Situated just a few miles from Rhyl, Rhuddlan is often regarded as a mere suburb of its popular seaside neighbour. However, the town’s strategic location resulted in Rhuddlan playing a key role in the history of Wales. Rhuddlan Castle played an important role in this story and is now the most important visitor attraction in the town. Historically, Rhuddlan will always be remembered as the place where the judicial administration of Wales was signed over to the English in the Statute of Rhuddlan in 1284.
Now a tranquil town, Rhuddlan has had a dramatic and turbulent past. Razed to the ground on more than one occasion and frequently plundered and pillaged, Rhuddlan suffered for its location. As the battle waged between the Britons and the Saxons, Rhuddlan changed hands according to the tides of war but it was not until the Norman Conquest that Rhuddlan would begin to play a part in the events that shaped the history of Wales.
At the time of the invasion, Rhuddlan was the seat of Gruffydd ap Llywelyn, commonly known as the King of the Britons. He had a royal seat at Rhuddlan from which he and has men would take pillaging and plundering excursions across the border to Wrexham and Oswestry. However, in 1062, Earl Harold Godwinson ousted him from Rhuddlan and burnt down his palace. To consolidate their power, the Normans would build motte and bailey castles throughout their lands and an early Rhuddlan Castle was thrown up in 1073. Rhuddlan was now in the power of one Robert of Rhuddlan who had served as a squire for Edward the Confessor. He was granted the rule of Rhuddlan as well as the lands north of the Clwyd – Rhuddlan Castle was a stronghold from which he could enforce his powers. Of this first Rhuddlan Castle which was built in wood nothing remains beyond the impressive mound upon which it was built. The remains of Rhuddlan Castle which you can now see date from 1277. An impressive stronghold, its diamond shaped inner ward was protected by a high curtain wall and provisions could be brought to the castle by the River Clwyd.
By the mid thirteenth century, Rhuddlan would again pass between the hands of the English and Welsh. Under the rule of King Henry III, disunity both in England and Wales enabled the rise of Llywelyn III of Gwynedd or Llywelyn the Last. Popular with the disgruntled Welsh, he soon became known as the “Prince of Wales” and Henry III was forced into acknowledging his power. However, times would change with a new king. Edward I was angered at the refusal of the Prince of Wales to submit to his authority and resolved to gain his submission by force of arms. Llywelyn was eventually forced to surrender. Edward I immediately set about building a Ring of Fortresses to ensure that the conquered areas of Wales would not fall to the Welsh again.
The Statue of Rhuddlan (1284) was signed in Rhuddlan on the site where the Parliament House now stands. It united the Principality of Wales with the Kingdom of England and also granted Rhuddlan a Royal Charter. A plaque on the outside wall states the Statute of Rhuddlan would secure Welsh, “judicial rights and independence’ when of course all it secured was the subjugation of the Welsh by the English. According to the Statute of Rhuddlan, the speaking of Welsh would not be tolerated for official purposes and the laws of the land would by laid down by their neighbours.