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Castles Of The Welsh Princes And Gaelic Irish Lords

2271 words - 10 pages

The high medieval Welsh princes and Gaelic Irish lords are comparable in several ways. Both had to contend with the ever-growing presence of the Anglo-Normans and were able to maintain some form of native rule throughout the period (“Gaelic lordly settlement” 209). Furthermore, castles played a significant role in the proceedings whether built or captured and whether they were of native origins or Anglo-Norman. This can be attributed to their capabilities of withstanding various scales of warfare and being one of the means of displaying lordly rank (“Settlement and Society” 97). However, the functions, characteristics, and prevalence of castles are not necessarily uniform across the three groups. Using the historical and archaeological evidence derived from scholarly sources, the various uses, distinguishing features, and similarities of castles by the native Welsh and Gaelic Irish lords during the late twelfth and thirteenth centuries can be accounted for more fully.
The account will be structured by first outlining the evidence for native Welsh castles during that time period. This will involve a description of the historical context for their construction, functions, prominent builders, distinguishing characteristics, and notable examples. The examination will be interspersed with comparisons to contemporary Anglo-Norman building patterns. The regions of Wales referenced throughout the paper will include Gwynedd in the north, Powys in the east, and Deheubarth in the south as seen in Figure 1. Following these Welsh examples, the discussion will shift to a comparison between the native Welsh and the Gaelic Irish lords concerning the extent of their castle building. This will incorporate a section describing the use of the term “castle” and the difficulties encountered when applying it to some of the fortifications found in Ireland. The discussion will culminate with a description of the societal aspects that the two cultures shared in order to more effectively consider the differences between these castles and those of the Anglo-Normans.
The beginning of castles in Britain is said to coincide with the conquest of the Anglo-Normans in 1066. Accordingly, the building styles of Welsh castles bear marked similarities to their Anglo-Norman counterparts. (Davis 7) This resemblance, a scarcity of historical records from the Welsh, and the frequency with which the castles would change ownership make identifying sites built or occupied by the native Welsh problematic (30). This is compounded by multiple construction phases that would frequently, but not always, accompany changes in ownership and complicate the archaeological evidence. For example, Denbigh Castle in Gwynedd was originally a native castle that housed Llwelyn the Great and his grandson Dafydd ap Gruffudd, but its physical characteristics are lost to history due to the only remains belonging to a later castle built by Earl Henry de Lacy in 1282 (Davis 52). The remains of...

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