The Lost Fort

My Travel and History Blog, Focussing mostly on Roman and Mediaeval Times


27 May 2011
  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.

The second part of the history of Criccieth Castle can be found here.

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 May 2011
  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 May 2011
  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 May 2011
  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.
 




The Lost Fort is a travel and history blog based on my journeys in Germany, the UK, Scandinavia, and central / eastern Europe. It includes virtual town and castle tours with a focus on history, museum visits, hiking tours, and essays on Roman and Mediaeval history, illustrated with my own photos.


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I'm a blogger from Germany with a MA in Literature and History which doesn't pay my bills, so I use it to research blogposts instead. I'm interested in everything Roman and Mediaeval, avid reader and sometimes writer, opera enthusiast, traveller with a liking for foreign languages and odd rocks, photographer, and tea aficionado. And an old-fashioned blogger who still hasn't got an Instagram account.
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The Viking Treasure of Hiddensee

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Mediaeval Weapons
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Feudalism

The History of Feudalism
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Feudalism in the 10th Century

Privileges and Special Relationships
The Privilege of the deditio
A Note on handgenginn maðr

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The History of the Hanseatic League
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Hanesatic Architecture
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Goods and Trade
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The Order of the Teutonic Knights

Wars and Battles
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The Siege of Vilnius 1390

The Vikings

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The Nydam Ship


Germany

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List of Mediaeval German Emperors

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Heinrich the Lion's Ancestors

Kings and Emperors

The Salian Dynasty
King Heinrich IV

House Welf and House Staufen
Emperor Otto IV, Introduction

Princes and Lords

Princes
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The Dukes of Braunschweig-Grubenhagen
Otto of Northeim
The Ludowing Landgraves of Thuringia
Albrecht II and Friedrich I of Thuringia

Counts and Local Lords
The Marshals of Ebersburg
The Counts of Everstein
The Counts of Hohnstein
The Lords of Plesse
The Counts of Reichenbach
The Counts of Winzenburg

Famous Feuds

Royal Troubles
Otto IV and Bishop Adalbert II of Magdeburg

Local Feuds
The Lüneburg Succession War
The Thuringian Succession War - Introduction
The Star Wars


England

Kings of England

King Henry IV
King Henry's Lithuanian Crusade

Normans, Britons, Angevins

Great Fiefs - The Honour of Richmond
The Dukes of Brittany and the Honour of Richmond
The Earldom of Richmond and the Duchy of Brittany

Contested Borders

Northumbria
King Stephen's Troubles with King David of Scots


Scotland

Kings of Scots

House Dunkeld
Malcolm III and Northumbria
Struggle for the Throne: Malcolm III to David I
King David and the Civil War, Part 1
King David and the Civil War, Part 2

Houses Bruce and Stewart
Robert the Bruce and Stirling Castle
The Early Stewart Kings

Scottish Nobles and their Quarrels

Clan Feuds
MacLeans and MacDonalds
A Scottish Wedding


Wales

Welsh Princes

The Princes of Gwynedd
The Rise of House Aberffraw

Rebels

A History of Rebellion
From Llywellyn ap Gruffudd to Owain Glyn Dŵr


Denmark

Kings of Denmark

House of Knýtlinga
Harald Bluetooth's Flight to Pomerania

Danish Rule in the Baltic Sea

The Duchy of Estonia
Danish Kings and German Sword Brothers


Norway

Kings of Norway

Foreign Relations
King Eirik's Scottish Marriages
King Håkon V's Swedish Politics
Beginnings of the Kalmar Union

A Time of Feuds

Famous Nobles and their Feuds
Alv Erlingsson of Tønsberg


Sweden

Troubles and Alliances

Scandinavian Unity
Beginnings of the Kalmar Union


Livonia
(Latvia and Estonia)

Towns of the Hanseatic League

Riga
The History of Mediaeval Riga

Tallinn
The History of Mediaeval Tallinn


Lithuania

The Northern Crusades

The Wars in Lithuania
The Siege of Vilnius 1390

Lithuanian Princes

The Geminid Dynasty
Troublesome Cousins - Jogaila and Vytautas


Poland

The Northern Crusades

The Conquest of Pomerania / Prussia
The Conquest of Danzig

Royal Dynasties

The Jagiełłonian Kings
Władysław Jagiełło and the Polish-Lithuanian Union


Bohemia
(Including Silesia and Moravia)

The Bohemian Kings of House Luxembourg
(to come)


Other Times

Prehistoric Times

Germany

Development of Civilisation
European Bread Museum, Ebergötzen
Open Air Museum Oerlinghausen

Orkney

Neolithic Orkney
The Neolithic Landscape of Orkney
Ring of Brodgar
Skara Brae
Life in Skara Brae

Scandinavia

Gotland
The Ship Setting of Gnisvärd


Post-Mediaeval History

Explorers and Discoveries

Explorers
Fram Expedition to the North Pole
Fram Expedition to the South Pole

Discoveries
Otto von Guericke and the Magdeburg Hemispheres
Raising a Wreck, Now and Then (Vasa Museum in Stockholm)

Biographies

European Nobility
Prince Wilhelm Malte of Putbus


Miscellanea

History in Literature and Music

History in Literature

Biographies of German Poets and Writers
Theodor Fontane

Historical Ballads by Theodor Fontane
(Translated by me)
Archibald Douglas
Gorm Grymme
Sir Walter Scott in Abbotsford
The Tragedy of Afghanistan

History in Opera

Belcanto and Historicism
Maria Padilla - Mistress Royal
The Siege of Calais in Donizetti's Opera

Not so Serious History

Romans
Building Hadrian's Wall
Playmobil Romans

Mediaeval Times
Kings Having a Bad Hair Day
The Case of the Vanished Wine Cask

Other
Rules for Writing Scottish Romances
Tourist Kitsch in St.Petersburg


Geology

Geological Landscapes

The Baltic Sea
Geology of the Curonian Spit
Chalk Cliffs on Rugia
Flint Fields on Rugia

The Harz
Bode Valley and Rosstrappe Cliff
The 'Hübichenstein' Rock
Karst Formations in the Southern Harz
The Lonau Falls
The Rhume Springs

Meissner / Kaufunger Wald
Blue Dome near Eschwege
Diabase and Basalt Formations
Karst Formations

Solling-Vogler
Raised Bog Mecklenbruch
Hannover Cliffs

The Shores of Scotland
Staffa

Fossils and Other Odd Rocks

Fossilized Ammonites
The Loket Meteorite


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