‘That year Edmund, the king’s brother, built a castle at Aberystwyth. And Edward came to Perfeddwlad and he fortified Flint with a huge ditch. And he came to Rhuddlan and fortified it, too, with a ditch’.
Brut y Tywysogyon (ed. Thomas Jones Cardiff 1952)
The war had been coming. When Edward I made his general summons in 1277 he had, by that point already declared Llywelyn ap Gruffudd a rebel and begun his plans aimed at reconquering those lands he considered his, namely the cantref of Tegeingl. And more, it was clear his intention was to remove Llywelyn from the entirety of the four cantrefs to the east of the River Conwy, not just Tegeingl, but also Rhos, Rhufoniog and Dyffryn Clwyd, the lands also known as the Perfeddwlad, the Middle Country. Fought over for centuries, the lands had been lost to the English Crown in the Treaty of Montgomery of 1267, an extraordinary peace in which Llywelyn had been recognised by Henry III as Prince of Wales. Llywelyn had boldly taken advantage of the dynastic instability rife within the English Crown to tear through much of the Perfeddwlad, striking south as far as Brycheniog, and routing all who stood against him, English or Welsh, bringing North East Wales under the direct control of Gwynedd, and securing much of central Wales as vassal states.
Inspired by the Carbonniere Tower at Aigues-Mortes in Southern France, the Great Tower, also known as the Thieves Tower detached from the inner ward is unique in the British Isles
On Henry’s death in 1272, his son Edward became king. It is then to this date that one can trace the eventual end of the line of Aberffraw in 1283. It is likely that Edward always intended to return the Perfeddwlad to English rule, and made no real effort to hide his intentions from the outset of his reign. In harbouring Llywelyn’s enemies, including Dafydd, his brother and Gruffudd ap Gwenwynwyn of Powys, Edward was making plain his disdain for the Prince of Wales. And Edward remembered Llywelyn’s support for his dynastic enemy, Simon de Montfort. The power and influence of the Prince of Wales had increased largely at the expense of the English Crown, and the humiliating Treaty of Montgomery. And still Llywelyn seemed intent on slighting Edward’s power, with his marrying of de Montfort’s daughter, his refusal to pay the tribute expected of him, and finally his absence from Chester in 1275 to do homage to the English king, as was required by the Treaty of Montgomery. Of course it was obvious to Llywelyn that events were being manipulated against him - how could he present himself to a king who continued to protect the very men who had planned to assassinate him, and who repeatedly turned a blind eye to the skirmishing of the Marcher Lords within Welsh lands? Llywelyn had reason to fear for his liberty, if not his life. In 1276, Llywelyn was declared a rebel and in November 1276, Edward declared war upon the Prince of Wales.
Edward amassed a huge army at Chester and in July 1277 pushed into the Perfeddwlad. Llywelyn had already by this stage lost much territory in the south, as his vassals were either defeated or, resentful of Gwynedd’s hegemony, freely surrendered themselves to English rule. Llywelyn’s position was becoming hopeless.
The north east tower retains many of its original features, though badly slighted at the end of the English Civil War
Thus, it was that Edward arrived at a small rocky outcrop jutting out into the Dee Estuary in the commote of Coleshill, the lost vill of Redington, in the parish of Northop. Edward saw its strategic worth immediately - a day’s journey from Chester and able to be supplied from the sea, it quite fulfilled every requirement of Edward’s military idiom. And so Flint was founded, both castle and town, the start of his ambition to reclaim Tegeingl once and for all, through the means of castle and fortified borough.
It is said that Flint was the first of Edward’s castles to be built, and this is true in that in encamping at what became Flint in the first few days of the campaign, the foundations of the castle were laid before those at Rhuddlan. But, in truth, the castles at Flint at Rhuddlan were almost entirely contemporary with one another. Edward rarely did anything by halves, and that included his castle building programme throughout the remains of the thirteenth century.
