Roman and Mediaeval History, Illlustrated Travel Journals, Mediaeval Literature, Geology


27.5.11
  Castles of the Welsh Princes - Criccieth Castle 1: Llywelyn's Buildings

I'll jump ahead a bit and leave Llywelyn the Great of House Aberffraw to another post. He is most closely connected with Dolwyddelan Castle, but I did some research on Criccieth first and that's in my notes already. I really have to clean out those and turn them into posts.

Criccieth Castle is situated on a rocky promontory overlooking Tremadog Bay. I visited it on a sunny evening and got some nice pics for you.

Criccieth Castle atop the cliff

It is first mentioned in Brut y Tywysogyon, a Welsh chronicle. Gruffydd ap Llywelyn was kept prisoner there by his half-brother Dafydd. They both were sons of Llywelyn the Great, but Gruffydd was born on the wrong side of the blankets, while Dafydd was the son of Llywelyn and his wife Joan, an illegitimate daughter or King John of England. Now, according to Welsh inheritance laws, it was perfectly fine for an illegitimate son to be treated the same way as legitimate offspring, and thus Gruffydd, who was the older of the two, could have become the main heir. But Llywelyn wanted to introduce the Anglonorman laws that only allowed for legitimate children to inherit (he got thumbs up from the Pope, too). Thus Dafydd got the lion share which didn't sit well with Gruffydd. He visited his brother with some friends, but Dafydd obviously had more friends, and imprisoned his troublesome half-brother in Criccieth Castle in 1239.

Inner Gatehouse with twin towers

The castle was built in the early 13th century by Llywelyn the Great who clearly saw the strategic advantages of the place, including the fact that the garrison could be provisioned by the sea. But the castle was extended and partly remodeled in later times, mostly under Edward I, and since several of its features are unique for a Welsh (non Norman castle), there have been discussions as to which features belong to what period.

While most scholars agree that the massive gatehouse with its two D-shaped towers and the inner ward were built by Llywelyn, some historians contend this and want to date the gatehouse to the time of Edward I because the structure appears to be too grand for a Welsh castle.

Gatehouse seen from the inner ward

But considering the rather late date of construction and Llywelyn's position and ambitions (marrying a daughter of the English king, introducing legitimate primogeniture), it is more likely that he would imitate the castles of his Norman neighbours. Maybe he even hired a Norman master mason. Moreover, a castle was also a political demonstration. The D-shaped towers were a typical Welsh feature, after all, which can also be found in fe. Castell-y-Bere - Llywelyn just built his a bit bigger. Another storey may have been added to the towers during Edward's time, though.

Windows in the inner gatehouse

The gatehouse of Criccieth contained a portcullis and a barred gate and was defended by arrow slits, battlements, and murder holes from where you could pour all sorts of interesting substances on enemies in the passageway. The castle well, which was supplied by a spring fed cistern, was located in the passageway as well.

Most of the interior structure has been lost, but we know there had been guard rooms on the lower level and accomodation quarters on the upper floors. One room contained a crucifix; the room was thus either used as chapel or at least held a private altar niche. Since it's the most secure place in the castle; I wonder if the captive Gruffydd had his quarters in the tower - excape would have been pretty much impossible.

Inner curtain wall

King Henry III accepted Dafydd's claim to the throne of Gwynedd but not to his father's conquests outside Gwynedd. So David did was any good Welsh prince would have done in such a situation, he started a nice little war. Unfortunately, he lost that war and had to submit to Henry in summer 1241. One of the conditions of the ensuing Treaty of Gweneigron was that Dafydd would deliver his half-brother Gruffydd to Henry (Henry may have seen Gruffydd as potential rival to set up against Dafydd). But Gruffydd had his share of being kept prisoner in draughty towers; he tried to escape from the Tower in London good old pirate movie style on a knotted sheet, and fell to his death (1244). Maybe he should have tried to escape from Criccieth Castle instead. Dafydd died only two years later.

Inner Ward

Back to some more architecture. The inner ward is more or less diamond shaped and takes up the plateau on the highest point of the promontory. There were no significant defenses towards the seaside, but a curtain wall on the landside. That and the remains of stone buildings attached to the wall show the same masonry as the gate towers. The entire ward still gives an impression of a sturdy castle with no architectural laces and frills, but it is still somewhat smaller than most of the Norman ones I've seen in Wales.

