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‘The motte of Robert de Monte Alto still exists, and is uncommonly high and perfect; it has two baileys separated by great ditches, and appears to have had a shell on top.’

E. S. Armitage, Early Norman Castles, 1912, p.260



To the native Welsh, motte and bailey castles were something of an open wound, a constant reminder of defeat, colonisation and the ambitions of the Norman to subdue, to subsume and to render the Welsh as servile in their own country. They were a sore that would not heal, a scab to be scratched and picked at for as long as they existed, huge and proud, raised high above the lands around - obvious dominance.(1) Ironically, they were all this to the Anglo-Saxons some years before the Welsh saw their building in numbers in the vales and valleys of their lands.


Mold Castle ~ Armitage, Early Norman Castles. (1912). D. H. Montgomerie 

It is hard now to see these worn low mounds, often sited in idyllic beauty spots, as the huge, overbearing, cruel fortresses of conquest. And Wales is famous for its stone massives - it’s Rhuddlan’s and Conwy’s and Caernarfon’s and Harlech’s and so on and on. In comparison, these battered tumps seem almost innocuous. But then there is the frankly astonishing Bailey Hill at Mold, and the true power of these early fortresses becomes glaringly obvious the more they are studied.


Before considering Mold Castle in detail, something should be said as to the surprising number of possible mottes, and sometimes baileys within the Alun Valley. There would seem to be perhaps five mottes in an area stretching from Leeswood to Mold, of which Bailey Hill is by far the most elaborate and developed. Several of these lesser mottes are discussed elsewhere, and it is by no means certain that they are mottes at all. Of the five, Bryn y Castell within the grounds at Padeswood Golf Course, The Mount and Maes William, both in the vicinity of Leeswood Hall are somewhat suspect - at least as mottes - while Tyddyn and Mold are certain. But, if we accept for the moment that there were several mottes here, even watchtowers, in the Alun Valley, it begs the question as to why. 

mold tyddyn.JPG

The relationship between Mold Castle (top left) and the motte and bailey at Tyddyn (bottom right) is evident from this Lidar image.

It does not do to leap to conclusions, but it is hard not to see the Alun Valley and Mold as something altogether beyond the ordinary. The long history of human occupation in this valley has given us such stunning and astonishing evidence of the importance of this area - need we go further than the Mold Gold Cape? And so, ironically perhaps, too much information about this area can lead us to questionable conclusions. Was the Alun Valley really as important in the 11th and 12th centuries as it clearly was in the early Bronze Age? If so, probably not for the same reasons, but there is no doubt that Mold Castle was seen as critical to both the Norman earls of Chester and the Princes of Gwynedd. The unfettered joy that we are told that both Owain Gwynedd and Llywelyn ap Iorwerth expressed at its capture is evidence enough of that.


It is then surprising to find that the history of Mold Castle is not clear in the least. In fact, it is both confused and uncertain to a considerable degree. Not least because we remain unsure as to when the castle was first raised, what the castle looked like or indeed what, if anything was on the site before the Normans arrived. The Welsh name of the town is Yr Wyddgrug - ‘the prominent mound’. It is a myth that all Norman mottes were artificial. Where possible, the Normans were more than happy to use natural mounds and hills to hasten the building of their fortress - since haste was often required. The older, Welsh name has at times been interpreted to mean that the mound was in fact a tumulus, upon which the Normans built their keep - a suggestion which lends itself to excitement, given the undoubted importance of tumuli in the Alun Valley.


The motte, viewed from what is now the inner bailey.

Thomas Pennant, writing in the 18th century suggested that the discovery of a coin of the Emperor Vespasian might well point to the mound being a Roman settlement of some sort. He was quick to point out, however, that a single coin was very slender evidence.


‘It is possible that the Romans might also have had some concern in it, for a beautiful gold coin of Vespasian was found here; but this being the only proof of its having been possessed by them, I shall not insist on it any further than to urge the possibility.’

T. Pennant, Tours in Wales Vol II (1781) p.35-36


There is, however, no evidence to suggest that the mound was anything but natural - at least at present. Ellis Davies, writing in 1949 was of the opinion that the first fortification atop the mound was medieval.


The Domesday Book of 1086, within which Flintshire is prominent, gives no indication that there was a castle here - in fact, it gives little indication that there was much of anything here, least of all an actual settlement on the site we know now as Mold. It would seem that the Saxons established a settlement in the Bistre area before the Normans brought the various farmsteads about the Alun together, probably initially centred around the original Saxon settlement. And we can be certain that the Norman lords in charge of the manor of Bistre were the descendents of one Hugh fitz Norman (c.1050-1130), raised to the estate by the Earl of Chester, Hugh d’Avranches, soon after the arrival of the Normans here in the 1070s.


The modern steps leading up to the motte from the 'inner' bailey - modern other than the bottom step, which is said to have been taken from Bryn y Ellyon, the location of the famous Mold Gold Cape.

Various dates have been put forward for the foundation of Mold Castle, but the truth of the matter is that we just don't know. Writing in 1584, David Powel claims the castle was built in 1093,(2) based on sources largely unknown to us, while nearly 400 years later, John Lloyd suggested the date of 1100. A further 30 years later, Cathcart-King ventured the date of 1146. It is worth making the point that there is only a little over 50 years between these suggestions, and one could be forgiven for wondering whether or not we are making a mountain out of a Mold hill.


So, when was it actually built? As already said, we simply do not know, but we can say with some confidence that it was before 1146 - more will be said of the significance of that date a little later. By 1146, the descendents of Hugh fitz Norman had, as was customary, taken the locative surname of Montalt (or derivations thereof). It’s likely that this locative surname indicates the presence of a fortification at Yr Wyddgrug - likely, but not certain, since the Norman name of Mont Haut, said to be origin of the surname,(3) means much the same as Yr Wyddgrug - high hill - with no reference to a castle or fortification.