And the pace at which Flint was built was staggering. The enormous labour force were initially treated as military units - understandable, since they were within the field army that pushed forwards from Chester in 1277. It's unlikely that Edward had failed to learn the hard learned lessons taught to his royal ancestors throughout the 12th century, and was consequently wary of the dense and notorious woodland of Tegeingl. He did, after all, insist that the monks of Basingwerk Abbey clear the woods on their lands to deter ambush, some years after the end of the Welsh wars. Each category of labourer was placed under the power of a knight, at least in the short term. And by the end of July, according to the meticulous research of Arnold Taylor, some 1850 workmen were stationed at Flint - and the numbers continued to grow substantially. It's likely that Flint, being the first encampment of Edward’s field army, was something of a gathering place of his labouring forces, units being moved on to various works throughout the north and mid Wales. But even so, it is clear that there was an urgency to raise at Flint a fortress very quickly. Evidence of this speed is evident in a number of ways, but most clearly in the bonuses paid, ‘by the King’s gift’ to those workers who excelled, and deductions for those whose work was deemed tardy or substandard. Can we also detect a certain haste in the relatively simple plan of the castle, the astonishing detached Great Tower notwithstanding? It is clear to all who have seen their fair share of castles that Flint is extraordinary - the shock of the new, so to speak - but it has a clean, clear, uncomplicated plan that suggests Edward and his engineers wanted it built as quickly and efficiently as possible. The brief but telling entry in the Brut Tywysogion for 1277 is also instructive, since its reference to ‘huge ditches’ at Flint suggests that the town’s double bank and ditch was the first order of business, in order to enclose and protect the enormous workforce. Indeed, everything about the building of Flint Castle, at least in the first year or so of works, suggests a real sense of urgency. Records, as researched by Taylor, tell of woodland on Merseyside being felled, specifically for the works at Flint, a fleet of rafts being fashioned to ferry the timber across the Dee (and perhaps the Mersey), vast amounts of stone being quarried at Shotwick. Between the end of July and the end of August 1277, when Edward established his forward base of operations at Rhuddlan (which unlike Flint had previously been fortified and was likely still in 1277), the astonishing sum of £722 and more had been spent on workman's wages, most of which were spent on those working on Flint Castle.
It was at the end of August that the works came under the direct control of William of Perton, becoming a more civil rather than military undertaking. But the urgency at Flint continued, with considerable sums continuing to be paid in labour costs. And the works did not stop at the traditional end of the building season, continuing throughout the winter. Progress was such that by February 1278, the granting of burgages at Flint had commenced, strongly suggesting that the town was raised at the same time as work on the castle continued. However, it is clear that some of the urgency that had seen Flint almost literally thrown up in its first six months had transferred, with Edward, to Rhuddlan, further west and nearer to the quickly moving front line of the conflict. While records show that £830 was spent on Flint between November 1277 and March 1279, £3160 was spent on Rhuddlan Castle in the same period of time. Clearly, the military demands of Edward’s conflict had moved definitively west. Still, work at Flint continued steadily, with stone being quarried and dressed at Ness on the Wirral for use in revetting the castle moat. It would seem that work on the conventional towers had advanced sufficiently for them to be roofed with lead. However this did not include the Great Tower, which was not finally roofed until 1286.
Curiously, it would seem that between November 1279 and August 1280 all work at Flint was suspended. This would suggest that the castle was seen to be in a position of being defended to some extent. And, after all, the war against Llywelyn had been over for nearly two years by that stage, the Prince of Wales having lost the Perfeddwlad, the lands he had gained in 1267 in the Peace of Aberconwy in 1277. It’s likely that by the end of 1279, the military priorities had changed, leaving the building of Flint Castle as a less urgent business - the speed at which Llywelyn had been defeated perhaps taking Edward by surprise. However, work on the castle picked up towards the traditional end of the 1280 building season, and in November it would seem that the famous Master James of St George arrived at Flint to directly oversee further works on the castle.
The year 1281 saw the biggest progress of works on the castle, with more being spent on wages in this year than in the three previous years. Most of the money was spent on the towers, whether preparing the internal stairs or revetting the well in the Great Tower and even preparing resources for the start of the 1282 building season.
