Built to defend
In 1282 when the English King Edward I defeated the Welsh prince Llywelyn ap Gruffydd (also known as Llywelyn the Last, and grandson of Llywelyn the Great), he established the new Marcher Lordship of Chirklands.
The Chirklands were granted to Roger Mortimer in recognition of his service in King Edward's wars against the Welsh and Scottish and he built Chirk Castle in the late 13th century.
Constructed on a rocky escarpment at the head of the Ceiriog valley, the castle’s location was carefully chosen to maximise its defensive capabilities, whilst controlling the neighbouring Dee Valley and trade along the border.
It was a fortress so important that King Edward I paid a personal visit during its construction.
Favoured by royalty
The overseeing architect was probably Master James of St George, an architect from Savoy who was much favoured by Edward I and who is credited with work on many other castles, including Caernarfon, Beaumaris and Harlech. As well as suggesting his master builder, the King may also have even lent Roger the money to pay for the castle’s construction.
A dominating symbol
It's highly likely that the castle would have been lime washed white so it would have stood prominently in the treeless landscape, especially looking from Wales. With watch towers allowing lookouts to keep a strategic eye on the Welsh hills and valleys, the castle was a symbol of English power and might, dominating the surrounding land.
Built for defence
The courtyard well is 28.5 metres deep but with only 300mm of water in the bottom, the fortress could probably only have supported a garrison of 20-30 men. However, clever defences made up for the lack of manpower.
A 'killing zone'
The castle had the most up-to-date defences of the time. Round 'drum' towers allowed archers a wide firing field which created a 'killing zone' where the fields of fire overlapped. Wider at ground level, these towers, with their five-metre-thick walls, were deliberately designed to splay outwards - making it difficult for siege towers and battering rams to get close.
Originally, there were four corner towers joined by a narrow curtain wall, with half-towers in the middle of each side. They had connecting passageways on the upper floors only, meaning each individual tower would have to be fought over and taken separately by any attackers.
However, with barricade points and murder holes (many sneakily hidden) that enabled the men inside to drop stones or fire arrows down on surprised invaders, the fight to the top would have been difficult and deadly.