Perhaps a more interesting point is whether in fact the ‘prominent mound’ at Mold was actually the first motte to have been built in the Alun Valley. There is a school of thought that suggests that the first fortification was actually raised at Tyddyn, and this argument is not without its merits. Given that the early Norman manor was likely centred on Bistre, the substantial motte (with perhaps a trace of a bailey) at Tyddyn Farm, just off the A541 is possibly the original fortification. It is worth speculating here, that the motte (and bailey) at Tyddyn was in fact built as a substantial fortress in order to allow Mold Castle to be built, perhaps from its very beginning in stone. A mischievous piece of speculation perhaps, but it would explain the curious strength of the Tyddyn motte, and even the possible existence of mottes at Padeswood and Leeswood - all protecting the approaches from the south(4) and the woods there. There is also the curious fact that the area here, around Tyddyn is still known as Yr Wylfa - rendering into English as, lookout, or watching place.(5) It is possible, then, that the series of mottes, or possible mottes south of the modern town of Mold, were temporary, or semi-temporary fortifications, raised to hold the area or at least warn of incursions into the Alun Valley in the early days of the Norman expansion while Mold Castle was being built. It seems likely that the Normans would have seen Yr Wyddgrug as a perfect spot to raise a motte and bailey castle, and it undoubtedly is, but perhaps circumstances simply did not warrant such a build at first arrival. It is possible that on the building of Mold Castle, Tyddyn was relegated to a watchtower of sorts - albeit a likely impressive one. It is also possible that while the motte remained at Tyddyn, the keep - undoubtedly timber at this early date - was removed. Such speculation is possible, even invited due to the scarcity of information. However, as said, we can be confident, I think, in accepting that by 1146 a substantial fortification had been raised on Yr Wyddgrug, and that the kernel of a nucleated Norman settlement had been established in its surroundings.


The 'outer' bailey - completely bereft of medieval archaeology. St Mary's is in the distance, beyond the refurbished vistor centre.

While doubtless, all Norman fortifications were seen as an insult by the native Welsh, from its beginning Mold Castle seems to have been considered a particular affront - evidenced by the avowed delight in which its capture was met by the Welsh in 1146 and certainly in 1199. It was clearly a castle of considerable size and presence, but such is our lack of knowledge as to the history of the castle, we lack certainty as to what that early castle looked like. Mold Castle is impressive, by whatever measure chosen to judge, not least for its astonishing double bailey,(6) but there is growing doubt as to whether the outer bailey, as it appears today, actually existed, rather than, in fact, a part of a much larger single bailey, later cut in half by quarrying. I would tentatively suggest that from its very earliest origins, Mold Castle was a fortress of tremendous and obvious power. As Tyddyn held the area from Bistre, Mold Castle was raised. For many years, it was thought the castle had remained a timber affair, but recent excavations have discovered ample evidence of very powerful masonry walls - suggesting a far more imposing fortification.(7) Is this a possible reason for what would seem to be an intense animosity levelled at it from the Welsh princes? Did the stature and power, as well as the geographical position of Mold Castle make it something of a lightning rod for the ongoing tensions and violence between the native Welsh and the colonising Normans? It might be supposed, if only from the amount of human bone discovered over the years, that Mold Castle saw more than its fair share of war and slaughter.


So, it is perhaps surprising to find that our knowledge of Mold Castle through the 12th century is a muddy mire of a puzzle, where what we thought we knew is now thrown into doubt.

Our first apparent evidence of the castle at war comes during the time of the Anarchy - the English Civil War between 1138-1153. It was a time when the native Welsh took the opportunities provided by the political chaos in England to reassert themselves in the Marcher lands. The Brut y Tywysogyon, in a hugely telling passage, relates the fierce events. At the very end of 1145, Rhun ab Owain died, the much-loved son of Owain Gwynedd, the King of Gwynedd. Rhun’s death was a devastating blow to Owain, who slumped into a desperate depression.


And when the news of his death reached Owain, he fell into so great a sorrow that neither the splendour of sovereignty nor the entertainment of bards nor the solace of courtiers nor the sight of costly objects could raise him from his conceived sorrow and grief.

Brut y Tywysogyon, p.55


We are told that only with the taking of Mold Castle in 1146, did Owain’s melancholy lift.


And when the lord knew of that, he laid aside all his sorrow and all his grief, and he vigourously returned to his natural state of mind and gladness.’(8)

Brut y Tywysogyon, p.55


In fact, what is perhaps as interesting, is a brief passage, between these two points, in which the chronicler suggests that the castle at Mold had been unsuccessfully besieged by the Welsh on several earlier occasions.(9) If we are to take this on faith, and I see no reason not to, then it further substantiates the depth of the hatred that the kings and princes of Gwynedd held for this Norman fortification. The likelihood that Mold Castle was attacked several times in a little over 50 years (and perhaps considerably less), does rather suggest that it was a particular mark of Welsh ire.


Yet, there is a substantial caveat here, and it pivots on the presence of ‘Gwyddrug’ in the Brut. It has been suggested that the Chronicle is not, in fact, describing Mold Castle here, the Yr Wyddgrug we know as Mold, but Castell Gwyddrug in Carmarthenshire, some 100 miles away.(10) Academic thinking seemed to be leaning heavily towards Carmarthenshire as the focus of Owain’s joy.(11) The entry of the Annales Cestriensis for 1146 makes no specific mention of the fall of Mold Castle, but does relate the ravaging of the province of Chester, within which Mold was situated, by the Welsh - resulting in a brutal reprisal by Robert de Montalt, described as the seneschal of Chester, in a slaughter of the Welsh in the environs of Nantwich. Is it likely that the loss of Mold Castle would not be mentioned by the chroniclers of nearby Chester, even if such an admission was embarrassing?(12)


There is another side of the argument, of course. Given that it is believed that Owain Gwynedd’s involvement in south west Wales was largely diversionary in order to focus on his ambitions in North Wales, I can only question as to whether the King of Gwynedd would have been as excited as he clearly was with the taking of a motte in Carmarthenshire, over the capture of this Norman fortified deep, perpetual and ill-healing sore in North East Wales, in an area very much seen as within the traditional sphere of Gwynedd. And it must be said, that the Castell Gwyddrug in Carmarthenshire is in no way as substantial, impressive or even as certain a fortress as is Mold Castle. Would its capture really have dragged Owain from the depths of his melancholy? Current academic thinking is seemingly returning to a belief that it was in fact, Mold Castle as the scene of the 1146 action.


Still, if the 1146 attack described in the Brut is not in fact, Mold Castle, then much of what little we know of this enigmatic and substantial fortress becomes even more obscure - to the point of near complete ignorance. Frustrating, then. We are left with vagaries and ghost like suggestions.