On Palm Sunday 1282, Dafydd ap Gruffudd attacked Hawrden Castle, having marched out from his castle in Caergwrle in Hopedale - a surprise attack against his erstwhile ally and protector, Edward I. The reasons for this radical change of heart are still speculated upon, but probably hinge upon Dafydd’s eventual recognition of the challenges his peoples faced as subjects of the English crown within their own nation. Dafydd’s initial success was not replicated at Flint, where he failed to take the castle which resolutely stood against him. Clearly work at Flint had progressed sufficiently to make it entirely defensible - one wonders whether the tremendous works of 1281 were a reason Dafydd attacked when he did, at roughly the beginning of the 1282 building season, and at Easter, hoping to catch the castle and its defenders before its completion. Nothing is known of Dafydd’s attack on the castle, other than its failure. Indeed, records suggest that work continued in 1282 regardless, as the Welsh War of 1282-83 continued. After some initial success gained in the surprise, and with Llywelyn, who seems to have been as surprised as Edward at Dafydd’s attack, joining his brother despite their past animosity, Edward pushed the conflict from the Four Cantrefs and into the heartland of Gwynedd, the fastness of Snowdonia. By the end of 1282, Llyweyn was dead, killed in a short sharp skirmish outside of Builth and Dafydd was a hunted man, moving from one hiding place to another within the mountains of Gwynedd. By the Fall of 1283, Dafydd was caught and gruesomely executed in Shrewsbury, the first notable to be hung, drawn and quartered for his perceived treachery. The line of Aberffraw was all but extinguished, and Flint Castle had weathered the brief, fierce storm.
By the end of 1284, payments to masons had ceased, and so it would seem that the major constructional work had been completed. Payments in the years 1283 and 1284 might reflect work done on repairing damage to the town and castle in 1282, especially for diggers working on the ditch surrounding the town. Despite not taking the castle, it is likely that Dafydd succeeded in sacking the town itself, overwhelming what were frankly, meagre defences of a double ditch and palisade, designed to slow down an advance rather than to prevent one entirely. In 1286, the thatch acting as a roof to the Great Tower had been removed and replaced with lead, the final act in the first stage of the building of Flint Castle - the final cost of building somewhere in the region of £7000 all told.
And what did Flint Castle look like on its completion in 1286? In truth, the plan of the castle is pleasingly and remarkably simple, with a square inner ward protected by three conventional towers to the north west, north east, both of which face the Dee Estuary, and to the south west, facing the town. The extraordinary Great Tower or Donjon, unique in the British Isles, stands detached from the inner ward to the south east, connected to the inner ward by way of a drawbridge. And there are traces of stone buildings to the centre of the inner ward, though their purpose is open to speculation. Long gone timber buildings would have stood against the inner walls of the keep. There were two moats, both originally fed by the waters of the Dee Estuary, the inner moat surrounding the inner ward and lapping against the walls of the Great Tower, while the outer moat surrounded the rather curious outer ward. Here, a wall protected the approach from the town and there is excavated evidence of an impressive gatehouse, with a pivot drawbridge. The wall extended to the south east, where evidence would suggest a wharf was built. Flint’s position had been determined by its ability to be resupplied by the sea, and here ships would have been berthed to unload under the protection of the wall and, of course, the Great Tower. The moats were revetted with stone and turf, and would have provided impressive defence to the castle itself. The whole impression is one of the castle being something of an island. The diagram below from An Inventory of Ancient Monuments in Wales and Monmouthshire (1912) gives a beautiful plan of the castle.
