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From Dudley Castle to Dryslwyn Castle

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dryslwn6.jpg
Dryslwyn Castle by Jo Homfray

My uncle moved to Llansawel in Dyfedd from the Black Country twenty-five years ago and I always enjoy visiting him. However, what gives these trips extra delight is the number of historical sites in the area: the Roman gold mines at Dolaucothi; the castles of Llandovery, Carreg Cennen, Lampeter, Kidwelly, Dinefwr and Drislwyn; Talley Abbey and the village of Myddfai.  More so given the connections between Dryslwyn Castle and Dudley Castle; and Talley Abbey and Halesowen Abbey.

 

            Dryslwyn stands on top of a steep hill in the middle of the Twyi Valley, overlooking the River Twyi. Founded in the early thirteenth century by Rhys Gryg, the Lord of Dinefwr, it shares a number of characteristics with other Castles of the Welsh Princes, such as Castell y Bere, Dolwyddelan, Carreg Cennen and nearby Dinefwr: a defensive position on top of a steep hill; a strong tower and hall and  a defended ward, the size and shape of which was dictated by the size and shape of the hill top.

 

            His son, Maredudd added another wall and strengthened the defences by rebuilding the outer wall with stone. The next lord of Drislwyn, Rhys ap Maredudd had supported Edward I in the wars against Prince Llwelyn ap Gruffudd in 1276-1277 and 1282-1283. His loyalty, (or betrayal), was rewarded with new lands and the promise of the Lordship of Dinefwr Castle. The resulting revenue from his new lands financed further strengthening of Dryslwn’s walls, a third ward with a projecting square gatehouse and chapel tower overlooking the steep drop to the River Tywi. Rhys even encouraged the growth of a small town outside the castle gates.

 

            These modifications made Dryslwyn into the largest Welsh fortress ever raised by a native Welsh Lord; impressive enough to match the strongholds of the Lords of the Welsh Marches.

 

            However, Rhys eventually came to resent the interference of the English administrators in his affairs and the fact he had not been awarded the Lordship of Dinefwr as promised and in 1287 he rebelled. He raised a powerful army and began his campaign on 8 June, the castles of Dinefwr, Carreg Cennen, Llandovery, Swansea, Aberystwyth and Brecon quickly falling to him.

 

            Despite Edward I being out of the country, his younger brother Earl Edmund of Cornwall held the Regency and his response was swift. On 10 July a writ was dispatched to the knights in the districts of Salop and Staffordshire, including Roger de Somery III of Dudley Castle, ordering them to:

 

            “…assist with their horses, arms and power Roger Lestrange, whom the King is sending to Wales to repress the rebellion of Rhys son of Mereduc and his accomplacies of Welshman”

 

            De Somery had already taken part in Edward’s campaign against the Welsh Prince Llwelyn ap Gruffudd and his brother Dafydd, (1282-1283), which had resulted in both brothers having their heads severed, paraded through the streets of London and displayed  on stakes at the Tower of London.

 

            On August 9th, at the head of an army of 4.000 men Earl Edmund set out from Camarthen to Dryslwyn where Rhys had established his garrison. On  August 15th , Edmund was joined by 6,700 men under the command of Reginald de Grey who had marched from Chester and Roger Le Strange, who had marched from Montgomery, and whose force included Roger de Somery III and his men from  Dudley.

 

            The army gathered on the flat valley floor before Dryslwyn castle and the siege began. Rhys soon discovered that Dryslwyn’s elevation was a disadvantage as the castle was easily  surrounded and cut off from any relief force.

 

            A trebuchet, a siege engine capable of hurling stones at the castle walls was constructed at a cost of 14 (7,000 by modern standards). It required 40 to 60 oxen to pull it and was considered  important enough to warrant its own guard of 20 horsemen and 500 men at arms to protect it from attack. Twenty masons and twenty four carters were employed to shape and move the stones it was to hurl.

 

            In addition the besiegers also had Mangonels smaller catapults which hurled lighter stone projectiles at the castle, harassing the garrison and producing localized damage. Between August 20th and 30th, the besiegers also attempted to mine under the castle walls to cause their collapse, unfortunately the tunnel collapsed prematurely, killing over 150 men, including Lord Stafford.

 

            By September 5th Dryslwyn had been taken, and while Rhys ap Maredudd escaped, his wife and son were taken prisoner. After a few more years of resisting English rule, he was eventually captured in 1292, betrayed by disloyal followers and executed in York on a charge of treason

 

            Archaeological excavations at  the site have  produced artifacts from the time of the siege including two stone balls measuring over 16 inches (40 cm) in diameter, presumably hurled by the trebuchet; links of mail; slingshots; a spear head; and over 100 bodkin arrows designed to penetrate mail armour.

 

            Following Rhys’s defeat, the siege damage was repaired and Dryslwyn was occupied by the English. In July 1403, it once again figured in another Welsh uprising, when it surrendered to Owain Glyn Dŵr. Following Glyn Dŵr’s defeat it was demolished, possibly  to prevent any hostile force occupying the castle again.

 

            However, as I stand on the floor of the lovely Twyi Valley near the river, looking up at the ruined remains of Dryslwyn, I experience a curious feeling knowing that over 600 years before, other men from Dudley had stood here, also looking up at the castle, although our motivations for being there are very different.

 

             

Bibliography

 

C. Caple (1990) The castle and lifestyle of a 13th century independent Welsh Lord: Excavation at Dryslwyn Castle 1980-1988. Chateau Gaillard, 14, 47-59.

P.R.Davis (2007) Castles of the Welsh Princes. Tempus

R.A.Griffths (1966-7) The Revolt of Rhys ap Maredudd 1287-8. Welsh History Review, 3, 121-43.

J. Hemmingway (2006) An Illustrated Chronicle of the Castle and Barony of Dudley 1070-1757. The Friends of Dudley Castle.

J. Norris (2004) Castles of the Welsh Princes. Iolfa.

 

 

 

 

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