Denbigh Castle is without a doubt the finest magnate castle in north Wales and well worth a visit. It is situated in a prominent position overlooking the surrounding town and, despite its ruined state, still has an impressive appearance. Its highlights include the splendid triple-towered Great Gatehouse and Great Kitchen Tower. Before taking you on a tour of the castle let us start with a brief overview of its history.
Denbigh was founded by Henry de Lacy, earl of Lincolnshire, who received the lordship of Denbigh in the late thirteenth century, following the conquest of Wales by King Edward I. De Lacy decided to build a large and impressive castle and town to form the seat of his new lordship. Construction work began in 1282 with considerable sums of money on the building works, which can be seen from the quality of the architecture. Yet the fortress was still incomplete when Denbigh was briefly captured by the Welsh during the Madog ap Llywelyn rebellion in 1294.
Following its recapture the defences were greatly improved and finished. Denbigh was acquired by the Mortimer family in the mid-fourteenth century and subsequently passed into the ownership of Richard, duke of York. It was during the ownership of the latter, that it was besieged and captured by Lancastrian forces during the Wars of the Roses in 1460. Richard was succeeded by his son, who became Edward IV in the following year, and it passed into the possession of the Crown. Denbigh was later held for the king during the First English Civil War and surrendered after a long siege to the Parliamentarians in 1645. The latter subsequently slighted the defences fifteen years later and the castle fell into ruin.
Let us now begin our tour. The castle is situated on the south-west corner of the town of Denbigh on a hilltop. It is a steep walk (or drive) uphill from the town to reach the entrance. The castle is entered through a magnificent tripled towered gatehouse. Even in its ruined state this is still a splendid sight. De Lacy clearly wanted to impress visitors to his castle! Moving through the gatehouse we reach the Cadw visitor centre, which contains artefacts excavated from the site.
After exiting the visitor centre we move into the courtyard. This is now a large open space but in the Middle Ages would have contained many buildings that have left little or no trace. We will now move over to the west side of the castle. The structures on this side have not fared particularly well, with only the foundations of the walls surviving in places. Whilst here be sure to look out for the Sally Port. This feature made it possible for defenders (as the name implies) to sally forth and to launch attackers against besiegers.
Following the line of the wall we reach the south side of the castle. This was protected by an outer layer of defence known as a mantlet. This area also contains another entrance to the castle, which was via a barbican, the Postern Gate, and (after a 90 degree turn up some steps) the Upper Gate. These structures are mostly ruinous but still give some indication of how elaborate the approach from this direction was, even though it was a secondary entrance.
We will now move around to the east side. This area contains some of the most interesting and best preserved structures of the castle. These include the Green Chambers, which contain some fine corbel heads of a lion, maiden and imp. Other points of interest include the impressive remnants of the Great Kitchen Tower, as well as the remains of the Great Hall and the White Chamber Tower. Part of the wall-walk remains on this side, which can be accessed via steps from the Great Gatehouse.
We have now finished our tour of the castle, but before leaving Denbigh be sure to explore the town defences and some other historical sites of interest. These include the Burgess Gate, as well as the tower of St Hilary’s Chapel, Lord Leicester’s Church, and the Goblin Tower.
This concludes my tour of Denbigh Castle. Let me know what you think of the place and if you have any ideas or suggestions for future posts. It would be great to hear from you!
The site is managed by Cadw and there is an entrance fee.
Accessible by car (with onsite car park) and public transport
For further information see the Cadw website
L. A. S. Butler, Denbigh Castle (Cardiff: Cadw, 2007)
Dan Spencer, The Castle at War in Medieval England and Wales (Stroud: Amberley Publishing, 2018)
All photographs taken by Dan Spencer ©