An essential aspect of the castle’s defence was the River Dee, of course. Flint’s position was chosen because it could be re-supplied by sea, ever a consideration for Edward. And the Dee also provided an essential part of its defence, feeding both the inner and outer moats. It's rare to visit a castle today and see the moat still full of the waters that were originally used to protect it, the most famous example that leaps to mind being the impressive Caerphilly Castle in south Wales with its network of lakes. Flint, on the face of it, is a case in point. At the right time of day, when the tide is out, it is entirely possible to circumnavigate the entire castle with perhaps nothing more than mildly muddy footwear as you round the north east tower. But wait a while and as the tide turns you watch the waters rise, submerging the mud banks and flats at a frankly alarming pace. In fact, it doesn’t really look as if the waters are flowing in from the Dee, as rather rising from the ground, from the mud, surrounding the castle on its northern and eastern flanks. The relationship between the Dee and the castle has changed considerably over time, but there is no doubt that at the end of the 13th century, the Dee would have made this rocky outcrop upon which this stout, squat architecturally impressive castle was built quite the island. The various writers and artists that have visited the castle in the years since its building have not just reflected its growing decrepitude, romantically or otherwise, but also its relationship with the Dee. By the time of Speed’s famous map of 1610, the land around the castle is largely salt marsh, while Pennant writes in 1778,
‘The channel of the Dee at present is at some distance from the walls; but formerly flowed beneath. There are still in some parts rings, to which ships were moored’.
Thomas Pennant A Tour in Wales (1778)
Samuel Lewis in 1833, some sixty years later, describes,
‘the river Dee, which sometimes flows close to it, occasionally receding, and approaching it again’.
Samuel Lewis A Topographical Dictionary of Wales (1833)
Various painters and engravers have shown the Dee against the castle, but one can fairly wonder as to the demands of artistic licence and must, while admiring the work, be cautious in seeing the often wonderful works as historical fact.
And where did the inspiration for this castle come from, unique to the British Isles? It is clear that Edward was architecturally inspired by his years on crusade in the Middle East, especially with regard to the nature of warfare, the strategic qualities required to prosecute a conflict over time, the logistics of fighting outside of one’s own home territory. And castles were a large part of this military thinking. But curiously, it was not the mighty crusader castles in Palestine that inspired Edward’s Welsh castles, but rather the European castles he visited as he made his way to the Middle East, and rather more probably, his slow, languid return to England on the death of his father. On his outward journey, he stayed at Aigues-Mortes on the southern coast of France, and it seems undeniable that the castle there, famous for its detached Carbonniere Tower, was the inspiration for the Great Tower at Flint.
This also helps to clarify that it was Edward that was the driving force behind the design of his Welsh castles, his engineers, including Master James of St George, bringing the King’s designs into reality. It is a trait of outstanding leaders that they seek to surround themselves with those whose specific talents outweigh their own, and Edward brought to the British Isles the very best architects and engineers he could find, including Master James, who he probably called into service as he travelled through the Savoyard in 1274. But, it is likely that Edward absorbed the ideas of his castle building program on these travels, and that while the engineers and architects often came from the same regions as Edward’s inspirations, they were putting into place his ideas. It is worth noting that Master James came to Flint rather late in the building process, that the graft at Flint was largely realised by such men as Richard of Chester, a man who probably never left the British Isles in his lifetime, and those that worked with and for him.
Interestingly, Edward’s victory in 1283, effectively ended Flint Castle’s influence, at least militarily. The war of 1282-83 was not one that had been planned by Edward, but rather forced upon by Dafydd’s surprise attack on Hawarden. After initial setbacks. England’s military might eventually overwhelmed the Welsh and it’s clear that Edward’s objective became nothing short than that of extinguishing the line of Aberffraw, and the subjugation of the entirety of Gwynedd. To that end, as the conquest was completed, the castles of Conwy and Caernarfon were founded, rather leaving Flint and Rhuddlan behind - military outliers, in effect.
Ships likely moored along the western wall of the castle, between the conventional towers to the north and south west, the inner moat fed by the waters of the River Dee. Thomas Pennant claims to have seen rings upon the walls to moor the sea going vessels.