Llywelyn's grandson added more buildings to the castle in the 1260ies, most notably an outer curtain wall.

Remains of the outer curtain wall on the seaside

Llywelyn ap Gruffydd (Llywelyn the Last) was one of the sons of that unfortunate prisoner Gruffydd ap Llywellyn, and the one who came out winner when three brothers fought about the heritage of their uncle, after Dafydd had died without male offspring. Llywelyn managed to unite some other Welsh princes, in particular those of Deheubarth and Powys, against Henry III and formed an alliance with Simon de Montfort, leader of the barons that rebelled against the King. In the Treaty of Montgomery in 1267, peace between England and Wales was reached and Llywelyn recognised as Prince of Wales. But as usual, the peace was shortlived. After the death of Henry III (1272), relations between England and Wales deteriorated once again.

View from Montfort Tower

The wall Llywelyn the Last built encompassed the entire promontory. He also added an outer gate, protected by a tower, and a rectangular tower at the southwest corner which is also known as Montfort Tower. Of the curtain wall only ruins remain, but the tower stands almost to its original height. It had likely served as keep and held living quarters of better quality.


Sources:
R.R. Davies, The Age of Conquest, Oxford 1987, repr. 2000
The essay about Criccieth Castle by Lise Hull, 1996, on the Castles of Wales website
 


21.5.11
  Blog Anniversary

Tomorrow, The Lost Fort will celebrate its 6th Bloggiversary. The blog really has become part of my life.

When I started photographing in 1970, the only way to share photos was to put them in an album in hope aunt G. might be interested in browsing it some day. My late mother gave me the idea to add little texts to the photos so I would have some sort of travel diary. Those little snips were my first attempts at writing. Later, the texts got longer and I used a typewriter. Photos were on expensive film rolls so I could never take as many as I wanted. But I still cherish the memories kept alive in those albums.

Little sailing boat on the Roskilde fjord

No one could ever have imagined that 35 years later, you could share your travel diaries and photos with the world, not only aunt G, and that there would be digital cameras instead of film rolls.

It makes photographing even more fun to know my readers will enjoy the pictures and the background information, and for me, it's a continuation of that first travel diary I started back in 1970. Here's to the next 40 years of photographing and traveling.
 


13.5.11
  The Ebersburg - Part 3: Remains of a Romanesque Castle

The last post about the Ebersburg will deal with the architecture. Thankfully, there is a group of people dedicated to researching the castle and preventing further decline: They've put up a very informative website from which I took the details about the assumed layout of the castle before the better part of the stones, especially of the outer works, disappeared in mud and shrubs. Those brave guys and girls dug a lot of them out of their hiding places during the last years.

Inner curtain wall (with the keep in the background)

The castle encompasses a walled-in forework, and an outer and inner bailey, the latter consisting of two parts. The German words Unterburg and Oberburg would better translate as 'lower' and 'upper' bailey, since the Ebersburg is one of those German hilltop castles that are built on several levels (while the Wartburg fe. is situated on a sufficiently large promontory for the outer and inner bailey to be on the same level, others like the Plesse are built over two or three levels).

Each part of the castle is separated from the others by walls and trenches, with the keep as innermost and last defense.

Closeup of the keep

The lower bailey measures 20 x 50 metres, the upper on 23 x 60 metres. The keeps stands at the most vulnerable point, thus adding a significant obstacle to the defenses. The keep is still almost 19 metres high today and must once have been even higher. It is 12.60 metres in diameter and its walls are 4.50 metres thick (which won't leave that much room inside). Not an easy nut to crack with 13th century siege equipment, not to mention that it won't have been easy to get a trebuchet up the mountain and then find a good spot to set it up. Slopes don't work for that.

The keep is covered with a wire net today to prevent loose stones from tumbling down. There are plans to renovate it and make it accessible for the public again.

