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Aberystwyth Castle:

Cardiganshire, Wales

Image right - View of Aberystwyth Castle, about 1300 AD

  • Type of Building: Fortress/Castle
  • Condition: Ruined
  • Location: Aberystwyth, Cardiganshire (now Ceredigion/Clwyd), Mid Wales
  • Coordinates 52.41324°N 4.08968°W
  • When Built: 1277-1289
  • Architect: Later work attributed to James of Saint George
  • The Architecture / Style - Gothic Architecture aka Edwardian
  • Built for/by: Edward I
  • Demolished - 1649
  • Events Welsh Wars and English Civil War
  • Owned by: Controlled by Aberystwyth Town Council
  • Webpage:

Edwardian fortress located in Aberystwyth, Cardiganshire (now Ceredigion/Dyfed), Mid Wales that was built in 1277 during the First Welsh War by Edward I as part of his impregnable 'iron ring'. Edward I had set his sights on ruling the whole of England by conquering Scotland and Wales.

A Welsh Fortified town (a.k.a. a Bastide), Aberystwyth, was built in conjunction with the Castle. The idea of building fortified, purpose-built townships were based on a combination of the Bastides of Gascony and the Burghs, or Burhs, built by King Alfred the Great of England. Welsh Medieval Fortified Townships. The 'Bastide' at Aberystwyth was a strongly defended town, the construction of which had been subject to proper planning and architectural design. The layout of the town at Aberystwyth took into consideration the following defence factors:

  • The layout of the town's houses and buildings in Aberystwyth were planned so that they would not impede the circulation of troops
  • The rapid movement of the troops garrisoned at Aberystwyth was ensured by building a main road which provided direct access to the curtain wall and the main gate and towers
  • The central public square in the Aberystwyth township doubled as a mustering point for all troops
  • Wall Towers could only be accessed from a doorway on the battlement accessed via a moveable wooden staircase on the inside of the wall
  • The Town wall was defended by a number of towers. The weakest points of any building are the corners - these towers were therefore round
  • Wall Towers could only be accessed from a doorway on the battlement accessed via a moveable wooden staircase on the inside of the wall

The present castle was located on the coast overlooking the town. It took 12 years to complete, although much had to be re-built. The inner ward was built in a diamond-shaped concentric castle, with a twin D-shaped gatehouse keep with mural towers at each corner. The outer ward consisted of twin D-shaped gatehouse, a barbican, a rock-cut ditch and a large curtain wall with towers.

Concentric Castles. The Gothic architecture of the Medieval era together with the design of Concentric Castles encompassed some, or all, of the following elements:

  • A Stronger central Keep or Main Tower
  • A Round or Circular Shaped Keep
  • A High wall, complete with towers surrounded the Keep and the Inner Bailey
  • At least one lower, outer wall surrounded the Inner High Wall
  • Several Outer Walls and Outer Baileys were often added!
  • Several Gatehouses were featured
  • Moats were added which surrounded the whole Concentric Castle complex

Concentric Castles were bigger than any previous Castles. The walls were thicker, stronger and higher with turrets. The Inner Walls were higher than Outer walls. Drawbridges were added.


Bold links are to GENi projects and profiles; others are to external websites Iron Age settlers fortified the hilltop called Pen Dinas with a huge fortification, one of the largest Iron Age hillforts in the region.

12th Century

  • 1110 - There has been a castle at Aberystwyth since 1110 when Gilbert of Clare built a castle near the mouth of the River Ystwyth. Traces of the stronghold, known as Castell Tan-y-castell, persevere alongside the River Ystwyth.
  • 1135 much of the Norman castle was burnt by Gryffud ap Rhys - the castle was restored by Cadwallader, son of Griffith ap Conan
  • 1136 - Owain Glyndwr ap Gruffudd, Prince of Wales captured the castle
  • 1142 - Owen Gwynedd, the brother-in-law of Cadwallader, burnt the castle in 1142. after Cadwallader, son of Griffith ap Conan had slain Anarawd Prince of South Wales to revenge his brother's Death.
  • 1158 - The Normans took the area from the Welsh in 1158 building a second castle.
  • 1171 - The lands of Cardinganshire were given to Rhys ap Gruffydd in 1171 by Henry II including the castle at Aberystwyth. When Rhys died his succession was disputed by his sons and in Maelgwyn, one of the sons, rose up in revolt against his brother and captured the castle.