Still, the defences of Flint Castle were called into play again in 1294-95, during the widespread revolt of Madog ap Llywelyn and his allies. A distant cousin of the Aberffraw line, Madog and other Welsh nobles had been stung into action in the face of what they saw as the financial exploitation of their people and an overly oppressive bureaucracy. In an impressively co-ordinated uprising throughout Wales, Madog’s forces overran a number of castles in the north, including Caernarfon. But, ironically, it was the two earliest and thought militarily irrelevant Edwardian castles, Flint and Rhuddlan that held firm. Still, in a desperate act, the constable of Flint Castle ordered the town to be razed, to prevent Welsh rebels using the buildings as cover - it was an order that though devastating the town, probably saved the castle from capture. While compensation was paid to the owners, and their homes and business rebuilt, it perhaps explains the apparent lack of interest in taking up the burgess plots at the end of the 13th century. It does also show the relative weakness of the town’s defences. Excavations at the end of the 20th century make clear that the town was protected by a double bank and wide ditch. The inner bank was topped with a palisade, but nothing more. It would seem that the ditch was effectively a, ‘killing ground’, in which archers would attempt to staunch an attacking tide. But in the face of a determined and sizable foe, as was faced in 1294, the town was unlikely to be in a position to provide anything other than a delaying action while the castle prepared itself. While enjoying initial success, Madog’s forces were unable to take enough of Edward’s castles to bring the English king to terms. Once Edward was able to bring his forces to bear, the revolt was defeated. Flint Castle had survived - proving its worth to the Edwardian state.
While its influence seems to have declined with the building of the castles at Conwy and Caernarfon at the very end of the 13th century, Flint was not entirely forgotten, and was well maintained during the 14th century. In 1301-03, the Great Tower enjoyed something of a makeover, with a large work of timber built on the top of it. Apparently, this required the entire re-roofing of the donjon. Also added was a rather splendid, by all accounts timber gallery. These works were expensive, suggesting that the castle was still highly valued. Once again, it was Master Richard of Chester that oversaw the works, with the Chester carpenter, Master Henry de Rihull engaged to undertake the work. When the castle was surveyed for the Black Prince in 1337, it was in an excellent state of repair, with an estimated cost of only £25 required to make good what was likely natural wear and tear. In 1382-83, a new hall was built, ‘within the castle of Flint in which pleas may be heard by the King’s justices’, and this was probably situated in the outer bailey. Clearly, while the importance of Flint seems to have declined from a military perspective, it retained a vital role in the governance of the borough.
However, despite these building works there is evidence the town itself was suffering. This was possibly because of its violent past, but probably because, unlike Ruthin, it was still wary of allowing the Welsh to settle within the town itself. Curiously, the castle had two Welsh constables in 1350, but crucially they were overseen by an Englishman, ‘because we will that the same castle be kept by none other than an Englishman’.
A view south along the outer moat. To the right, a mooring platform was built against the wall protecting the outer bailey. At the end of the 13th century, the River Dee would have permanently inundated the moat, though today only rarely do the waters come this far inland.
And so to one of the most curious events in the history of Flint Castle. In 1399, England was in something of a dynastic crisis, with Richard II having exiled his cousin, Henry Bolingbroke for perceived disloyalty and committed injustices, seizing his estates and those of his father. In truth, Richard did not enjoy the unfettered support of many of his magnates, and had not for some time. This state of affairs was clearly the reason that Bolingbroke was confident enough to return to England in 1399, while Richard was on campaign in Ireland. News of Bolingbroke’s return prompted a hurried return by Richard, landing in Wales where he hoped to drum up the traditional support of the Welsh. However, the King is described as ‘wandering disconsolately’ through the land looking for that support, before arriving at Conwy Castle. Here, despite his suspicions, Richard was apparently assured of the loyalty of Percy, Duke of Northumberland, and thus began his journey east along the coast in Percy’s company. However, all was not as it seemed, and at some point, the escort became the King’s captors. Some sources claim it to have been an ambush, but the truth was probably rather less melodramatic. However, it occurred, Richard was clear that his days as king were numbered. He was taken to Flint Castle, to which Henry Bolingbroke was also hurriedly making his way. It seems Henry’s initial intent was simply the return of his confiscated estates, but having enjoyed the seeming surprising support of many other English magnates, he quickly began to perceive an opportunity to seize the throne. The meeting of the two at, ‘the rude ribs of that ancient castle’, otherwise known as Flint Castle seems to warrant a reading of Shakespeare’s Richard II, which does rather seem to suggest that everyone involved was just terribly English. Shakespeare would have us believe that Richard gave up his crown with barely a whimper, and the rude truth is, he is probably right. The reasons for this are beyond the remit of this article, but there is a rather interesting tale from Jean Froissart of Richard’s beloved greyhound.
