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The castle on the hill was built by Llywelyn ap Iorweth (Llywelyn Fawr) in the 1230s when Criccieth became the administrative centre for the commote of Eifionydd. In 1282 Wales was conquered and the English strengthened and extended the castle. A borough was laid out at the foot of the hill where only Englishmen were allowed to live. In 1337 three Welshmen were expelled. Some of the local gentry supported the English king, learnt to speak English and fought in their wars. One of these was Hywel ap Gruffydd from “Bron y Foel” on the flank of Moel y Gest, a descendant of Collwyn ap Tagno Lord of Eifionydd. The records and stories vary, but it is probable that he fought in several battles during the Hundred Years War against the French. The account by Alltud Eifion (Robert Isaac Jones) in the book “Y Gestiana” is doubtful and is probably the source of the legend that at the Battle of Poitiers (1356) he chopped off the head of the King of France’s horse with his battle axe and took the king prisoner. It was at the earlier Battle of Crecy (1346) that he first achieved fame and was knighted on the battlefield. He was present during Poitiers and this is when his bravery and prowess with the axe came to the attention of Edward “the Black Prince”, son of Edward III of England. He was granted several privileges and in 1359 was made Constable of Criccieth Castle and Mayor of the Borough. It is said that the Black Prince gave the weapon a place of honour in the royal hall, ordering food to be served before it daily. According to legend a side of meat was given to the people of Criccieth every market day. There are several “cywydd” (praise poems) about Sir Hywel. One very long one by Iolo Goch describes the life
of Hywel as constable in the castle. Another one by Hugh ap Reinallt describes his bravery in battle. Sir Hywel y Fwyall died c 1381. Where he is buried is unknown; some stories say St Catherine’s Church in Criccieth, others say in Clynnog. There was one son, Gruffydd, who left no direct heirs. Several old Eifionydd families traced their descent from his elder brother, Einion. Ironically, his nephew Robert ap Maredudd of Cefn y Fan (now Ystumcegid) fought on the side of Owain Glynd?r in the uprising when, in 1403, the castle was so badly damaged and burnt that it was never garrisoned by the English again and the town became, and still is, a Welsh community.

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