From the end of the Anarchy in 1153, and the ascendancy of Henry II in 1154, the Norman involvement in Wales aggressively escalated. Still, despite the overwhelming power of the Angevin Empire, and the impressive array of resources brought to bear against Wales during Henry’s reign, his success against the Welsh was limited - in fact, one might venture that Henry’s progress in Wales was pyrrhic, in that the cost to his reputation was greater than his temporary territorial gains.


Henry’s advance into Tegeingl in 1157 was something of a disaster - though one which could have ended far worse than it did. Ambushed within the woods of Coleshill by two of Owain’s sons, his flanking force was largely annihilated. Henry was lucky to escape with his life. But having survived, the King of England managed to save some face, with Owain forced to relinquish Tegeingl in the face of the Norman power approaching along the coast. This would not be the last time the English crown managed to gain much from the jaws of defeat. Given that the purpose of his invasion was the ending of Owain’s power in North Wales, this was not the result Henry had wanted - but it was certainly more than perhaps Henry could have expected as he staggered out of the woods of Coleshill with only a scraping of skin remaining on his teeth. If Mold Castle was indeed the fortress captured in 1146, then it was in 1157 that it returned to the Monhalts. If not, then it is possible that the castle had remained in Norman hands throughout this period. It would not be the last time the fortress was a Norman island in a Welsh ocean.


What role Mold Castle played in Henry’s next failed invasion of Wales in 1165 is not clear. Responding to the attacks on Norman held territory by Dafydd ab Owain and Rhys ap Gruffydd of Dehheubarth, Henry again brought to bear seemingly overwhelming power, the might of his Angevin Empire.  Marching his forces to Oswestry, possibly initially unsure as to which Welsh ruler presented the greater threat, he eventually crossed the Berwyns, along a track still known as Ffordd Y Saeson - The English Road, towards Corwen. It is said, possibly apocryphally, that Owain was camped within the confines of the ancient hillfort of Caer Drewyn, directly across the Valley. Whatever power Henry had brought into Wales, was defeated not so much by the Welsh, rather than the weather.


And then there came upon them a mighty tempest of wind and bad weather and rains, and a lack of food; and then he moved his tents into England.

Brut, ed. T. Jones, p.63


The view from the Iron Age hillfort of Caer Drewyn at Corwen across the valley towards the Berwyns Mountain, where Henry II had stationed his invasion forces.

Henry was so enraged by the necessity of another retreat, that in a fury, which perhaps makes his later complicity in the murder of Thomas Becket unsurprising, he brutally mutilated and killed a number of Welsh hostages.


Given the utter failure of Henry’s invasion of Wales in 1167, one might be forgiven for assuming that Mold Castle was in the hands of Gwynedd at this time. However, it would seem not, since the castle, amongst others, is mentioned in the Pipe Rolls for 1167 onwards as receiving essential supplies, making clear that it was still in Norman hands. One imagines a Norman enclave, surrounded by hostile Welsh forces. One may also assume then, that Mold Castle was a fortress of some considerable power to so maintain its position.


If Mold Castle is a mystery for much of the 12th century, we are on somewhat firmer ground at the century’s very end. The Annales Centrienses, perhaps tellingly silent of the events of 1146, tells of the fall of Mold Castle in January 1199 at the hands of Llywelyn ab Iorwerth - grandson of Owain Gwynedd. Interestingly, it actually claims that the castle was ‘besieged and captured from Llewelin’. Whether this was a simple error on the part of the chronicler, or an intentional effort to obfusticate the disaster is not known - but an error it likely was.(13) If we are uncertain as to whether Owain Gwynedd’s joy originated in the south or north, we can be certain that it was the fall of Mold Castle in 1199 that caused bards and poets to sing - including Llywarch ap Llywelyn and Cynddelw Brydydd Mawr, the latter writing that the River Alun ran red with blood.


Pryder Lloger ai cythrudd

Ai law braw bryneich gystudd

Alun rac hil run bu rudd.(14)

I Lywelyn, Cynddelw Brydydd Mawr (1155-1200)


It has also been suggested that the castle was utterly destroyed. It is likely also that Ralph de Mohaut was killed during the onslaught.


Y gaef rac wyneb y torres llywelyn yr wydgruc.

From Gwrtheyrn Gwertheneu to King John(15)


It’s probable that Mold Castle remained a ruin for the remainder of the reign of Llywelyn ab Iorwerth - which is to say that we hear nothing specifically about the castle until after his death in 1240. For a period of time in around 1211, Llywelyn was pushed back across the Conwy by King John of England, retaining only Gwynedd Uwch Conwy.(16) However, Llywelyn, the Welsh princes having returned to his side in 1213, quickly reclaimed all his lost lands. It is unlikely that the site of Mold Castle, perhaps having been in Norman hands for just a year or so, was repaired to anything resembling its previous stature, before falling once more into Wesh hands.


On Llywelyn’s death in 1240, his son Daffyd came to his father’s throne - but his power was restricted by Henry III, King of England, who refused to allow him the lands to the east of Conwy - Gwynedd Is Conwy.(17) Thus, Mold Castle came back into the Norman sphere of influence, but only in 1244 did it come back into the hands of, ‘Roger de Monthaut, seneschal of Chester’(18) On returning to Norman control, it was almost immediately refortified - possibly, if the Annales Cestrienses is to be believed, rebuilt from the foundations up.(19)


To John le Strange (Extraneo), justice of Chester. Contrabreve to cause Henry de Aldithele to have 40l. out of the issues of co. Chester, or of Salop and Stafford, or of the lands late of John son of Alan, to fortify the castle of Mahaud as commanded.

Calendar of Liberate Rolls, Oct 30 1241, p. 85


It is perhaps a sign of the respect, fear even, in which Llywelyn ap Iorwerth was held by the English crown that it was not until the death of this King of Wales, that the Normans felt confident enough to act. It is also perhaps telling that they acted quickly to rebuild Mold Castle, seeing it as a vital part of a defensive network protecting their interests. Indeed, the refortification and repairs continued into 1241 and 1242, as the Liberate and Close Rolls make clear. It is also clear that the castle itself was now a royal property - managed by the seneschal of Chester, perhaps, but important enough to be brought into direct royal control.(20)


To John le Strange (Extraneo), justice of Chester. Contrabreve to repair all that needs repair to the king’s castle of Muthaut.

