'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 Thywysogyon 'The Chronicle of the Princes' 1277
A brief entry, perhaps, but telling one, for sure. The year 1277 saw Edward I, King of England realise his ambitions to regain those lands he considered his - the four cantrefs of Rhos, Tegeingl, Dyffryn Clwyd and Rhufoniog, lands the Welsh had come to know as Perfeddwlad - the Middle Country, and lands of course they saw as their own. Those lands had been lost to the English crown to the Princes of Gwynedd, and now, reacting to perceived slights and concerns at the rise of Llywelyn ap Gruffudd, Edward invaded.
The war was short and brutal, a victory for Edward. In the peace that followed. Llywelyn was allowed to keep his lands to the west of the River Conwy, but the Perfeddwlad was lost. Edward resolved to never lose the lands again, and so resolved to build a series of mighty stone castles, to protect his conquests and to surround Llywelyn within his Gwynedd stronghold - the infamous Ring of Steel.
And Flint Castle was the first of those fortresses, work beginning almost immediately on Edward's arrival in July of that year. Built contemporaneously with Rhuddlan and Aberystwyth, it was raised upon a rocky outcrop in the Dee Estuary, within the commote of Coleshill. As at Rhuddlan, and later at Conwy, Caernarvon and Beaumaris, Edward sought a site that could be accessed by sea, and this deserted site within the salt marshes on the banks of the Dee was perfect for his needs. And there are curiosities here, the immense south east tower, the donjon, built separate to the inner ward, an umbilical drawbridge connecting to the curtain wall.
Begun in haste, work slowed as Edward sought to focus on his more westerly gains at Rhuddlan, and it wasn't until 1286 that the castle was complete. Still, it was strong enough to withhold a siege by Llywelyn's brother Dafydd in 1282. Curiously, it was the defeat of the Gruffudd brothers in 1282-1283, that undermined the importance of Flint, and indeed Rhuddlan. With the line of Aberffraw all but extinguished, Edward's line of control moved further west, to the River Conwy and later to Caernarvon. Flint was left somewhat neglected.
I must admit to being astonished by my first visit to Flint Castle. It was peaceful. Popular, certainly, but the visitors could not dispel the quiet calm. It had that estuary stillness - do you know what I mean? A few spirited voices of tourists on the gentle breeze, the mournful calls of wading birds in the distance, across the waters, within the mud cut rivulets. But I must admit to being reminded of the opening pages of the Heart of Darkness, as Marlow and his colleagues lounged upon the deck of the Nellie as dusk falls. A world away, I know, yet I couldn't throw the association. A curious thing. I saw the castle more as Turner did in 1838, than Dafydd in 1282. That's quite something for me.
As I stood upon the bank of the outer moat, the tide began to turn and as quick as you like, the castle was slowly surrounded by the rising waters...at quite an unsettling speed.
I was quite haunted...