The comprehensive gazetteer and bibliography of the medieval castles, fortifications and palaces of England, Wales, the Islands.
The listings
Other Info
Print Page 
Next Record 
Previous Record 
Back to list 

Cefnllys Castles

Also known as, or recorded in historical documents as;
Keventleres; Kenflyc; Kenflic; Kevenles; Castell Glyn Ieithon; Castle Bank; Maelienydd

In the community of Penybont.
In the historic county of Radnorshire.
Modern authority of Powys.
Preserved county of Powys.

OS Map Grid Reference: SO08936146
Latitude 52.24264° Longitude -3.33652°

Cefnllys Castles has been described as a certain Masonry Castle.

There are masonry footings remains.

This site is a scheduled monument protected by law.


There are a complex series of earthworks at Cefnllys covering an area approximately 356m by 102m set upon a ridge in a loop of the River Irfon. They are thought to represent the remains of an Iron Age enclosure, a medieval town and two seperate castles. The castle to the north-east is thought to have been destroyed in 1262 and was replaced by the one to the south. This was commenced in 1267 and aerial photographs show a circular tower, c.10-12m in diameter, which stood at the centre of a rectangular walled court, c.35m square. There are also indications of round towers, c.5.0m across, at the northern and eastern angles, the latter apparently associated with an entrance. The southern castle was ruinous by the late sixteenth century. Other rectilinear banks and enclosures, some of which overlie elements of the defensive complex, are thought to represent a more recent farmsread. Source: Brown 1972 (Rad. Soc. Trans. 42), 11-22. (Coflein)

Earthwork castle consisting of 2 mottes and a bailey some 300m SW-NE by 100m wide with an entrance halfway along its nw side. One motte (at its SW end) being separated from the bailey by a 5m deep ditch while the other is contained within its NE end and is badly mutilated. Surveyed 1985 and combined with photogammetry. Traces of rectangular tower at S angle of ward noted. Appears to lie over earlier earthwork, probably hillfort. Probable rectangular tower on top of motte. Remains of narrow ramp or stair on SW side of motte. Triangular building seems to have been built against NW side of inner ward curtain. (Browne, D.M. & Pearson, A.W. 1985, 44). (Clwyd Powys Archaeological Trust HER)

The monument comprises the complex buried remains of two successive masonry castles of the Mortimer family occupying either end of the summit of an isolated and naturally defended ridge known as Castle Bank within a loop of the river Ithon. The hilltop is nearly 400m long and a maximum of 200m wide, and is surrounded on all sides except the north-east by steep slopes, which have been enhanced by scarping and ditching, possibly representing the remains of a later prehistoric hillfort. The earthwork remains of other structures occupy the enclosed space between the two castle sites, some of which may relate to a later llys or courthouse described in late medieval sources. Associated with the successive castles was a short-lived medieval borough, thought to have been located in the vicinity of the surviving parish church at the southern foot of the ridge. The site was closely linked to the Mortimer family, one of the foremost baronial dynasties of the middle ages and dominant Marcher lords active in the in the conquest and governance of Mid Wales and its central borders between the 12th and 15th centuries. The first castle on the site is likely to be that founded by Ralph Mortimer in 1242, after he had consolidated his power in the Maelienydd area under a treaty made with Llywelyn ap Gruffudd following victory over the Welsh in 1241, replacing an earlier caput at Dineithon, under a mile to the west. In 1262-3, the resurgent Welsh under Llywelyn ap Gruffudd seized or destroyed Marcher castles holdings across Maelienydd and Elfael, including Cefnllys. Under the Treaty of Montgomery in 1267, Ralph’s son, Roger Mortimer was allowed to rebuild at Cefnllys in exchange for his loyalty to Llywelyn rather than Henry III. Work seems to have started soon afterwards, a complaint from Llywelyn to Edward I in 1272 concerning the scale of the new works suggesting that construction of the second castle (a ‘wide and deep ditch’ is mentioned) was well underway, rather than the agreed repairs to the earlier structure, while Mortimer had still not pledged the promised loyalty to Llywelyn. The new castle appears to have been garrisoned but to have seen little action during the Welsh wars of 1277 and 1282, and remained in the hands of successive Mortimers, appearing in lists of their holdings throughout the later 13th and 14th centuries, reverting briefly to the Crown on a number of occasions such as the 1322 disposession of Roger Mortimer and his execution in 1330. Repairs to Cefnllys under the Crown are recorded in 1356, and the castle had again reverted to Crown control when the Glyndwr rebellion broke out in 1401. The castle was garrisoned during the uprising and may have been ‘burned and wasted by the Welsh rebels’ in 1405, although this has been disputed. Following the death without heir of Edmund Mortimer in 1425, Cefnllys passed to his nephew, Richard, duke of York, who took up his inheritance in 1432, although he may never have visited it. During the 15th century, Welsh figures begin to appear in positions of managerial responsibility, and it is in this context that the poet Lewis Glyn Cothi addressed four poems of praise to the constable of Cefnllys and receiver of Maelienydd, Ieuan ap Phylip and his wife Angharad. The exact date of these is unclear; they probably belong in the period 1432-59, or, less likely, as late as 1463-83; Ieuan’s career is not otherwise recorded. The poems give an interesting if effusive description of a grand, presumably timber framed hall house on the site, which may be represented by the footings of a group of rectangular structure in the saddle between the two castles. Ownership of the site passed from Richard, duke of York to his son Edward, who was crowned Edward IV in 1461, thus delivering Cefnllys definitively into Crown hands. In 1493 the site is among a number of mainly ruinous castles granted to Prince Arthur, firstborn son of Henry VII, and it was described as ‘now downe’ by John Leland in the early 16th century. In 1687 it is mentioned as ‘the ruins of an old castle’. The earlier castle is likely to have occupied an artificially elevated and ditched platform at the north-eastern end of the ridge. This is now much disturbed by later quarrying and associated spoil tips but traces of at least one rectangular structure may represent the buried lower levels of an internal keep and other buildings. Stony banks define possible small bailey enclosures to the south-west and north-east. The second castle was probably the smaller, almost square masonry ward at the south-western point of the ridge, isolated from the hilltop and the approach to the north-east by a massive rock-cut ditch, considered to be that referred to by Llywelyn in 1272 and comparable in scale to impressive ditching at the nearby 13th century Mortimer castles of New Radnor and Tinboeth. The enclosure contained a central round or octagonal tower, the walls of which are likely to survive to a height of several metres under the rubble. The footings of a possible gatehouse survive in the north-east corner. A further small enclosure to the south-west of this probably served as small bailey, while new defences along the edges of the hilltop to its north-east and across the saddle between the two summits may also belong to this phase. The grand late medieval hall-house referred to by Lewis Glyn Cothi probably stood in the saddle of the summit between the two castle sites, where traces of three substantial and apparently later rectangular structures are visible within a lightly embanked enclosure. It is unclear whether any of the earlier buildings were still in use by this time. Numerous other archaeological features are visible on the summit and slopes of the site, including embankments and enclosures, further possible building platforms, quarrying and traces of cultivation. These are difficult to date precisely, though many do appear to be later than the main occupation of the site. (Scheduling Report)

