Site of Deganwy Castle

deganwy-beachSite of Deganwy Castle

The view inland from Deganwy prom is dominated by the hill known as the Vardre. Its unusual twin humps, and the dip in between, were once capped by a castle. The name comes from Y Faerdref, denoting a place associated with a manor or court.

An earlier name for the same area was Arx Decantorum – fortress of the Decantae tribe. Excavations in the 1960s revealed Roman relics and evidence of a prehistoric fort.

In the 6th century the fort was the main stronghold of Prince Maelgwn of Gwynedd, who defeated rivals – including one of his own uncles – to become ruler of North-west Wales. He spent a period as a monk in a monastery but soon decided that his vocation was to rule. Sometimes known as Maelgwn Hir (hir = tall), he was proclaimed King of the Britons in 546. Maelgwn took a fancy to his nephew’s wife, Sannen, according to his contemporary Gildas (a monk and chronicler with whom he was schooled). He suspected that his own wife, Nesta, and the nephew were plotting against him so he had them killed – and then married Sannen.

Maelgwn founded or endowed religious establishments and made Bangor the centre of a new diocese. He died c.547 while taking refuge in Llanrhos church from a pestilence known as the Fad Felen.

The fort and castle were damaged and rebuilt many times. It burned after being hit by lightning in 812.

In the 11th century Deganwy Castle was owned by the Norman lord Robert of Rhuddlan. He died after leaving the castle’s safety to attack Welshmen, who had used boats to raid the local area.

In 1252 King Henry III granted a licence for battlements at “Gannoc” (some Normans interpreted the first element of Deganwy as “de”). He also declared Gannoc a free borough, where each burgess (resident) was allowed a building plot and nearby farmland. The castle was destroyed in 1263 by Prince Llywelyn the Last. A little of its stonework still stands. The borough continued to function for decades, even after it was effectively replaced by the walled town of Conwy in the 1280s.

With thanks to Prof Hywel Wyn Owen, of the Welsh Place-Name Society, for place-name information

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