Calendar of Liberate Rolls, Jan 8 1242, p.99


De castris domini regis instaurandis.(21) — Mandatum est Johanni Extraneo, justiciario Cestr', quod recipiat trescentas marcas de David filio Leulini et castra nostra firmari et terras nostras que sunt in custodia [nostra erased] sua inde instauri faciat. Teste ut supra.’

Close Rolls of the Reign of Henry III AD 1237-1242, p.426


It is likely then that the castle was wholly refortified,(22) by the time it was captured by Dafydd ap Llywelyn in March 1245. Freed to action by the death of his half-brother, Gruffudd, who fell to his death while trying to escape from the Tower of London, where he had been held captive by Henry, Dafydd had launched a series of attacks against the Normans within the Marcher lands, and despite a sound defeat at Montgomery,


David and some of his companions, escaped and laid siege to the castle of Monthaut, which he took in a short time, and, after putting to death or bringing over to his side(23) all whom he found there, enjoyed his triumph at his pleasure, but the lord of the castle, Roger de Monthaut, they did not find there, because he had betaken himself to a place of safety.

Matthew Paris, English History Vol. II, p.47


The Mold Castle motte, with the gorsedd circle from the 1923 National Eisteddfod in the foreground.

Another Norman invasion, retaliation for the attacks of Dafydd, failed on the altar of determined resistance and logistical failures, and saw Henry, entrenched but stagnant at Deganwy, accept a truce by the end of 1245 before retreating to Chester - the English crown once again failing to fulfil its ambitions in North Wales. At this point, the Lords of Molesdale may well have been wondering when, if ever they would once again take ownership of the fortress at Mold.

However, fate would once again take matters into its own hand and play merry with hopes and ambitions. In 1246, Dafydd ap Llywelyn unexpectedly died at his palace at Abergwyngregyn, and by the end of the year, Henry found himself in a position of power within Wales that his failures of the previous year hardly warranted. Dying without issue,(24) Dafydd’s nephews and sometime rivals, Owain and Llywelyn ap Gruffudd, took Gwynedd between them, and attempted to maintain a guerilla war against the English, engaging in lightning raids and ambush. However, by the summer of 1246, both Henry and the Gruffudd brothers were content enough to accept the envoys of the princes of Gwynedd, and by the spring of 1247 a truce had been made. The Treaty of Woodstock was signed on 30th April 1247, and once again brought Gwynedd Uwch Conwy - including the castle and lands at Mold - into English hands.


It might be that one would imagine that Roger de Monhaut would now have felt relatively confident in his possession of Mold Castle, with Gwynedd divided between Owain and Llywelyn, and the Treaty of Woodstock making so very clear the weakness of the Welsh kingdom. But, it seems unlikely, given the history, that Roger was minded to swagger his way about his territories. Still, the next near decade was one of relative calm for Roger, since from 1247, Gwynedd descended into internecine warfare, culminating in the Battle of Bryn Derwin in June 1255, in which Owain (with with the younger brother, Dafydd on side), vied with Llywelyn for sole control of Gwynedd. Owain and Dafydd were defeated, leaving the energetic and intensely clever Llywelyn in full control of the kingdom. There seems little reason to think that Roger de Monhaut did not have enough about him to understand that this was likely to cause problems for him in the near future - but what, if any preparations he made for what was to come is unknown.


From the date of this victory in 1255, it seems that Llywelyn dedicated himself to win back those lands he considered to be rightly his - nothing less than the lands attained by his grandfather, Llywelyn ab Iorwerth. Nothing less than the entirety of Wales, in fact.


Llywelyn, however, showed considerable patience, following his victory at Bryn Derwin. The discontent amongst the Welsh within the four cantreds (25) of Perfeddwlad at the rough rule of the Norman, Alan la Zouche,(26) Justice of Chester, had been steadily building. Despite overtures to Henry regarding la Zouche’s actions, it remains a matter of debate whether the King’s attempts to reign in the Justice’s excesses were genuine or simply a means to appear considerate to the Welsh and Llywelyn’s concerns. Whatever the motivation, it would seem la Zouche refused to be fully restrained, even boasting to the effect that the Welsh were fully obedient to English rule. And it would seem that Henry had gained an inkling of the consequences to come, with hurried, and it must be said, fairly pleading letters sent to Llywelyn, asking for peace and calm. Llywelyn was not for waiting, and in November 1256 he crossed the River Conwy in force, into Perfeddwlad.


How the Welsh, finding themselves oppressed endeavoured to recover the liberty of their country. About All Saints' day, the Welsh, who had been oppressed in manifold ways, and often sold to the highest bidder, were at last so immeasurably and tyrannically oppressed by the king's agent, Geoffrey Langley, knight, that they roused themselves for the defence of their country and the observance of their laws. Entering into a confederacy, they invaded the provinces of England (27) adjoining Wales, and attacked the subjects of Edward, their lord, whom, however, they did not then acknowledge as such; and they succeeded so well in their warlike expedition, that it was believed they met with the good-will of the neighbouring people.

Matthew Paris, English History


Llywelyn’s swift successes have become the stuff of legend, and suggests not only his military and political nous, but also, as Paris makes clear, the depth of anger amongst the peoples of the Perfeddwlad. By the end of the month, Llywelyn had completed the conquest of the four cantreds, and had arrived within clear sight of the red walls of Chester. While nothing specific is said of Mold Castle, we are explicitly told that only the castles of Deganwy and Diserth (Dyserth) were not taken. This would suggest that Mold Castle was captured sometime in November 1256.


By the end of 1260, Llywelyn, along with his supporters in the south, had taken much of Wales, his kingdom comparable to that of his grandfather. But it would seem that Llywelyn at this point was eager to establish a peace with Henry, hopeful that the English king would be sympathetic to recognising the new reality of the situation in Wales, with the Prince of Gwynedd as overlord of the lands he had taken. Given Henry’s financial and political problems within England, this was not as outlandish a strategy as it would seem. However, Llywelyn’s efforts were rebuffed and at a series of meetings on the Anglo-Welsh border, at least one of which was attended by Roger of Mold, a truce was arranged and later renewed. It is likely that both Henry and Llywelyn were mindful that this was a conflict paused, and not resolved.


