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History and Heritage holidays in Dolwyddelan Conwy north Wales and the Wynn family of Gwydir Castle

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Click to zoom into a map of Conwy showing Heritage SitesDolwyddelan in the picturesque Lledr Valley, Conwy County is a small village with rather a lot of history. The village is ideal as a base for a history or heritage holiday as it is in such a beautiful setting and with plenty of historic sites close at hand. It is most famous for the Castle and as the birthplace of Llywelyn ap Iorwerth (Llywelyn the Great), though the actual site of Llywelyn's birthplace was perhaps the older castle, of which there are few remains, that had existed nearby on the valley floor.
Dolwyddelan Castle stands on a ridge to the West of the village alongside the A470 road, and had strategic importance as it guarded one of the main passes through Snowdonia. Believed to have been built between c.1210 - 1240, under the command of Click to enlarge Llywelyn ap Iorwerth, Llywelyn the GreatLlywelyn the Great of Gwynedd. Defended by rock-cut ditches and a steep drop, the castle is dominated by a rectangular keep-tower. Later in the 13th century the castle passed into the hands of Llywelyn's grandson Llywelyn ap Gruffydd. He was in dispute with the English King and the Castle became a prime target for English attack during Edward I's invasion of Wales and, when captured in 1283, Edward immediately added further fortifications and used the Welsh built Castle as a link in his chain of strongholds around North Wales.

After this Welsh rebellion was crushed and as the years passed by the Castle's usefulness to the English Crown diminished until eventually, albeit some 200 hundred years later, the castle passed into the hands of Maredudd ap Ieuan, (Meredith ap Ifan) a chieftain from the Llyn peninsula. Maredudd was the Head of the Royal House of Cunedda and he had decided that to expand his territories he would need to move from the Llyn into the lawless lands of Snowdonia. Maredudd moved to Dolwyddelan c. 1485 and his descendants were to become the Wynns of Gwydir Castle and as mentioned on the earlier page concerning the history of Conwy County > his arrival was to open another chapter in the history of North Wales...The Wynn family and the Conwy Valley.

The upper reaches of the Conwy Valley and the Lledr Valley were lawless places at the time of Maredudd's arrival and he was not slow to take advantage of the situation. The town of Ysbyty Ifan, originally a Hospice of the Knight's of St John, and a resting place for pilgrims en route to Bardsey Island, had become home to bandits and thieves who marauded over this area of Wales. The immunity from the law that the Knights had brought with them meant that it also became a place of sanctuary for thieves and murderers. No one was safe within a radius of 20 miles of Ysbyty Ifan. This state of lawlessness led to the depopulation of the land which left a vacuum which Maredudd ap Ieuan was happy to fill. Having first occupied Dolwyddelan Castle Maredudd and his entourage soon moved to a house in Cwm Penamnen just South of the village of Dolwyddelan. Having fathered some 20 children with wives and mistresses it is said that the Castle was too small for his growing family. (The remains of the house are still visible and were recently (2005) the subject of an archaeological dig. It is in a beautiful location yet just a short walk from the village of Dolwyddelan and well worth a visit. The house was situated close to the river and the remains of a stone dam are still to be seen.)
But Maredudd's aquisition of land and property came with a price. He lived in constant fear of ambush, indeed it is said that he demolished the original church in Dolwyddelan to make way for the present  church which he had built in what he deemed to be a safer location. As with modern political leaders in volatile countries he would forever re-route his journeys and he found it necessary to be accompanied by twenty of the tallest archers. Look-outs would be posted on high ground and he was on guard while at worship in his church pew, as evidenced by a brass plate in the church showing Maredudd kneeling in prayer yet with sword and full armour.

Meredudd can be said to have survived and indeed tamed a wild and lawless area of C15th Wales, but his ambitions did not stop there. Having claimed the land in the Lledr Valley he expanded into the Conwy Valley at Llanrwst and Trefriw and laid the foundations for the Wynn "dynasty" by building the house at Gwydir, Llanrwst.
The first castle at Gwydir was built by Howell Coetmore, who fought under the Black Prince at the battle of Poitiers in 1356, and the remains of this castle were later sold by one of Howell's descendents to Maredudd who rebuilt it as a fortified house. Gwydir acquired additions in the 1540's (incorporating reused building material from nearby Maenan Abbey), and was given a fine Elizabethan porch and gardens in the 1590's. Further additions were made in 1828 to designs by Sir Charles Barry, architect of the Houses of Parliament. Regarded as one of the finest Tudor houses in Wales, the castle became the ancestral home of the powerful Wynn baronets,

Maredudd died in 1525 aged 65 and is buried in Dolwyddelan churchyard. His son John Wyn succeeded him and inherited all the properties including those in Eifionydd, Lledr and the Conwy Valley. John Wyn became Member of Parliament and Justice of the Peace. On his death in 1559 aged 66 much of the estate, including Gwydir and lands at Trefriw, passed to his son Morus Wynn ap John.
Morus was the first to adopt the surname Wynn in the english style.

Morus' son John Wynn (1553 – 1627), succeeded to his father's estate of Gwydyr in 1580, and was Member of Parliament in 1586. In 1606 he was made a knight and in 1611 became the first of the Wynn Baronets. He was interested in several mining ventures and also found time for antiquarian studies.

Sir John Wynn's son Sir Richard Wynn (1588–1649), was also Member of Parliament in 1614 but lost the contest for Caernarvonshire in 1620 thus ending the political influence of Gwydir in the county. Sir Richard erected the Gwydir chapel in Llanrwst church and had Pont Fawr built over the River Conwy in 1633.

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Heritage map of Conwy County.
This map shows:
Ancient Churches
Neolithic Burial Chambers
Heritage Sites
Main Roads
Click on the towns to find holiday accommodation nearby, or scroll down the page.
Heritage Map of Conwy. Move the cursor over the attractions and towns Click for Great Orme Prehistoric Copper Mines where to stay in Llandudno where to stay in  Colwyn Bay where to stay in Abergele Rhuddlan Castle where to stay in Bodelwyddan where to stay in Rhyl where to stay in  Conwy where to stay in Deganwy where to stay in Llanrwst where to stay in Maenan where to stay in Pentrefoelas where to stay in Betws y Coed where to stay in Bylchau Conwy Castle Maen y Bardd burial chamberSt Michael's Church, Betws y Coed Bwlch y Ddeufaen Standing Stones Click for Llangelynin Church and Holy Well Llandrillo yn Rhos Church Hendre Waelod ancient burial chamber Click for Bodnant Gardens Click for Dolwyddelan Castle Click for Ty Mawr Bishop Morgan's House Click for Great Orme Country Park Click for Deganwy Castle Click for Ty'n y Coed Uchaf Click for St Gwyddelan's Church, dates from about 1500AD Nature reserve accommodation in Blaenau Ffestiniog Go to Snowdonia Gwynedd Map Go to Snowdonia Gwynedd Map Capel Garmon Burial Chamber Click for information on St Grwst's Church and Llewelyn's tomb, Pont Fawr, the bridge over the Conwy and Ty Hwnt i'r Bont the Tea Rooms by the river and Gwydir Castle, Llanrwst Jump to Denbighshire St Trillo's 6th Century Chapel and Holy Well in Rhos on Sea St Hilary's Church Llanrhos St Tudno's Church on the Great Orme Llandudno

For a holiday in Conwy north wales choose from this list of accommodation providers in Conwy and vicinity. Please note the properties listed are not specifically offering Heritage holidays.
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