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 Llywelyn
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 eventuall
y, 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
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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