Flint Castle (Welsh: Castell y Fflint) located in Flint, Flintshire, was the first of a series of castles built during King Edward I's campaign to conquer Wales. The site was chosen for its strategic position in North East Wales. The castle was only one day's march from Chester, supplies could be brought along the River Dee and there was a ford close by, across to England, that could be used at low tide.
Building work began in 1277 initially under Richard L'Engenour, who would later become Mayor of Chester in 1304. The castle and its earthworks were built by 1,800 laborers and masons using local Millstone Grit ashlar and sandstone. James of Saint George was assigned "ad ordiandum opera castorum ibidem"("Mason charged with the design, technical direction and management of the works underway in Wales" - including Flint) in April 1278.
November 1280 saw the Savoyard master mason James of Saint George began directly overseeing construction at Flint for Edward I as the initially very slow construction pace was accelerated. He remained at the castle for 17 months. James of Saint George then moved onto Rhuddlan to oversee its completion.
When work ceased in 1286, Flint Castle had an inner ward and an outer bailey. They were separated by a tidal moat and were connected with gatehouse and drawbridge. A plantation town was also laid out beyond the outer bailey. The inner ward had three large towers and a detached keep. This isolated tower protected the inner gatehouse and outer bailey. In total expenditure, Edward I spent £6068.7.5d. creating the fortress and the town, a great deal of money today.
Flint, which was sited on the western shore of the River Dee estuary, could be supplied by river or sea. Its harbour was protected by a defensive wall. The castle lies opposite to the English shore and Shotwick Castle in England. Before the river's course was drastically changed in the 18th century, passage across the estuary at this point could be made directly by boat at high tide or by fording at low tide.
The castle is based on Savoyard models where one of the corner towers is enlarged and isolated. This independent structure served as both corner tower and keep or donjon, like at Dourdan, France. Flint's keep has been compared to the donjon at Aigues-Mortes, France. Edward I may have been familiar with Aigues-Mortes having passed through the fortress on the way to join the Eighth Crusade in 1270. An alternative possibility is the influence of Jean Mésot on James of Saint George, Mésot having worked in Southern France before influencing Saint George in Savoy.
The castle at Flint has also been described as a "classic Carrė Savoyard" as it is very similar to Yverdon Castle. It's ground dimensions are a third bigger but it shares the classic shape and style, along with the use of a corner tower as keep (donjon). Most historians attribute this to input from Edward's premier architect and castle builder James of Saint George. Although construction began in 1277 and James of Saint George didn't begin work at Flint, Flintshire until 1280, he was in England from 1278 and was described as "ad ordinandum opera castorum ibidem" that is charged with the design of the works at Flint, Flintshire.
The keep is an impressive structure. Its stone walls are 7 metres (23 feet) thick at the base and 5 metres (16 feet) above. Access was gained by crossing a drawbridge into a central entrance chamber on the first floor. Originally there would have been at least one additional storey. These floors had small rooms built into the thick walls. A timber gallery was built on top of the keep for the visit of Edward, Prince of Wales in 1301. On the ground floor is a vaulted passage that runs all the way around the inside of the keep. Flint's design was not repeated in any other castle built by Edward I in North Wales. The layout at Flint remains unique within the British Isles.
The Welsh were never ones to settle for dominance by their English neighbours. The history of Wales after the Norman Conquest was marked with a series of rebellions against their oppressive overlords. During the 13th century, two particularly notable princes of Wales, Llywelyn ab Iorwerth (the Great) and Llwyelyn ap Gruffydd (the Last), attempted to regain control of their homeland from the English kings, Henry III and his son, Edward I.
Despite being recognized by King Henry in the late 1260's with the title of "Prince of Wales", Llywelyn the Last was a restless and cautious man. Upon Edward's accession in 1272, Llywelyn intentionally defied courtly protocol and refused to swear allegiance to the new king at any time during the following four years. Compromise with the Welshman was futile. By 1277 King Edward had reached the limits of his patience, and, in order to quell the Welsh threat, initiated what was perhaps the greatest period of castle-building in Britain.
Flint was the first castle of what would later become known as Edward I's "Iron Ring". A chain of fortresses designed to encircle North Wales and oppress the Welsh. Its construction began almost immediately after Edward I began the First Welsh War in 1277.
Five years later Welsh forces under the command of Dafydd ap Gruffydd, brother of Llywelyn ap Gruffudd, besieged the castle in an attempted uprising against the English Crown. In 1294 Flint was attacked again during the revolt of Madog ap Llywelyn; this time the constable of the castle was forced to set fire to the fortress to prevent its capture by the Welsh. The castle was later repaired and partly rebuilt.
With the conclusion to the Welsh Wars, English settlers and merchants were given property titles in the new town that was laid out in front of the castle. The plantation borough was protected by a defensive ditch with a wooden palisade on earth banking. Its outline remains visible in streets patterns.
After this point, life at Flint Castle was relatively quiet, with a couple of notable exceptions. As Shakespeare recorded in his play, "Richard II", in 1399 King Richard stopped briefly at the castle during his conflict with Henry Bolingbroke, duke of Lancaster and the future King Henry IV. It was at Flint that Richard attended chapel and then climbed the donjon's walls to view the arrival of Bolingbroke. Here Richard agreed to abdicate in favour of his opponent. One story has it that even Richard's dog recognized Bolingbroke's authority!
During the English Civil War, Flint Castle was held by the Royalists. It was finally captured by the Parliamentarians in 1647 after a three-month siege. To prevent its reuse in the conflict, the castle was then slighted in accordance with Cromwell's destruction order. The ruins are what remain today. By the 19th century part of the site's outer bailey was used as Flintshire's County Jail. A quarry also operated nearby. From 1284 to 1935 the Constable of Flint Castle served ex officio as the Mayor of Flint. The constable's residence was, prior to its destruction, in the donjon tower.
Flint Castle, which has been managed as public monument for 90 years, is now maintained by Cadw, a Welsh-government body that protects, conserves and promotes the building heritage of Wales. Access is free and via a path. Most parts of the castle, such as the isolated keep, are open to the public. In mid August 2009, the agency temporarily closed Flint Castle to the public because of problems with anti-social behaviour. Cadw said youths were drinking on the site and vandalising the castle.
Disabled visitor and companion admitted free. Public car parks signposted within the town with good access to the castle. 1 dedicated disabled space approx. 100 metres away. Benches are available.
Location : Castle St, Flint CH6 5PF
Transport : Flint (National Rail) then 7 minutes. Bus Routes : 11, 11A, 11F, 18, 19 and 28 stop nearby
Opening Times : Daily, 10:00 to 16:00
Tickets : Free
Tel : 0300 0256000