Llywelyn’s position in Wales was increasingly stable, though the recognition he felt he needed from the English crown was not forthcoming. However, matters took another turn in his favour with the escalation of the friction between Henry III and his barons into all out war in the spring of 1264. The victory of Simon de Montfort at the Battle of Lewes, in which both Henry and his son, Edward were captured, was an opportunity seized upon by Llywelyn. Though Montfort was victorious, his influence and power over the Marcher kingdoms was limited. Llywelyn was aware of this, knowing full well that his power in Wales would be the check de Montfort needed to keep them at bay. The result was the Treaty of Pipton of 22nd June 1265, in which de Montfort recognised Llywelyn’s sovereignty over the Welsh nobility, as well as securing the alliance with the marriage of his daughter, Eleanor to the Welsh prince. And while de Montfort’s power was short lived, defeated and killed at Evesham in August 1265, the return of a politically battered and bruised Henry III saw Llywelyn’s ascendency in Wales confirmed at the Treaty of Montgomery in 1267.


And the king granted that the prince should receive the homage of the barons of Wales, and that the barons should maintain themselves and their followers wholly under the prince, and that there should be princes of Wales from that time forth, and they should be so named.

Brut, p.115


There is no question then, that Mold Castle was firmly within the power of the Welsh. What that meant for its day to day existence is entirely unknown. As part of the Perfeddwlad, it was ruled directly as part of Gwynedd, and so remained a royal castle to all intents and purposes.

However, the Treaty of Montgomery would be the high water mark of Llywelyn’s reign, since it contained the seeds of the end of Welsh independence. On Henry’s death, his son, Edward came to power. It is said that on his eventual coronation, (28) in August 1274, he accepted the crown placed on his head by Robert Kilwardby, the Archbishop of Canterbury, before immediately removing it and vowing not to wear it again until he had reclaimed the lands lost by his father. Apocryphal, perhaps, though it suggests something about Edward that later chroniclers of the Welsh (and Scots) would come to recognise. Edward seems to have maintained a quiet, brooding, seething discontent at the alliance that had held between Llywelyn and Simon de Montfort, and had so humiliated both his father and himself. But it was also the proposed marriage of Llywelyn to Eleanor, Edward’s aunt, that angered the new King of England.(29) The failed assassination attempt on Llywelyn’s life, organised by his younger brother, Dafydd and Gruffydd ap Gwenwynwyn in 1274 saw the conspirators flee to England and place themselves under Edward’s protection. This, along with ongoing friction within the Marches, led to Llywelyn’s refusal to pay homage to Edward, for fear of his life. Together these perceived slights gave Edward the contrived justification to declare war against Llywelyn in November 1276. By the end of the autumn of 1277, it was clear to Llywelyn that he must surrender if he was to maintain any semblance of power in Gwynedd Uwch Conwy. The Treaty of Aberconwy was signed in November 1277, and it is from this time(30) that Mold Castle can be considered as being under English control - a state of affairs that was not to change with the catastrophic events of 1282-1283, the death of Llywelyn and Dafydd and the final Edwardian conquest of Wales.


So, from its raising in the late 11th, early 12th century, Mold Castle had changed hands between the Normans and Welsh on several occasions. While there is infuriatingly little, seemingly certain documentary evidence, much can be inferred - although quite obviously, one must be mindful. But it seems reasonable from those inferences and snatches of chronicle, that Mold Castle was considered a real power - possibly for its early representation of colonisation in the Perfeddwlad, possibly because of its strategic position, possibly due to its power - and probably all of those things and more. Why then do we hear so little certain information regarding the fortress? A puzzle. Perhaps, despite its importance, there were greater matters elsewhere that concerned the chroniclers - especially later in the 13th century when the very question of Welsh existence as an independent nation was at stake.


The mention of the castle in subsequent records during the early years of the 14th century, would suggest that Mold was still seen as something of a front line against possible Welsh uprisings in the years after the 1283 conquest. But with the end of the direct Montalt line in 1329, it's likely that the castle declined in importance - Edward favouring coastal fortress throughout his reign. What this actually meant in terms of its upkeep is not known, but the presence of the Edwardian massive at nearby Flint, and even the castles at Rhuddlan and Conwy would suggest that Mold Castle, however once important, was no longer as important.


The 'inner' bailey.

The ‘castle, vill and manor of Mold’ are mentioned in the Inquisitions Post Mortem of Henry V in both 1415(31) and 1421, suggesting that the castle was providing some function during this time. It seems to have played no part worth mentioning in the uprising of Owain Glyndŵr, however. By the middle of the 15th century, its importance had diminished sufficiently for it to be neglected, and it seems to have fallen into a state of considerable disrepair by the time of John Leland’s visit between 1536 and 1539.


At the north ende of Byle Streate appear diches and hilles yn tokyn(32) of an auncient castel or buildinge there. It is now callid Mont Brenebyley, and on the side of it is a fayre springe.(33)

J. Leland, The Itinerary in Wales, p.72


In 1652, the castle was described simply as wasteland,(34) and by the end of the 17th century, Edward Lhuyd, quoting information gleaned from one of his many correspondents writes of a Ffynnon Beili(35) - presumably the spring or well mentioned by Leland - but nothing of a castle, ruined or otherwise. Thomas Pennant, however, writing a good 80 years later has plenty to say on the matter of the castle, some of which is confused, it must be said. But he describes the castle as he saw it in his time, before giving something of a history of the fortress. At the time of his writing, it was clearly a ruin, perhaps even near completely lost, since he describes, ‘a few stones, the only reliques of the fortress’, atop the motte.(36) Certainly, Moses Griffiths, working on illustrating Pennant's work, felt there was little worth rendering to paper, the focus of his efforts being laid upon St Mary's. It is possible to see in his drawing the rise of Bailey Hill - but bare of anything to interest him. Pennant also writes of a notable amount of human and animal bone being found, of which more will be said later.


Moses Griffith's illustration of Mold - St Mary's prominent, while Bailey Hill rises to the far right of the drawing.

The 18th century saw a large number of artists wandering about the British Isles, questing for romantic aspects to render in oil and watercolour, and while care must be taken to ponder the possibility of artistic licence, much can be learned of the state of many of our now protected and tidied monuments. The artworks depicting Mold from the 18th century on, invariably focus on the church of St Mary’s. But it is possible from these works by the likes of Moses Griffiths, John Ingleby and John ‘Warwick’ Smith to recognise that by the time of their work, the nearby castle was nothing more than a bare knoll - quite different from the wooded hill that is to be seen today. This state of affairs dates to the use of the castle site as common land, upon which the residents of the town would graze their livestock - perhaps from the early days of the castle’s decline. Edward Pugh’s image of Mold, taken from his Cambria Depicta of 1816, shows, in fact, a distant image of a ruined castle, but it is hard to see this as anything other than artistic licence, given earlier artworks.


