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Denbigh Castle

Denbigh Castle sits on an ancient fortified site on top of a high hill overlooking the Vale of Clwyd. It's notable for its triple-towered gatehouse and in its day would have been one of the most impressive castles in Wales.

Like many other hilltop castle sites Denbigh was probably first fortified during the Iron Age. By the early 13th Century there was a Welsh castle on the site commanded by Dafydd ap Gruffydd, the brother of Llywelyn the Last.

The Welsh castle was strong enough to hold Edward I of England's forces at bay for a month during the Welsh uprising in 1282. Dafydd abandoned the castle in 1282 and was executed in 1283. After his execution Denbighshire was granted to Henry de Lacy, Earl of Lincoln.

New Construction and Town

Henry de Lacy, 3rd Earl of Lincoln, was granted a Royal Charter to construct a new English borough and town. His plans were nothing if not ambitious. He started by building a half-mile long stone wall around his new town, an act that even King Edward I only did twice in Wales such was the cost.

Edward's master mason James of St George was certainly here during the construction and he has been credited with the castle's design.

Madog ap Llwelyn captured Denbigh during his uprising in 1294. It's possible that the castle hadn't been started by this point, but the Welsh still managed to hold on to it against Henry's expedition to relieve it. Henry only got it back when Edward put down the insurrection the following year.

Construction continued and the castle and walls were mostly complete by 1305. The town of Denbigh was thriving by this time too and Edward I issued a second royal charter for the town.

When Henry de Lacy died the castle passed to Thomas, Earl of Lancaster. When he was executed Denbigh passed through various families who made sporadic attempts to maintain and complete it.

Denbigh Castle Layout

Denbigh has a remarkable triple-towered gatehouse. It has three octagonal towers arranged in a triangle which together house a heavily defended passageway.

The passageway has portcullises in series, murder-holes and arrowslits. It ends in an octagonal hallway which would have been a death-trap to any attackers who got there. There's no access to any of the gatehouse rooms or the courtyard from here.

Accommodation in Denbigh Castle was fairly extensive. The Badnes Tower at the rear of the gatehouse would have provided accommodation for the castle's keeper while the Prison Tower on the right of the gatehouse held a dank prison in its basement.

On the eastern side of the enclosure you'll find the well and the great hall. The White Chamber Tower in the south-east would have held Henry de Lacy's apartments and the Great Kitchen Tower was where Charles I stayed for three nights when he visited the castle in 1645.

Denbigh at War

Denbigh wasn't always peaceful. Owain Glendwr tried to capture the castle in 1400 and in the 1460s during the Wars of the Roses the Lancastrian Jasper Tudor laid siege twice. Both times the castle successfully resisted, but the town was badly damaged.

During the English Civil War Denbigh was held for the Royalists by Colonel William Salesbury of Rug. Denbigh Castle was decaying by this point, but still managed to hold out for six months.

After its surrender to the Parliamentarians it was used as a prison for Roundheads and kept garrisoned.

There is evidence that the castle was slighted after the Restoration, but in the main it was left to rot and decay away.

Today the castle is under the guardianship of Cadw, part of the Welsh government, who run it as a visitor attraction and historic monument.

Cadw have a range of facilities at Denbigh including toilets, disabled toilets, a cafe and gift shop as well as exhibitions and displays on the castle's history.

Status: Visitor Attraction / Historic Monument
Owner: Cadw
Tel: +44 (0)1745 813 385
Opening Times: April to October Daily 10am to 5pm / November to March Daily Mon-Sat 10am to 4pm Sun 11am to 4pm / Site is unstaffed some days in winter

The gatehouse and bridge across the dry moat
The front of the gatehouse at Denbigh

Denbigh Castle and town from across the moor
Across to Denbigh Castle from the moor

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