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Harlech Castle

Also known as, or recorded in historical documents as;
Arlech; Hardelowe

In the community of Harlech.
In the historic county of Merioneth.
Modern authority of Gwynedd.
Preserved county of Gwynedd.

OS Map Grid Reference: SH58103125
Latitude 52.85995° Longitude -4.10916°

Harlech Castle has been described as a certain Masonry Castle, and also as a probable Palace.

There are major building remains.

This site is a scheduled monument protected by law.
This is a Grade 1 listed building protected by law*.


Harlech Castle is a spectacular castle, with its picturesque setting enhanced by being based on a rocky crag overlooking the sea with the Snowdonia Mountains in the background. Harlech Castle was one of a series of castles established in north Wales by Edward I after the death of Llywelyn ap Gruffudd in 1282. Building work began a year later in May 1283, and was raised in two main building phases. In order to adapt to the restricted space of the rocky outcrop, the building is based on the concentric walls within walls. The castle is designed in symmetrical fashion, with four corner towers and an impressive gatehouse. Originally, its unique position was chosen as it was eminently defensible and was built to take full advantage of its seaside location. By 1289, the castle was largely completed. The castle was strengthened in 1295 and again in 1323 and came to prominence during the Welsh rebellion led by Owain Glyn Dwr, when in 1404 the castle became occupied by Glyn Dwr’s court and family until 1409, the year it was retaken by the English. There were to be another two sieges, the first being in the War of the Roses when it was taken by Yorkist forces in 1468. It is argued that the famous song ‘Men of Harlech’ originated during the siege at Harlech during the War of the Roses in 1468.The second during the Civil War when it was surrounded by parliamentarian forces in 1647. Sections of the castle were rendered untenable after these sieges, fortunately however the order to demolish the castle were never carried out. (Coflein–M. Lloyd Davies, RCAHMW, 22 October 2008.)

The earliest reference to Harlech is in the Mabinogi but no evidence has ever been found for an early court or llys on the site. Work was begun on the castle in 1283 to the design of Master James of St George and it was completed by 1289. The strong position of the castle on its rock overlooking the sea is hard to appreciate today as the sea has been replaced by the extensive sand dunes of Morfa Harlech. It was supplied by sea in 1294 having been entirely cut off by land during the revolt of Madoc ap Llywelyn and thus was able to survive. In 1904, however, it fell to Owain Glydwr who held the castle for over four years before it was finally regained by the future king Henry V. Unlike other of Edward I's castles, Harlech continued to play a role and was the last Lancastrian stronghold to fall in 1468. The Gatehouse was used for meetings of the court of assizes during the 16th century and the castle was held by the Royalists during the Civil War, being again the last castle to fall. The defences were ordered to be demolished in 1660 but the order was never carried out and the shell of the castle remains to this day. The castle is concentric in design with a narrow out ward protected by a rock cut dry moat and an almost square inner ward with massive gatehouse. The Great Hall and kitchens were set against the curtain wall in the inner ward as was a building referred to as the Ystumgwern Hall which is thought to have been transported to the castle from nearby Ystumgwern. An English borough was founded along with the castle at Harlech but no traces of walls or a regular grid of streets survive. (Gwynedd Archaeological Trust HER)

Built between 1283 and 1289 by Master James of St George for King Edward I. Constructed of limestone and granite, with sandstone dressings. Of concentric design, comprising a rectangular, high-walled, inner ward with four round towers at the corners, and a lower-walled outer ward broadly following the same line. Large square gatehouse to the E wall of inner ward, which housed the principal rooms, and was designed to be independently defensible. The hall, chapel, service and storage buildings were located to the N, S, and W sides, although only the chapel remains above foundation height. Seized by Owain Glyn Dwr in 1404 and held successfully by him for four years. World Heritage Site 374

Welsh tradition, which has been ignored, maintains that Harlech had early Welsh origins, and a history stretching back over 2000 years to the time of Branwen, the daughter of Ll r, with whom the fortification on the rock has long been associated. (Paul Remfry)

Paul Remfry is suggesting that the castle originated as a welsh llys and C13 welsh castle before being converted into the Edwardian castle that remains.
Links to mapping and other online resources

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Sources of information, references and further reading

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The bibliography owes much to various bibliographies produced by John Kenyon for the Council for British Archaeology, the Castle Studies Group and others.
Suggestions for finding online and/or hard copies of bibliographical sources can be seen at this link.
Minor archaeological investigations, such as watching brief reports, and some other 'grey' literature is most likely to be held by H.E.R.s but is often poorly referenced and is unlikely to be recorded here, or elsewhere, but some suggestions can be found here.
The possible site or monument is represented on maps as a point location. This is a guide only. It should be noted that OS grid references defines an area, not a point location. In practice this means the actual center of the site or monument may often, but not always, be to the North East of the point shown.
Locations derived from OS grid references and from latitude longitiude may differ by a small distance.
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*The listed building may not be the actual medieval building, but a building on the site of, or incorporating fragments of the described site.

This record last updated on Thursday, November 21, 2013