The brilliance and quirks of Flint Castle

Flint Castle in North Wales was built during the reign of Edward I, and still stands today as a brilliant and quirky fortress construction.

Building work began on the castle in 1277 under the management of Richard L’engenour, who was later appointed as Mayor of Chester. The building was completed in 1284 at the time of Flint receiving its royal charter.

The castle is one of 10 commissioned by Edward I, which were built as part of his plan to conquer Wales and keep the Welsh population subservient to English rule.

The builders

Over 1,800 people worked on the castle, including labourers and stonemasons. Construction materials were local millstone grit ashlar and sandstone. James of Saint George was the chief mason working under the orders of Edward I.

Under attack

Though presenting a formidable visible defence, the castle did not deter a Welsh revolt in 1282 when the Welsh besieged the yet-to-be-completed castle. By the end of the year, the revolt had been subdued.

Another attempt was made to invade the castle in 1294, when it was deliberately burnt by the English to prevent its capture. Afterwards extensive repairs were made to the structure. In 1301 the Prince of Wales was formally granted ownership of the castle.

In 1640, at the time of the Civil War, the castle was used as a garrison for the Royalists. It was besieged for three months by the Parliamentarians. The Royalists then surrendered and under Oliver Cromwell’s orders, much of the castle was destroyed and it remains largely in ruins today.

In the 18th Century, the outer bailey was used to house the county jail

Richard II and the Shakespeare connection

In Shakespeare’s play Richard II, he references the fact that in 1399, King Richard visited Flint Castle. This was the time of Richard II’s conflict with the Duke of Lancaster, Henry Bolingbroke. Richard attended the castle chapel before climbing to the top of the keep to witness the arrival of Bolingbroke. He recognised Bolingbroke’s authority and abdicated the throne. One story says that even Richard II’s dog bowed down before the Duke of Lancaster.

Richard was taken to Pontefract Castle in Yorkshire where he was murdered while in custody.

The castle layout

Flint Castle has an inner ward and an outer bailey separated by a moat. A drawbridge spanned the moat and was guarded by a gatehouse. The inner ward is a square structure that contains three large round towers including a keep. Battlement curtain walls connected the towers.

To the north and east of the castle is the Dee Estuary, which is close to the base of the castle.

Outside of the outer bailey is the town of Flint, which lies on the western shore of the Dee Estuary. Supplies for the town and castle arrived by both river and sea via the harbour with its protective wall.

Opposite the castle is Shotwick Castle, which is in England. Passage between the two castles used to be possible by boat or foot at low tide, but after the river’s course changed in the 18th Century, it became impossible to make this journey,

Unlike a lot of castles, Flint Castle is in a low-lying location, but with its thick walls and large towers, it was an effective defensive structure

The keep – a unique design

What makes Flint Castle both brilliant and quirky is the unique construction of the keep or donjon. The combined tower and keep has thick stone walls that are seven metres thick at the base, tapering to five metres thick at the top. Access to the keep was via a drawbridge that led to the first floor of the keep.

The keep has a series of galleries around a central open area, but each gallery contains several small rooms. These included residential rooms, kitchen, latrines and a chapel. The residential rooms or chambers are thought to have been the best rooms in the castle and would have been used for short stays by visiting dignitaries such as the Justice of Chester.

The most luxurious room was on the upper level of the keep where Edward I’s son is believed to have stayed. On the top of the keep was a timber platform.

The keep had a basement, which probably stored military supplies. It was separated from the rest of the castle by a water-filled ditch and a wall which made it a good defensive structure. Its thick walls contained arrow slit embrasures. The defence plan was to lead attackers down a spiral staircase towards the basement where they would be vulnerable to attack by soldiers positioned above them.

The keep’s design was probably influenced by the castles that Edward I saw during his travels at the time of the Crusades. Perhaps its greatest influence was the castle at Yverdon in Savoy. Flint Castle’s master mason, James of St George had worked on this castle about 10 years before Flint Castle began construction.

The design of the keep is unique to British castles and was not replicated in any other of Edward I’s castles.

Present day

In 1919, Flint Castle was run by the Welsh Office for Works, which later became CADW. This now looks after Wales’ historical monuments.

Much of Flint Castle is in ruins, but the main structure of the castle is still standing. The drawbridge has been replaced with a wooden bridge crossing over the moat, which no longer holds water.

The gatehouse is in a semi-derelict state but the remains of an archway and the porter’s lodge can be seen. The three towers are still standing, though in various states of disrepair. The curtain battlement walls that connect the towers remain.

Visitors to Flint Castle can explore the castle and get an impression of the brilliance and quirkiness of the castle from what is left of its building.

Flint Castle is well worth a visit. It is a testament to the struggle for Welsh independence that many people in the country still support today.

Posted by Mark
July 11, 2017

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