Gate tower

The keep as well as a number of other parts of the castle consist of a quarry stone / gypsum mortar kernel (you can see some of it on the first photo) faced with porphyry stones from a local quarry, which gives the remaining walls their pretty red colour. Another material, mostly used for decorative elements, is shellbearing limestone. Some fragments still show a herringbone pattern, a decoration dating back to the Romans. It's a pity so little remains of the palas because that would have been the most representative building and we could get an idea just how much craftmanship was put into a castle that, after all, was visited by the landgrave on occasion. What we can say is that there's been a symmetry in the lay of the various, elegantly curved curtain walls.

Inner gate seen from outer bailey

The inner gate is interesting. It looks a bit like the clavicula gates one can find in 1st and 2nd century AD Roman forts. The inner curtain wall is drawn into the bailey, thus forming a hallway that ends with a gate tower (3.1 x 3.1 metres). A gate like that could be easily defended because the garrison on the battlements could reach every angle in front of it with their missiles.

Today there's a gap in the roof of the hallway that makes for an interesting motiv (the roofs had been covered with slate - which is found in the Harz - and some with tiles, btw.).

The hallway of the inner gate

While parts of the castle can be reimagined with help of the remains, and we got an idea of the layout of the defenses, many details remain unknown so that it's not possible to draw an image of the entire castle as it may have looked. One of the riddles is the water supply since so far neither a well or a cistern have been found.

The members of the Medium Aevum Vitale Society Nordhausen have their work set out for the years to come, and I hope they will get enough money to be able to fulfill their dream to restore the keep and maybe other parts of the castle. The Ebersburg is worth being dragged out of oblivion.
 


5.5.11
  Huskies

One more picture post before we go back to the regularly scheduled posts about castles, cathedrals and Romans. It's just that I have so many photos that I could put up pic spam every week. :)

These are from the dog sled tour I took near Kirkenes. Because I'm sure you'll like some cuddly Huskies.

Where are those tourists? We want to play.

This blog should come with sound. All those huskies (and some other dogs among them) made a lot of noise, barking and yipping like mad. But they were very friendly dogs.

Nay, we want to have a little nap.

A few took it a bit more relaxed in between the rides. One tour is about an hour and they had two turns in the morning; this doesn't seem much for dogs that run for hours on expeditions.

Lazy sods, those are.

The snow conditions weren't very good since it had thawed a bit the days before so the snow was sodden. This was the reason I decided against trying to guide the sled myself; it takes an experienced musher in conditions like this.

But there's still a lot of snow that far north.

Can we go off now? Can we?

Those bushy tails were always waggling. I don't think Huskies have a stop button for that, and while they do have a stop button for running, they hate it when it's used. *grin*

Hey pal, whaddaya think the tourists are here for, us or the landscape?

I can ensure you I came for both, my tail wiggling friends.

The landscape is rather flat near the Russian border, with gentler hills, and some rivers and lakes. The lakes were still frozen and part of the trail went right across one. The last ice age left a bunch of boulders behind, and there are spruces and pines as well as small birches, but the latter were still bare.

Yipee, that's fun!

It was not so easy to keep on the track in the wet snow, but only one other sled capsized. Sitting comfortably in a sleigh and having someone else do all the steering and balancing is a nice way to travel.

Yes, it was fun, wasn't it, pal?

It was one of the coolest things I did during my tour. And it wasn't too cold, either; I had actually counted on colder weather. Looks like the dogs enjoyed it as well.

And now, all together: Aawwwww.

One of the pups

Who can resist Husky puppies? Though - very sensibly, imho - there was a fence, so tourists couldn't pet the pups; it might have irritated them else. You could pet the adults, though.
 


Miscellaneous musings of an aspiring Historical Fiction author. Illustrated essays on Roman, Dark Age and Mediaeval history, Mediaeval literature, and Geology. Some poetry translations and writing stuff. And lots of photos of old castles, cathedrals, Roman remains, and beautiful landscapes from Germany, the UK, Scandinavia, and the Baltic States.

All texts (except comments by guests) and photos (if no other copyright is noted) on this blog are copyright of Gabriele Campbell.

My Photo
Name:
Location: Germany

I'm a writer of Historical Fiction living in Germany. I got a MA in Literature, Scandinavian Studies, Linguistics and History, I'm interested in Archaeology and everything Roman and Mediaeval, an avid reader, opera enthusiast, traveller with a liking for foreign languages and odd rocks, and photographer.


e-mail

Twitter