An early mound castle unquestionably stood at Llanelly, the name of which has fortunately survived and lead to the identification of the site.This mound can be seen today in Pond Twym, once the reservoir of the Old Castle Works, People's Park, Llanelli. The castle may have been established in the 1090s and attacked by Rhys ap Gruffydd in 1190 and Rhys Ieuanc in 1215.
The building of a motte-and-bailey castle was the first tactic of the invading Normans. They would invade an area and immediately build a motte-and-bailey castle from which they could dominate the surrounding populace, as William the Conqueror had done at Hastings in 1066. Charles Henry Glascodine tells us:
a motte consisted principally of a mound of earth thrown up from the ground surrounding it with a flat top-a truncated cone, sometimes large and sometimes smaller. The digging away of the earth around it became a ditch accentuating the height of the mound. It was crowned by wooden erection. Baulks of timber, trunks of trees, pointing diagonally upwards, were planted in the side of the mound all round it. On the flat surface of the mound all round it to ends of timber were laid a platform which formed a floor of the building above – a dwelling, a castle.The mound with its defended tower was called the motte and at a later date added to this would be a living and administration area called a bailey.
The evidence for its existence.
We know that the castle mound existed from an 1805 map of the Stradey estate Hengastell Farm and the field name 'bailey'. Can we assume from this evidence that the castle of Carnwyllion had a bailey, as it is not shown as a feature on any map? The bailey field covered it then so it may have been removed or ploughed out. The bailey is not shown on the 1880 Ordnance survey map of the site only a field on the South-east edge of the motte. As can be seen from the later map the castle mound lay in the bend of the Lliedi River which in about 1839 was re-routed to scour the Carmarthenshire Dock. The Old Castle area was later made into the reservoir to provide cooling water for the Old Castle Tin-works. The beach in the 11th and 12th Century would have been much closer to the castle and thus the conjectural illustration of what Carnwyllion may have looked like demonstrates this.
The Siege of Carnwyllion May 1215.
The remains of this motte-and-bailey castle lays in the tranquil waters of Pond Twym, People's Park, Llanelli, but in May 1215 the scene would have been much different as Welsh and Norman warriors fought a bitter struggle.
On the 27th May 1215 Rhys Ieuanc and his uncle Maelgwn ap Rhys took the allegiance of all the Welsh of Dyfed apart from one region. Cemais would not pay allegiance and thus Rhys Ieuanc and his uncle, Maelgwn ap Rhys, attacked and pillaged the area moving on to attack the castles at Narbeth and Maenclochog. Maelgwn ap Rhys and Owain ap Gruffydd brother of Rhys Ieuanc moved north with their forces to join up with Llewellyn in Gwynedd. At this time Rhys Ieuanc moved against Cedweli and Carnwyllion with his forces besieging and burning the castle at Carnwyllion.
In the Red Book of Hergest, a version of the Brut reads for 1215:
Rhys Ieuanc gathered a host of immense size, and he gained possession of Kidwelly and Carnwyllion, and he burned the castle.
Rhys Ieuanc then moved east to attack the Gower his first target being the ring-work castle of Loughor, the gateway to eastern Gower, taking it and then moving north along the Loughor river and burning the motte-and-bailey castle of Talybont held by Hugh de Meules. This castle is also known as castell Du. We are told that on the next day Rhys Ieuanc and his large force bypassed the burning town of Swansea as they had been unable to take the castle. They then advanced down the coast towards Oystermouth ring-work castle, which was taken and burnt. In a matter of three more days the whole of Gower was overrun and taken. It can only be assumed that Rhys Ieuanc had a sizeable force under his command for him to be able to sustain such a campaign attacking, besieging and burning the numerous castles in these areas. It is quite evident that the Welsh were well versed in siege techniques using subterfuge, penthouses with battering rams, mantlets, siege ladders, faggots of wood in large quantities and catapults. The wooden motte-and-bailey castle had its disadvantages in that they could be easily burnt and thus we see in the 1230's a feverish programme to rebuild these castles in stone. Arthur Mee believes that the castle of Carnwyllion may well have been built in stone at a later stage.