‘King Richard had a greyhound called, Mathe, who was in constant practice of attending the King, and would not follow any other person’.
It would seem, however, that Mathe’s loyalty was not so much to Richard as rather his office. As Richard and Bolingbroke met, the greyhound,
‘left the king and came to the Earl of Derby (Bolingbroke)’, and while Henry was left nonplussed, Richard is said to have recognised its meaning, stating that the, ‘greyhound maketh you clere this date as kynge of Englande, as ye shall be, and I shall be deposed.’
Mathe’s recognition of Bolingbroke as the next king of England aside, Henry does seem to have come to the firm conclusion tha his ambitions should be considerably more elevated than with the mere return of his estates. Henry and Richard travelled from Flint to London, where Richard was officially deposed and Bolingbroke crowned as Henry IV. It seems Richard became something of an inconvenience. Imprisoned in Pontefract Castle, it is thought he was starved to death after Henry was made aware of a plot to return the old king to the throne.
Things did not become any calmer in the following year, as Owain Glyndwr raised his standard at Glyndyfrdwy in Denbighshire and rebelled against the new King of England. It is thought that Owain laid siege to Flint in 1400 and certainly in 1403, although both were unsuccessful. Little is known of the actual attacks, other than their failure, but it seems unlikely that though the castle weathered the fierce storm of Welsh rebellion once more, the town was spared. Invariably, the towns were razed to the ground, symbols of English colonialism and exploitation. There can be little wonder that the town of Flint struggled for prosperity in such a febrile atmosphere.
But if the first two hundred years of Flint’s existence were violent, the next two hundred were rather more quiet. In fact, our next clear view of Flint Castle comes with Speed’s map of the castle and town in 1610. And very clear it is to. Excavation and archaeology has shown that Flint was one of the most uniformly planned of Edward’s towns, confirming in fact the accuracy of Speed’s map - which is nice. Despite the modern build up of housing and industry, much of which has ebbed and flowed with more regularity than the Dee against the castle walls, it is still entirely possible to see the modern town of Flint in Speed’s map. Earl Street, Chapel Street and Duke Street still follow the old medieval defences, though those defences are long gone, and the Chester to Holywell road still cuts through the town as it did at the end of the 13th century, as does Castle Street, running from the remains of the gatehouse in the outer bailey to Northop Road. Speed’s map shows a wonderful order to the planning of the castle and town, and it remains impressive that it can still be seen within the modern network of streets. The inclusion of the gibbet in Speed’s map shows the role of the castle as the seat of justice for the county, a role confirmed with the building of the county gaol in the outer bailey nearly two centuries later in 1784-85.
Despite being drawn at the beginning of the 17th century, Speed's map is instantly recognisable as Flint. While the gibbet, a symbol of the town's role as a centre of justice seems a little morbid perhaps, any modern native of Flint will have walked the streets shown on this ancient map.
However, the castle itself seems to have been left to slow ruin from the 16th century onward, and survey of royal castles in 1618-1624 notes that the three conventional towers of the castle were in ruins, while the Great Tower, referred to in the report as the ‘Thieves Tower’ reflecting its role as a prison, was at least partially roofless and failing to keep out the rain.
All this dramatically changed with the outbreak of the first Civil War in 1642, horrifying everyone but surprising no one. Having recognised and not ignored the signs, Flint Castle had been hastily repaired and garrisoned for Charles I by the Catholic and loyalist Royalist, Sir Roger Mostyn, who died soon after. Investigating the role of Flint Castle in the hostilities is a difficult business, since much of the Mostyn correspondence relating to the castle during the war has disappeared. It is thought that it was removed during the research of the later 3rd Baronet in anticipation of a memoir and lost. What we are left with has required the patient puzzlement of subsequent historians.
