soon as he had arrived he was told that the defenders of the castle, probably the younger brothers Owain and Gruffudd - who were still allies of Llewellyn Prince of Wales, had set fire to and abandoned the castle. The reason for this action is not clear but it may be that they had no confidence that they could defend the castle against the English forces, and did not want to let it fall intact into Edward’s, or their elder brother’s hands. The castle was not badly damaged, the fire being mainly limited to the timber structures within the walls and Lincoln recommended to King Edward that the castle be repaired and garrisoned with English troops. Edward placed some troops at the castle at least into the next year 1277 when Llewellyn sued for peace and ordered some repair work to be undertaken. (Kightly, 2003)

The history of the castle during the final war which restarted in 1282 is not recorded. It may have been recaptured by the Welsh like many other castles in the early months of the war but ultimately the English were victorious. Madoc had by now died and the three surviving brothers all fought for the Welsh Prince but to no avail and following the end of the war in October 1282 and the death of Llewelyn Prince of Wales most of Powys Fadog and the castle was granted to John de Warenne, Earl of Surrey. Rather than rebuild Dinas Brân, De Warenne choose instead to build a new castle at Holt on the Flintshire, Cheshire border and Dinas Brân continued till the present day a picturesque and romantic ruin. (Kightly, 2003)

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