Henri Gastineau's engraving of Mold from 1831 shows Bailey Hill covered in trees - different to Griffith's depicting of what would seem a bare knoll.

The Tithe Map of 1837 is curious in that it would seem to show the hill as being somewhat wooded, (37) with no building that could pass for a ruin to be seen. It would seem then, that the site, having been taken into the possession of the Mostyn’s, moved from common land, to something else - the intention then, to turn the site into something of a feature. The presence of the wood upon the mound is somewhat different to the earlier artworks, but it does seem to corroborate the likelihood of the site of the castle being enclosed, presumably by the Mostyns. This probably occurred sometime between 1790 and 1800, either informally(38) or by an Act of Parliament. Richard Colt Hoare, visiting in June 1801 would seem to confirm that by the beginning of the 19th century the intention was to turn the hill into a wooded area.


At a short distance from the church the mound and other raised works on which stood(39) the castle are visible. The outward form of them will soon be lost by the plantations lately made on the scite of them.’

ed. M. W. Thompson, The Journeys of Sir Richard Colt Hoare, p. 171


To the east of the motte, within the east, road facing wall, are the bricked up remains of what would seem to be a well - possibly Ffynnon Beili?

Samuel Lewis, writing in 1833, just a few years before the date of the Tithe Map of the area and a good three decades subsequent to Colt Hoare’s visit, describes the town of Mold in some detail, and writes of the castle site that,


not a vestige at present can be discerned, and its very site is completely covered with thriving plantations.

S. Lewis, Topographical Dictionary, Mold, (1833)


Henri Gastineau’s mid 19th century drawing of Mold, shows Bailey Hill thickly wooded, within which sit the Wesleyan Methodist Chapel, built in 1828 to the near south east of the outer bailey and the 1791 little gothic cottage - now the refurbished and enhanced Bailey Hill Visitor Centre.


In 1849, the bowling green was laid within the confines of the once inner bailey. During the works, a number of human skeletons were discovered. Buried not in coffins, but in what was described as ‘regular order’ with their feet facing eastwards in Christian tradition, it would suggest that there was time to afford a certain respect to the dead, even in the absence of the means to bury them in consecrated ground elsewhere.

From the beautiful rows of teeth which they display, it may be argued that their owners were men in the prime of life. Indeed, the circumstances, together with the uniformity of their position, the detached situation of some of their skulls, and the fact there being no vestige of coffin, or covering of any kind, observable, would lead us to infer that they were slain in the act of defending the fortress.’(40)

Archaeologia Cambrensis, July 1849, p.229-30


Then there were the discoveries of 1891, in which human bones were discovered at the foot of the motte whilst searching for usable stone.(41) But the discovery of human skeletons was not confined to the 19th century. Our earliest written record of human remains actually comes from Pennant, writing at the end of the 18th century.(42) Here, he states that the bones of human dead had been discovered within the confines of the fortress.


On one side of the upper yard are found vast quantities of bone, some human; others of animals, mostly domestic, such as oxen, sheep, horses and hogs, and a few remnants of horns, of stags and roe-bucks.

Pennant, Tours in Wales Vol.II, 1781, p.36


Less can be inferred from Pennant’s writing, but clearly the fact that human burial was undertaken within the castle itself, as opposed to consecrated ground outside of the castle walls, suggests that at the time of their deaths, these were soldiers at siege. There is nothing within the burials, or upon their persons that would suggest a side -  Norman or Welsh.(43) Then there were the discoveries of 1891, in which human bones were discovered at the foot of the motte whilst searching for useable stone


During the archaeological excavations of 2020-2024, undertaken during the wonderful work to restore the site of the castle to a thriving centre of the community, seven bodies were found, six intact.(44) - one of which was likely an adolescent. Along with the bodies, arrowheads and pottery from the 12th or 13th century were found telling evidence of what is thought to be burnt flooring. Together, this would suggest conflict - war and siege. This, of course, is not evidence as of yet, of any specific siege - it does not confirm or deny the 1146 attack, for instance. It does, interestingly however, suggest that accounts of the castle’s near complete destruction at various times in the 12th and 13th century have some basis in archaeological fact.  And it does also strongly suggest that the documentary evidence we have of Mold being something of a lightning rod for conflict has some considerable basis in fact. It would seem of great note that there have been discoveries of a sizeable amount of human remains within the castle precincts. It seems reasonable to suppose then, that Mold Castle was the scene of some of the fiercest fighting that we have evidence for.


The visible stone on the north facing slope of the motte is likely fairly modern - tempting though it may be to see it as the remains of a shell keep.

Given the discoveries of so many bodies, and the presence of all manner of domesticity,(45) it seems unlikely that Mold Castle was always a timber affair. In fact, it is hard now, given the findings of recent archaeological investigations to think that it was ever really considered. The mention of masonry by Pennant, albeit slight, should have given serious cause for thought. When one is mindful of the chroniclers and scribes of this and that patent roll, writing of utter destruction, rebuilds and restorations, which would have obviously entailed the tearing down of the walls as a matter of course, the absence of above ground masonry is surely understandable. It is also likely that the stone was used in the development of the town, and removed in the rendering of the castle site as common ground. The use of the site as a quarry, especially on its west and south western flanks, is well attested. It is likely the reason for the almost complete absence of Medieval artefacts during the excavations in the ‘outer bailey’ - a reason for the growing belief that the castle never, in fact owned a double bailey, but rather a single large affair. It is also worth reminding ourselves of the circumstances of the finding of the skeletons in 1891, the ‘purpose of finding a stone for the Bardic Circle’(46) for the Rhyl Eisteddfod of 1892. We should also remember that the castle from the 15th century swiftly disappears from written record, of any mention of note. The fact that the Royal Commision in 1912 makes no mention of above ground masonry(47) is therefore not a surprise,(48) even though Pennant saw some. It is worth remembering that the discovery of stone work previous to the Commission’s visit at the beginning of the 20th century were due to excavation of one form or another, and were likely beneath the earth by the time of their visit.(49) The stonework visible to this day, on the motte’s northern slope is intriguing, but likely fairly modern. But the thought that this castle was purely and always of timber, given its undoubted importance, size and history must surely be a nonsense.

