The castle overlooking the Dee estuary at Flint was one of the first to be built by the English in Wales. Building started in 1277, during the campaign of English King Edward I against Llywelyn ap Gruffydd, the last of the great Welsh leaders. Work was completed in 1284. Flint was one of the north Wales ‘iron ring’ of fortresses built by the English to conquer the Welsh. The castle included an unusual design feature, a solitary round ‘Donjon’ tower which stood apart from the rest of the inner ward but still within the outer wall, which is exceptionally thick.
Though only ruins remain, it is possible to get a sense of how substantial and dominating the structure would have appeared as it rose above the Dee estuary, pronouncing the might and supremacy of the English king.
Following directions from the little town of Holywell we pulled up on a very nondescript street with the castle ruins on one side and two council tower blocks and a few houses on the other. A little further ahead was an industrial estate; an interesting juxtaposition. I wondered what the King would have made of it all and hoped that the residents enjoyed and made the most of living in such a scenic beach location that only the very wealthy would be able to afford in many other parts of the UK.
Walking across what was obviously formerly the moat and then up the mound, we encountered another royal personage and a seriously big dog; just as well they were made of metal and both perfectly harmless. I rather liked this art work, depicting King Richard II, Edward I’s great, great grandson, and Mathe, his traitorous hound.
In 1399, Flint Castle was the site of the showdown between the King and Henry Bolinbroke, a contender for the throne, who went on to become King Henry IV. It is reported that the dog, Mathe, abandoned Richard and allied himself with Bolinbroke. Richard interpreted this apparent act of canine treachery as a sign that his reign was at an end, the dog choosing loyalty to crown, not master. Richard conceded defeat and was captured.
Shakespeare immortalised the scene in his play, Richard II:
‘What you will have, I’ll give, and willing too;
For do we must what force will have us do
The greyhound maketh you cheer this day as king of England, as ye shall be;
and I shall be deposed. The greyhound possesses this knowledge naturally’
There were a few other visitors like us, milling about with cameras and discussing the brick work and the scenery. A couple of benches had been positioned to provide a view over the beach and the estuary. A group of young people climbed the spiral metal staircase within what I assume to be the ‘Donjon’ tower, seeking to be kings of the castle for a few moments. I would have liked the view but not the climb. Several other groups – mainly families with children, picnics, balls and frisbees – cut through the structure to access the freedom of the beach.
Standing the test of time
Who would have thought that a wall could be so beautiful? Diverse in size and shape, colour and texture, some smooth and others eroded to honeycomb, the ancient stones appear as if placed haphazardly in the dense mortar bed. But this was a fortress, built to last, and not in the least haphazard in its design. I wonder if those tower blocks across the road will be there in 800 years’ time.