Ewloe Castle (Welsh: Castell Ewlo) is a native Welsh castle near the town of Ewloe in Flintshire, Wales. The castle, which was one of the last fortifications to be built by the sovereign Princes of Wales, was abandoned at the beginning of the invasion of Wales by Edward I in 1277. Its construction, using locally quarried sandstone, appears to have continued piecemeal over many years and may have not been completed. On taking the castle, the English Crown gave it little military value and allowed it to fall into ruin.
The Welsh sited Ewloe on high ground within their lands of North East Wales (Welsh Perfeddwlad). Standing near the Chester road, it maintained a strategic position near the Wales–England border. The castle is located on a steeply-sloped promontory within a forested valley. It overlooks the junction of two streams with higher ground to the south.
Ewloe Castle combines features from both motte-and-bailey and earlier enclosure castles. An asymmetrical curtain wall – with parapets – encloses two courtyards. A rock-cut neck ditch defends the southern side of the castle. In the upper triangular inner ward is a D-shaped tower known as the "Welsh keep". This stands on a stone outcrop that forms the motte; it has a stone revetment around its base (a basic Chemise). The lower outer ward is enclosed by two separate sections of wall that meet at a circular fortified tower, which stands upon a rocky knoll. As the curtain walls are not joined together, ladders would have had to be used to reach their parapets.
No gateways connect the inner ward to the outer courtyard. Access into Ewloe Castle was entirely via wooden ramps. The outer ward had several wooden buildings. An external defensive rampart occupies the higher ground to the south of the castle above the neck ditch.
Within the inner ward is a D-shaped (or horseshoe-shaped) tower known as the "Welsh Keep". Although a flight of stairs lead up to a first floor gateway – a similarity shared with contemporary military architecture, the shape of the tower does not conform with keeps of the later Plantagenet period. D-shaped towers usually projected out from a wall or gatehouse but at Ewloe the castle builders placed the tower/keep on a motte in the upper ward surrounded by its own curtain wall. This feature has precedence in Welsh military architecture. Llywelyn the Great built a similar D-shaped tower at Castell y Bere at Llanfihangel-y-pennant in Gwynedd in the 1220s.
The tower's outer walls – which are 2 m (6 ft 7 in) at their base – rose to about 11 m (36 ft). They were higher than the upper storey to protect its pitched roof from projectiles. A parapet ran around the top of the tower. Spaces in the stonework show where storage slots were placed in the upper roof spaces. The tower had a single first floor hall that stood above a lower ground floor chamber. Defensive arrowslits were placed on the curved sides of the tower. The flat side, which overlooks the outer ward, has a Romanesque window.
Ewloe Castle, which was built around 1257, is a relic of a brief triumph that the Welsh prince Llywelyn ap Gruffudd had over the English Crown and the Anglo-Norman Marcher Lords in the mid 13th century. Until then, this part of north east Wales had been the starting point for repeated Norman invasions of Gwynedd for more than 150 years.
But beginning in the early 1230s various Welsh leaders had started to gain the upper hand against the Anglo-Normans and Plantagenets who had taken territory in North Wales. Eventually by the late 1250s successive Princes of Gwynedd had reached Ewloe retaking lands up to Wales' historic borders.
Llywelyn ap Gruffudd completed Ewloe Castle. The work, which began in 1257, incorporated previous works undertaken by both Owain Gwynedd and Llywelyn the Great. A fortification had existed on or near the site since the Battle of Ewloe (Welsh: Brwydr Cwnsyllt) in 1157, when the Welsh successfully ambushed an English force under the command of Henry II (as they marched to Twthill at Rhuddlan). The English king only narrowly avoiding being killed himself having been rescued by Roger, Earl of Hertford.
The castle was built from local stone. Its design – such as the Welsh Keep – suggests it was conceived and built entirely by a Welsh workforce.
In July 1277, Edward I began the first Welsh War by marching his forces out of the castle at Chester and up the west coast of the Dee Estuary. After an advanced base was established at Flint (a day's travel from Chester), building work immediately began on Flint Castle. Ewloe Castle is not mentioned in chronicles of the 1277 invasion suggesting the Welsh had abandoned the area; retreating to stronger defensive positions along the Clwydian Hills further to the west.
The only contemporary reference to the Ewloe Castle is in the Chester Plea Rolls that mentions a report sent to Edward II in 1311. The Justice of Chester wrote to the King regarding the history of the manor at Ewloe from the middle of the 12th century. The rolls record that by 1257 Llywelyn ap Gruffudd had regained Ewloe from the English and built a castle in the wood; noting in 1311 that much of the castle was still standing.
By the late medieval period, the site was in ruins. Much of the castle's dressed stone work from its curtain walls and keep were carted away for reuse in later buildings around Flint, Mold and Connah's Quay.
Ewloe Castle, which is a Grade I listed building, is incorporated within Wepre Park; a country park managed by Flintshire County Council. The castle is under the care of Cadw – the national heritage agency for Wales. It can be reached by footpaths through Wepre Woods. Public access is free.
In November 2009, the castle was among five lots of farmland and woodland put up for sale by Flintshire County Council. The local authority stressed Ewloe and the site it occupies were protected from any development. It was sold at auction to an anonymous farmer along with 24 acres (9.7 ha) of surrounding land for £122,000.
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