And the excavations of 2020 - 2024 which found clear and unimpeachable evidence of massive masonry walls, including what were likely wing walls, along with the evidence of parallel walls found in 1872 must now give us a clear picture that this was a stone castle, with a stone shell keep atop the motte, overlooking a stone inner and outer bailey.


Is it possible then, that Mold Castle was always a stone fortress - from its very beginning? That the substantial motte at Tyddyn was a means of maintaining control of the area while an imposing stone castle upon the unignorable ‘prominent mound’ was raised?  Is it possible that the curious mounds here and there and everywhere to the south in the Alyn Valley were built to ensure the calm needed to build a castle of such naked stone power? Ella Armitage, writing in 1912, may well have been of this opinion, describing the motte as appearing to have had, ‘a shell on top’.(50) A question remains as to a reliable source of water for a castle of this power - it must surely have had one.  The spring or well mentioned by Lhuyd, Ffynnon Beli, is perhaps the now the blocked up feature in the now outer eastern wall on the B5444, but for a castle of this size, one would perhaps expect a spring within one of the baileys.(51) A thorough archaeological investigation of the motte might well give us answers to some of these questions, since none has, to date, taken place.


Today, the site of Bailey Hill consists of a large impressive motte, some 14m high and around 19m in diameter at its summit. Beech trees ring the summit, some of which have the endearing marks of those locals emigrating to North America in the 19th century - further evidence of the continuing importance to the community of this deeply significant site.  Curiously, there would seem to be a slightly dished centre to the top of the mound with a faint ringed lip to the outer edge, and it has been speculated that this may have been the result of a raised structure encircling the motte. The curious masonry mentioned earlier, likely no older than from the late 19th century, is visible on the northern slope of the motte, overlooking the gorsedd circle. The two baileys as seen today would likely have been one large bailey at first raising, the whole having have been cut out of the natural hillock, but with later quarrying causing havoc for our understanding of the site. The question remains as to whether this was the castle as it appeared as it slowly fell into decrepitude in the 16th century, and the answer is slowly being unearthed. But there remains simply so much about Mold Castle that is still unknown - questions remain and questions continue to be asked.(52)


The Mostyn’s sold Bailey Hill to Mold Town Council in 1890 and its subsequent history is one in which it became a centre for the community. In 1923, it hosted the National Eisteddfod, with the gorsedd circle being placed directly below the motte to the north. When the National Eisteddfod returned in 1991, the circle was once again the ceremonial centre. The Friends of Bailey Hill have worked tirelessly to ensure the site remains at the very heart of the town, and secured Lottery Heritage Funds to develop a visitor centre and the landscaping of the area. It is this work that has led to our continued developing understanding of the history of the castle, and will no doubt continue to do so in the future.


There are mysteries and stories remaining to be discovered at Bailey Hill. Time will bring them to the fore.

*Special thanks to John Atkinson and Jo Lane, both of Bailey Hill Visitor for their invaluable help and guidance. It must be said that any mistakes in the work here are mine and mine alone.



1. The Welsh Princes were later to build their own motte and baileys - Tomen y Faedre, Tomen y Rhodwydd and the pre-Edward Rhuddlan (Twt Hill)  being excellent examples.

2. Powel, p.151

3. The origins of the name of the town of Mold are still a matter of some debate.

4. It is probable that at the time of their rising, the mottes to the south of Mold were focused on the direction thought to present the greatest threat from the native Welsh - the northern coastline was probably considered more safely held.

5. It should be mentioned that there is a possible mound to the near east of Tyddyn Farm and its substantial motte - its role and purpose has not yet been established.

6. If Mold Castle did indeed have two baileys, it would, as far as the author is aware, be the only known motte with a double bailey in North East Wales.


8. Powel, whose work continues to be looked at askance by historians (Camden was questioning his, ‘Physiological Observations’ in his ‘Britannia’ of 1607) with some good reason it must be said, writes of a considerable battle in taking the castle, resulting in considerable slaughter; ‘but at the last…they entered by force, and slew a great number, and tooke the rest of the defendants, and razed the fort to the earth’. P.199

9. ‘For there was a castle called Mold, - and that many had besieged in vain, without gaining success.’ Brut, T. Jones, p.55

10. Castell Gwyddrug, J. Beverley Smith, Bulletin of the Board of Celtic Studies XXVI (1976)

11. It has also been suggested that Nantcribba Castle in Montgomeryshire might be the fortress referred to in the Brut.

12. It certainly did not prevent them from writing of the later fall of Mold Castle in 1199, albeit with a perhaps telling mistake.

13. It is perhaps unsurprising that there have been counter claims, that the Annales Cestriensis was actually correct, and that it is the poetry of the Welsh bards is in fact, embellishing Llywelyn’s reputation - see Llywelyn ab Iorwerth, Margaret Wrenn Cole (2012) p. 27

14. The Myvyrian Archaiology of Wales, p. 189

15. The Text of the Bruts from the Red Book of Hergest, p 406 - care must be taken with this later entry into the Brut.

16. Gwynedd above the Conwy - those lands to the west of the River Conwy, encompassing the traditional ‘fortress’ of Gwynedd - Eryri (Snowdonia).

17. Gwynedd below the Conwy - those lands to the east of the River Conwy, encompassing the modern counties of Flintshire (Tegeingl), much of Denbighshire and part of Conwy - also known as Perfeddwlad.

18. Matthew Paris, English History Vol.I, p.509

19. 'Item rex construxit castellum apud Dissarth fecit et fundare montem altum' - ‘Also the king built a castle at Disserth, and caused the foundations of Mold to be laid’. Annales Cestrienses, ed. R. C. Christie (1887) p.63

20. The Monhalts regained full control of the castle in 1244.

21. 'De castris domini regis instaurandis' - On the rebuilding of the camp of the lord the king.

22. It is, of course, possible that it was at this date that the castle was rebuilt in stone.

23. It is interesting to note that at least part of the population of the castle came over to Dafydd. Is it possible that there were native Welsh pressed into Norman service within the walls?