Over the years there has been some debate as to which Rhys had lead this campaign but it is quite evident that Rhys Gryg had in fact been held in a Royal prison during this period only being released on the 13th of June 1215 two days before the proceedings of Magna Carta at Runnymede on the 15th June 1215. In fact Rhys Gryg had been captured in May 1214 when he had gone to Carmarthen Castle to seek the King's pardon but was taken captive and removed to England and imprisoned. Prior to the proceedings of Magna Carta Llywelyn had lead a large Welsh army that we can only assume included Maelgwn ap Rhys and Owain ap Gruffydd. This force took Shrewsbury and the castles of Montgomery and Cymaron, which was utterly destroyed. We are told that Llewellyn was a signatory of the Charter and that King John agreed in three sections of the Charter to remedy the grievances of the Welsh leaders. A.G. Prys-Jones states in his book The Story of Carmarthenshire that
all lands taken from the princes since John's accession were to be restored: all purely Welsh disputes were to be settled by Welsh law, and all Welsh hostages in royal hands were to be released.
I would like to thank Dr David Davies, Dr Anthony Ward and Mr Lyn John for their previous research and assistance in the writing of this article
John Wynne Hopkins - Chairman Llanelli Community Heritage.
Notes and Citations
Sections appertaining to the Welsh translated from the Magna Carta:
"(lines 56-59) If we have deprived the Welsh of lands, liberties, or other things, without legal judgement of their peers, in England or Wales, they shall immediately be restored to them. The same shall the Welsh do to Us and Ours.
(lines 59-61) But with regard to all those things of which any Welshman was dispossessed or deprived, without legal judgement of his peers, by King Henry Our Father or Our Brother King Richard, and which We hold in Our hands or others hold under Our warranty. Immediately from Our return from our crusade, or if by chance We should remain behind from it, We will do full justice according to the laws of the Welsh and the aforesaid regions.
(line 61) We will immediately restore the son of Llywelyn, all the Welsh hostages, and the charters which were delivered to Us as security for peace".
Magna Carta was short lived as King John did not fulfil his pledges to the barons or the Welsh leaders and thus in a mild winter Llywelyn lead a Welsh army south which included, Hywel ap Gruffydd ap Cynan (Meirionydd), Llywelyn ap Maredudd ap Cynan (Meirionydd), Gwenwynwyn of Powys, Maredudd ap Rhobert of Cedewain, Maelgwn ao Rhys, Rhys Gryg his brother, Rhys Ieuanc, and Owain ap Gruffydd, the war-band of Madog ap Gruffydd Maelor and the two sons of Maelgwn ap Cadwallon of Maelienydd (Maredudd and Cadwallon). Llywelyn and his army besieged Carmarthen on the 8th of December 1215 which fell five days later and was utterly destroyed.
By the end of 1215 the whole of West Wales had fallen into the hands of Llywelyn and his Welsh forces, the only castles holding out being Haverfordwest and Pembroke.
A.G. Prys-Jones states in his book The Story of Carmarthenshire that "this striking achievement is commemorated in the "Chronicle of the Princes" as follows:- "The Welsh now returned joyfully to their homes, but the Normans, driven out of their castles, wandered hither and thither like desolate birds."
1880 Ordnance Survey Plan, Llanelli – First Edition Old Castle, 'Camp'
'Old Llanelly' - by John Innes, (1902) p164 Diversion of the River Lliedi in 1844.
'The Transactions of the Carmarthenshire Society Volume 13, 1918 p 9 'The Antiquity of Llanelly'.
The Royal Commission on The Ancient and Historical Monuments and Constructions in Wales and Monmouthshire, p119, Item 349 Parish of Llanelly Urban (1912)
'The Llanelly & County Guardian 16 September 1920 'The Lordship, The Hundred, and The Castle of Carnwyllion' by Charles Henry Glascodine.
The Transactions of the Carmarthenshire Society Volume XXIV 1982 p30 'The Castle of Carnwyllion' by J. D. Davies.
'A Company of Forts' – A Guide to Medieval Castles of West Wales by Paul Davis p35 Item 8 LLANELLI
'Llanelli Story of a Town' by John Edwards. Published by Llanelli Star 2001 p 13-17
CADW Scheduled Monument CM323 (CAM) 3 December 2003