What is clear is that what made the position of Flint Castle so important in 1277 made it as vital in 1642. Some 400 years after its foundation, the castle remained a day’s travel by land from Chester and an important link on the coastal route to Anglesey and Ireland. Its maritime strengths are often missed, but Flint’s position overlooking the approaches of what known as, ‘Chester Waters’ were not ignored by the protagonists in the Civil War
Flint Castle, somewhat confusingly, changed hands several times during the conflict. Garrisoned for the King in 1642, the castle was taken by Parliamentarian forces in November 1643 after a brief siege. Roger Mostyn, the grandson of the Roger Mostyn who repaired the castle, was said, in some sources, to have been at Flint at the time of its fall. But this was not in fact the case, since he was actually at Chester at this time. The castle seems to have been under the command of a Captain Griffith, of whom little is known. In any case, Parliamentarian control of the castle was brief, since Royalist troops out of Ireland landed at Mostyn a week later and the occupiers made a hasty retreat.
It would seem that after the brief flurry of activity in 1643, the following year was a rather quiet one for Flint Castle. What is clear, however, is the important role the castle played in supplying Chester. This role became especially pronounced at the end of 1644 as Chester was placed under siege by Parliamentarian forces under Sir William Brereton, a Cheshire native. In the first few months of the siege, Brereton was confined to the Cheshire side of the River Dee, and thus Flint was in a position to freely supply Chester with all necessary goods, both by land and sea. This changed in the January of 1645, when Brereton ordered the Flintshire bank of the Dee to be guarded in an explicit attempt to prevent the flow of goods into the City.
Certainly, the Royalist position had deteriorated significantly and continued to do so throughout 1645. It is thought that it was at some time in 1645 that Flint Castle was once again captured by Parliament. Curiously, and confusingly, this is only known due to the fact that sources tell of the castle being recaptured by the Royalist, Sir William Vaughan, in September 1645 as part of Charles’ attempt to relieve Chester - a venture which failed so badly at the Battle of Rowton Heath. When and how Flint had fallen is unknown, but it is likely that at its fall it had been commanded by Roger Mostyn, who had fallen out with the Governor of Chester, Lord Byron earlier in the year, presumably leaving the city and decamping with the remains of his regiment to the castle. Circumstantial evidence to this effect is in the fact that Mostyn was often at the house of his grandmother, Lady Mary Mostyn, at Gloddaeth near Llandudno, rather than at his own estates at Mostyn. With the return of Flint Castle to Royalist hands, Mostyn raised another regiment and rejoined the defence of Chester, since the, ‘citie remained unblocked up of the Welch side’. Flint Castle continued to be a starting point for what were the increasingly desperate attempts to supply Chester through to the City’s eventual surrender in February 1646.
Between the fall of Chester in February and the start of the siege of Flint Castle in June of 1646 was a four month hiatus as the Parliamentarian Major General Mytton ignored the coastal settlements and instead marched on Caernarfon by way of Ruthin and Llanrwst. When the siege of Flint Castle began, it was led by a committee of Parliamentarian officers, including Captain Richard Price and Lieutenant-Colonels George Twisleton and Thomas Mason. After the deprivations suffered at Chester, it seems some of the defenders of the castle felt they could not suffer such misery again and deserted Mostyn, returning to their homes. Given that the castle was under siege, it is likely that they were allowed to leave. By the beginning of August it was clear that Flint would fall, but it was not until the end of the month that terms were agreed and Mostyn, and the remains of the garrison marched out from the castle with the honours of war.
It isn’t clear how much damage the castle suffered through the Civil War and how much the state of the castle today as we see it today is the result of the slighting that occurred under the orders of Parliament in 1647. Interestingly, despite much damage, the Great Tower was spared, since it was retained in order to be used as the county gaol - as it had, of course, in the centuries previous.
However, it is clear from the visit of the ‘Water Poet’, John Taylor in 1652 that Flint, both castle and town, had suffered badly in the Civil War. In fact, if we are to take Taylor at his word, one has the impression that the town was quite on its knees on his arrival. He writes that the castle is,
'now almost buried in its own ruins, and the town is so spoiled that it may truly be said of it, that they never had any market (in the memory of man): they have no saddler, tailor, weaver, brewer, baker, butcher, or button-maker; they have not so much as a sign of an alehouse, so that I was doubtful of a lodging'.