24. There remains a suggestion that Dafydd did, in fact have illegitimate issue, including Dafydd ap Dafydd ap Llywelyn.

25. The four cantreds of Perfeddwlad were Dyffryn Clwyd, Rhos, Rhufoniog and Tegeingl. The latter had for so long been subject to English, Norman and native Welsh rule, that it says much that this cantref felt so very angry at La Zouche’s rapacious demands.

26. There are two Justices of Chester named - Alan la Zouche and Geoffrey Langley. Of the two, it is likely that it was the former that acted most rapaciously. It is perhaps, however, a question of the degree of harshness, rather than its absence or presence.

27. Paris here is referring to Perfeddwlad, considered, by the Normans, to be English territory under the Treaty of Woodstock 1257.

28. Edward had been on crusade when his father had died in November 1272, and had taken some considerable time to return to England.

29. On Eleanor’s leaving France (where she had been in exile since her father’s death) for Wales, Edward arranged for his aunt to be taken by ‘pirates’ out of Bristol, and kept as a captive at Windsor until 1278, following the signing of the Treaty of Aberconwy in 1277.

30. Lloyd reports that Mold Castle was taken by the English force out of Chester in 1276-77, p.758

31. Inquisitions Post Mortem Henry V, Entry 235

32. The use of the word, ‘tokyn’ here is taken as suggesting that only remains of the castle were extant - but how ‘tokyn’ can only be a matter of speculation.

33. The presence of a spring or well is attested to elsewhere, but its current whereabouts remains unknown - it is possible that later quarrying and landscaping has obscured or destroyed it completely.

34. A Survey of the Manor of Mould with the Rights Membrs and Appurtenances thereof in the County of fflint late parcell of the possessions of James late Earle of Derby . . . 1652

35. Morris, Parochialia, p.89

36. Pennant, Tours in Wales Vol II p.36. It is tempting to see the stones that are still visible on the north slope of the motte as those identified by Pennant.


38. For informally, read unilaterally.

39. Colt Hoare’s use of the past tense here is interesting.

40. The presence of other materials, such as the bones of domesticated livestock, iron rings, wire, nails, buttons, spurs, a stirrup, a horse shoe, buckles, bell metal, a key, chest handle, a corkscrew and a tortoiseshell counter were also found.

41. AC, 1891, p. 321

42. It seems, however, unlikely that even this was the first instance of human remains having been found.

43. The recent discovery of the bodies as having contained high levels of lead is fascinating. Were these then, native Welsh, reflecting a lifetime of living in an environment of lead mines and mining? Were these native Welsh defenders of the castle, or in fact native Welsh pressed into service by the Normans? See n.23

44. Again, the discovered bodies were described as having been buried ‘with respect’. At the time of writing these bodies are being radio-carbon dated at Durham University, and the results are pending. One of the bodies was missing a jawbone, which may have been found at an earlier date.

45. It is possible the large amount of bones of livestock suggest that many animals had been brought into the baileys in order to provide food for a garrison under siege.

46. AC, 1891, p. 321

47. RCAHM, Flintshire, 1912, p.63

48. It is entirely possible that the Royal Commission saw the masonry present and correctly dismissed it as modern, or certainly not contemporary to the Medieval castle.

49. AC, 1891, p. 321

50. Armitage, p.260

51. It is, of course, possible that the well was a victim of the extensive quarrying within the site.

52. Durham University, having radiocarbon dated the discovered bone, is now undertaking an isotope analysis in order to better understand the history of the individuals found.

Further Reading



E. S. Armitage, Early Norman Castles, John Murray, London, 1912


ed. R. C. Christie, Annales Cestriensis, The Record Society, 1887


M. W. Cole, Llywelyn ab Iorwerth: The Making of a Welsh Prince, St Andrews, 2012


trans. J. A. Giles, Matthew Paris’s English History from the Year 1235 to 1273 Vol. II. Bohn, london, 1853


K. L. Gruffydd, The Manor & Marcher Lordship of Mold during the Early Middle Ages 1039-1247, Journal of the Mold & District Civic Society Vol. 3, 2002


ed. O. Jones, E. Williams & W. O. Pughe, The Myvyrian Archaiology of Wales, Thomas Gee, Denbigh, 1870


D. J. C. King & A. H. A. Hogg, Early Castles in Wales and the Marches, Archaeologia Cambrensis, 1970


trans. T. Jones, Brut y Tywysogyon, University of Wales, Cardiff, 1952


P. Latimer, Henry II’s Campaign Against the Welsh in 1165, Welsh Historical Review 14:4, Cardiff, 1989


S. Lewis, Topographical Dictionary of Wales Vol. II, S. Lewis & Co, London, 1833


J. E. Lloyd, Flintshire Notes: Flint & Mold, Archaeologia Cambrensis 95, 1940


ed. R. H. Morris, Parochialia being a Summary of Answers to Parochial Queries etc. issued by Edward Lhwyd, Archaeologia Cambrensis, 1909-1911


H. W. Owen & K. L. Gruffydd, Place-Names of Flintshire, University of Wales, Cardiff, 2017

T. Pennant, Tours in Wales Vol. II 1781 ed. J. Rhys (1883)


D. Powel, A History of Cambria now called Wales, 1584

E.Pugh, Cambria Depicta, A Tour through North Wales, London (1816)


T. W. Pritchard, Mold Town and Country, Bridge Books, Wrexham, 2012


ed. J. Rhys & J. Gwenogwryn Evans, The Test of the Bruts from the Red Book of Hergest, Oxford, 1890


RCAHMW, An Inventory of the Ancient Monuments of Flintshire, HMSO, London, 1912


R. J. Silvester, Mold Castle and its Environs, Journal of the Mold and District Civic Society No. 8, 2007


J. Beverley Smith, Llywelyn ap Gruffudd: Prince of Wales, University of Wales, Cardiff, 2014


ed. L. T. Smith, The Itinerary in Wales of John Leland 1536-1539, George Bell and Sons, London, 1906


ed. M. W. Thompson, The Journeys of Sir Richard Colt Hoare through Wales and England 1793-1810, Alan Sutton, Gloucester, 1983


Archaeologia Cambrensis, July 1849 & April 1872


Calendar of Liberate Rolls 1240-45 Henry III AD 1240-45


Close Rolls of the Reign of Henry III Vol. II AD 1240-45


Inquisitions Post Mortem Henry V, Entries 235 & 236, British History Online

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