Possible Iron Age hill fort. Stone castle built between 1240-1245 by Roger Mortimer at northern end of narrow triangular hilltop and a further strong keep with rockcut ditch built on southern end of hilltop in 1273. Cause of much dispute between Mortimer and Llewelyn ap Gruffydd. Possibly small town of 25 burgesses which was granted market in 1282 in space between these two buildings. Rebuilt and repaired regularly and had garrison of 12 spearmen and 30 archers at time of Owain Glyndwr rebellion in 1403. Abandoned in 1493 and rapidly fell to ruin.

Remfry considers that this site should be regarded as two seperate castles although it might also be considered as a castle that has undergone the usual developement over time but with an unusual change of inner court from one end to the other of the whole enciete. The dispute between Mortimer and Llewelyn appears to be based on Llewelyn's opinion that Mortimer had built a 'new' castle rather than rebuilding the old castle as allowed by the treaty of Montgomery.
Links to archaeological and architectural databases, mapping and other online resources

Data >
Coflein   County HER   Scheduling        
Maps >
Streetmap   NLS maps   Where's the path   Old-Maps      
Data/Maps > 
Magic   Historic Wales   V. O. B.   Geology   LIDAR  
Air Photos > 
Bing Maps   Google Maps   Getmapping   ZoomEarth      
Photos >
CastleFacts   Geograph   Flickr   Panoramio      

Sources of information, references and further reading
Most of the sites or buildings recorded in this web site are NOT open to the public and permission to visit a site must always be sought from the landowner or tenant.
It is an offence to disturb a Scheduled Monument without consent. It is a destruction of everyone's heritage to remove archaeological evidence from ANY site without proper recording and reporting.
Don't use metal detectors on historic sites without authorisation.
The information on this web page may be derived from information compiled by and/or copyright of the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historic Monuments of Wales, the four welsh archaeological trusts and other individuals and organisations. It may also contain Designated Historic Asset Descriptive Information from The Welsh Historic Environment Service (Cadw), licensed under the Open Government Licence. All the sources given should be consulted to identify the original copyright holder and permission obtained from them before use of the information on this site for commercial purposes.
The author and compiler of Gatehouse does not receive any income from the site and funds it himself. The information within this site is provided freely for educational purposes only.
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.
Further information on mapping and location can be seen at this link.
Lidar coverage in the UK is not complete. The button above will give an idea of the area of coverage. Higher resolution lidar images in both DSM and DTM form may be available from Lle A geo-Portal for Wales (click the preview tag to bring up a map and then select format byclicking on the small blue diamond in the top right corner of the map.)
Please help to make this as useful a resource as possible by contacting Gatehouse if you see errors, can add information or have suggestions for improvements in functality and design.
Help is acknowledged.

This record last updated 07/07/2016 09:56:51