13th Century

  • 1207/8 - Maelgwyn destroyed the castle because he feared it would fall into the hands of Llywelyn the Great, Prince of Gwynedd who was attacking and taking over Welsh lands. Llywelyn did take the lands belonging to Maelgwyn and rebuilt the castle at Aberystwyth.
  • 1212 The 2nd castle (built in 1158) was destroyed by the Welsh in 1212. The castle was then given to the grandsons of Rhys ap Grufydd, Rhys and Owen. Shortly after this King John of England took possession of the castle.
  • 1215 - Llywelyn the Great captured many Welsh castles including Abervagenny, Cligarran and Aberystwyth.
  • 1221 it changed hands at least three more times before being captured by the Welsh prince Llywelyn the Great in 1221. Llywelyn razed this castle and built another one in its place.
  • 1276 Edward I declared war on Llywelyn, the Prince of Wales. The English king advanced into north Wales building a series of castle on the coast designed and built by James of St. George, Edward's master castle builder.
  • 1277 - The 3rd castle was built in 1277 on the site which was originally called Llanbadarn Castle during the First Welsh War by Edward I as part of his impregnable 'iron ring' - it was built after Edward I defeated Llywelyn ap Gruffydd, and completed in 1289. The castle was a massive stronghold built at a new location. Being located near the coast meant the castle could be resupplied by ship, a safer means of getting food and men to the castle than across rugged Welsh countryside.An important feature is its access to the sea. During the construction of Aberystwyth Castle men equipment and building materials were easily transported by boats to the site of the castle. Once Aberystwyth Castle was built fresh supplies, provisions and reinforcements prevented the castle occupants from being starved into submission during siege warfare. The advantages of swift and easy accessibility via the sea ensured that the new fortified town, which was built at the same time, or just after the castle, became a successful and prosperous stronghold for its English inhabitants.
  • 1282 - Before it was completed the Welsh briefly captured and burned the castle down in on 24th March. Later work was overseen by master mason James of St George.
  • 1289 - Construction finished in 1289, at the huge cost of 4,300 pounds.
  • 1294-5 The castle was subjected to a lengthy siege (6 months) during the revolt of Madog ap Llywelyn in 1294-5. - the Welsh attacked the castle, but this time, the concentric fortress proved invulnerable, and after reinforcements and supplies arrived by shipboard, the English effectively thwarted the Welsh onslaught.

14th Century

  • 1307 - By 1307 a town was thriving outside the castle walls; its Welsh name was Llanbadarn Gaerog (English: Fortified Llanbadarn).
  • 1343 - Historical accounts suggest that the castle had already begun to fall into disrepair by 1343. At this time the Black Prince controlled the castle. The long chamber, the king's hall, the kitchen range, the main gateway and drawbridges, and the outer bailey were falling down. The closeness of the castle to the pounding sea caused much of the decay.

15th Century

  • 1401 The Welsh burnt the town but failed to take the castle
  • 1402 Owain Glyndwr began a siege of the castle in May
  • 1404 - During the national uprising led by Owain Glyndŵr, the Welsh took possession of the castle in November of 1404.
  • 1407 - Castle was attacked by Prince Henry with cannon, unsuccessfully
  • 1408 - Castle was taken by Prince Henry; after 1408 the castle lost its strategic value to the monarchy, and only minor repairs were attempted.

16th Century

17th Century

  • 1637 - Aberystwyth Castle was designated as a Royal mint by Charles I, and produced silver shillings. Coins of eight different denominations were produced from local silver. All carried the emblem of the Prince of Wales feathers. Charles Bushell, who operated the mint in 1637, became very wealthy. At the start of the Civil War he lent Charles I £40,000 and raised a regiment of soldiers made up from local miners. Bushell's mint was closed down during the Civil War, but was used to store silver and lead.
  • 1642 The Mint was removed to Furnace (12 miles away)
  • 1644 Castle was held by Royalists
  • 1645 Castle was besieged by Parliamentarians
  • 1646 Royalists surrendered
  • 1648 Cromwell ordered the destruction of the castle
  • 1649 - Oliver Cromwell slighted the castle. Most of the stone that once formed the castle's walls was probably pilfered by locals, who took advantage of this manmade quarry. All that was left of Aberystwyth Castle were ruins which still remain.

20th Century

  • 1919 - The castle is home to the war memorial, commissioned from Italy in 1919.
  • 1988 - an excavation dig at the castle found a complete male skeleton, deliberately buried in the castle grounds. It is thought that this skeleton was probably preserved in such an excellent state because of the addition of lime found in the soil, originating from the collapsed building. Known as “Charlie” to the Aberystwyth locals, it is thought that his skeleton dates from the English Civil War, probably dying during the Parliamentarian siege of Aberystwyth Castle, and Charlie can now be found in the Ceredigion Museum in the town.

21st Century

The castle is open to the public. It is managed by Aberystwyth Town Council.

References and Sources


  • Battle Castles - 500 years of Knights and Siege Warfare - Dan Snow 2012
  • Best of British Castles - AA Publication 2004
  • Castles of Wales and the Welksh Marches - The Pitkin Guide
  • The English Castle - John Goodall 2011


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