John Taylor, Journey Around Wales (1652)
Though not as elaborate as the drawbridge and gatehouse of the outer bailey, the entrance into the inner ward would have been a formidable obstacle, especially with the Great Tower guarding its approach.
So, what of the castle in the years following Taylor’s visit. Well, much of what we know comes by way of the many artists that began to produce drawings and engravings of the castle ruins. All tell much the same story of the castle, though with slight variations as to the castle’s condition. The engraving of Flint produced by the Buck Brothers in 1742 does rather contradict the penned picture of Taylor, since it shows the castle surprisingly intact. One should remember, however, that Taylor’s description was of Flint as a whole, and not specifically of the castle. The Buck engraving also shows the east wall at a much greater height than in the later engraving of Moses Griffiths in a work produced for Thomas Pennant at the end of the 18th century. As has been mentioned, these engravings also show differences in the height of the Dee, with the Buck work showing the river against the east wall and the Great Keep, inundating the inner and outer moats. In general, it seems the castle suffered much in the years between the production of the two engravings, and probably reflects the robbing out of the stone by locals and business. Interestingly, the Buck engraving also shows the beginnings of industry, with what seems to be a smelting plant in the background, in much the same position Courtaulds was built in later years, taking advantage of Flint Dock.
The engraving of Flint Castle by Nathaniel and Samuel Buck in 1742. Note the how the waters of the River Dee are against the east wall, which is largely at its original height, and the Great Tower, and the evidence of industry in the background to the left.
Some forty years later, Moses Griffith produced this engraving for Thomas Pennant's work, A Tour in Wales (1778). The waters of the Dee are in ebb, though the salt marshes are evident, and the castle would seem to have suffered much in the years since the Buck Brothers engraving.
And then there is J.M.W. Turner, of course. Perhaps the most remarkable landscape artist of his generation, he is first thought to have visited Flint Castle at the end of the 18th century, around 1792 when he is said to have gathered a series of sketches of the fortress. He returned several times before completing his famous watercolours of the castle in around 1835-1838. The most famous is shown below, although an earlier watercolour is on display at the National Museums and Galleries of Wales in Cardiff for three months a year. Artists see what we cannot and then give us better eyes to see, after all. Perhaps it’s more than that. Perhaps they see what could be, and give us that instead. Has Flint ever looked so lovely as on Turner’s canvas?
Turner's watercolour is from a sketch taken at the end of the 18th century. His position would seem to be near to Flint Dock.
In 1784-85, parts of the castle were dismantled to make way for the construction of the county jail within the outer ward - a continuation of the castle’s traditional role within the county town. Later photographs of the jail show the approach to the building over what would have been the drawbridge to the gatehouse of the outer bailey, now mettled and flanked by a low stone wall. The jail was closed in around 1880 and became the headquarters for the 5th Battalion of the Royal Welch Fusiliers. The building was closed in 1969 and demolished in 1970, leaving no trace of its existence.
Built within the outer bailey as the County Gaol in 1784-85, the building eventually became the headquarters of the 5th Battalion of the Welch Fusiliers.
Throughout the 19th century, the castle became a focus point for the town as an open-air venue for recreation and functions, including the celebration of the 500th anniversary of the fateful meeting between Bolingbroke and Richard II. Indeed, it has continued as such ever since. The castle came into the care of HM Office of Works in 1919, before being transferred into the hands of Cadw in the 1980s.
It is a curious thing to visit Flint Castle. On arriving, one thinks to meet cold stone power and a distant English snarl, but quite the opposite is the truth well met. It is peaceful and calming. Visited on a day and time when the tide was out, the Dee in the near distance, the castle was surrounded not by the waters, but salt marsh, full of oystercatchers and shelducks. But then, as the day wore on, the tide turned and the Dee began not so much to flow across the mudbanks, but rather to appear from the ground - and at quite an alarming speed. Within a half hour, the castle was near surrounded and while not as Edward would have seen in 1282, it was suddenly possible to see why this castle was seen as so very mighty, by those that sheltered within its walls, and those that saw that might as an act of colonisation.