By Samuel Cooke
The Student Researcher, Journal of undergraduate research, Vol.1:1 (2011)
Introduction: The Welsh Princes of Gwynedd, later to become the Princes of Wales, started building Dolwyddelan Castle in the heart of Snowdonia in around 1170. This was added to in the early thirteenth century, before the outbreak of war with England. It was captured on the 18th January 1284 by Edward I’s forces, which later added structures to the castle, and re-garrisoned with English soldiers. For this essay I will only be considering Dolwyddelan Castle while it was in the hands of the Princes of Gwynedd, using material written for Her Majesty’s Stationary Oﬃce by Radford. Radford’s work is a description of the castle, which does promote the military side of the castle. However the majority of the published work is facts and ﬁgures and there is very little in the way of history and context, but includes a map.
Dolwyddelan Castle is located, on what is described as, a small knoll with two ditches cut into the rock either end of the castle. These ditches isolated the castle from the rest of the knoll, as the other sides were suﬃciently steep enough without cutting into the rock, meaning easy access was only over the wooden bridge over the gap. The defensive qualities of such a site are obvious. Siege engines, up until the thirteenth century when counter-weight artillery came into its own, were hand-powered meaning that a lot of eﬀort would have to be expelled to move siege equipment up a hill, even before you try and power them. This was a predicament when attacking Dolwyddelan with artillery, as it is hard to ﬁre uphill anyway and ‘we should consider that a distance of only a couple of hundred meters put a castle beyond the range of bowshot and siege weaponry’ making it a hard task to eﬀectively attack the walls with artillery. While rams could be used, they usually relied on a swinging motion to be eﬀective. This was a problem, as gravity would pull the ram downhill not allowing the attackers to make powerful ramming attacks on the wall/door. Sapping was out of the question at Dolwyddelan as it was built on solid rock, as the ditches cut into the knoll show. Finally, siege towers would only be eﬀective once the ditch was inﬁlled, and this would be time-consuming process for the attackers.