Knucklas Castle

Has been described as a Certain Masonry Castle, and also as a Certain Palace (Other)

There are earthwork remains

NameKnucklas Castle
Alternative NamesCnwclas; Conoclas; Knokelace
Historic CountryRadnorshire
Modern AuthorityPowys
1974 AuthorityPowys

The castle at Knucklas is mentioned in 1248 and 1262. The surviving remains are located at the highest point of an irregular hilltop enclosure measuring approximately 183m by 124m and defined by scarps, doubled to the south and east. This is possibly an Iron Age fort. Within this earlier enclosure the medieval castle earthworks are subrectangular, c.23m by 40m but truncated by quarrying to the southwest. There is an inner scarp that defines a platform, 20m by 23m. (Coflein)

Knucklas castle was basically a square construction with substantial stone walls and a circular tower at each corner. Its purpose was to remind the more or less hostile Welsh population who was in charge. But it did not last long as an effective fortification; in 1260 it was by-passed when a Welsh army attacked Knighton, which fell on April 22 that year; but in 1262 Llywelyn II entered Mid Wales with a strong army, besieged Mortimer at Cefnllys, and late in the year sent one of his generals, Owain ap Madog, to attack Knucklas castle with siege engines. The garrison took one look at the engines and surrendered, and the victorious Welsh rendered the fortifications indefensible. That was not quite the end of Knucklas castle's brief history, for there is a mention that it was garrisoned in 1282 when Edmund Mortimer regained control, but this time the English had come to stay, and the need for such a fortification disappeared. The castle is last mentioned in contemporary records in 1316, and it is very unlikely it was anything more than a ruin by the time of Owain Glyndwr's revolt in 1402. (Mid Wales Journal, 1997)

The monument comprises the remains of a castle, a military stronghold built during the medieval period. In origin Cnwclas appears to have consisted of a motte and bailey, a standard design comprising a large conical or pyramidal mound of soil or stone (the motte) surrounded by, or adjacent to, one or more embanked enclosures (the bailey)

Both may be surrounded by wet or dry ditches and could be further strengthened with palisades, revetments, and/or a tower on top of the motte. At a later stage Cnwclas appears to have been modified to include walling in stone. The castle sits on the summit of an irregular hilltop, with the motte occupying the western portion of a large, irregular enclosure which may have been Iron Age in origin, but which probably served as a bailey. This is defined by scarps around its perimeter, which are doubled to the south and east. Its interior drops down from north-west to south-east, with several, possibly natural, shelves visible, and measures at least c.183m west-south-west to east-north-east by c.124m. The topography suggests that it may originally have continued around the contour on the north-west, giving a width of more like c.170m, though a clear scarp cuts off this north-western area from the remainder of the interior and no defences survive around its outer perimeter. The bailey entrance appears to have been immediately to the south of the motte, which would exploit the easiest approach. The motte itself has been badly damaged by quarrying on its top and on its western flank. Some walling is exposed in an external, south-facing section. To the east of the motte is an embanked area measuring c.23m west-south-west to east-north-east by c.40m, within which a scarp defines an inner platform c.23m by c.20m. There is some evidence for a continuation of the embanked area to the south-west of the motte. The castle is mentioned in sources in 1248 and 1262. (Scheduling Report)

Collapsed and turfed over remains of square construction with substantial stone walls and a circular tower at each corner built on hilltop c. 1240. Besieged in 1262. Mentioned in 1282 and 1316 but abandoned some time after this.

Gatehouse Comments

The relative lack of limestone in Wales meant that mortar was often poor and a good number of masonry castles probably collapsed relatively quickly as soon as maintenance of roofs etc. stopped and have had time to become cased in soil, so they look almost motte like. It also explains the reason walls are particular thick in such buildings (Thin walls require solid and well levelled foundations and good mortar). There doesn't really seem to be evidence of anything, other than the ancient Iron Age hill fort, here before the C13 although a dark ages llys is possible as such sites did have cultural significance to the Welsh. It is also possible the castle was founded by Prince Llywelyn ab Iorwerth rather than the Mortimer's although, if so, quickly came into their hands. An English founded castle may have been located near to a reasonable water supply (for horses) rather than this hill top site, which in a dry summer, would soon be out of water and be unable to resist a siege, regardless of siege engines (which would have been most difficult to deploy effectively here but which had much military kudos and which were avidly reported)

- Philip Davis

This site is a scheduled monument protected by law

Not Listed

The National Monument Record (Coflein) number(s)
County Historic Environment Record
OS Map Grid ReferenceSO249745
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  • Davis, Paul, R., 2011, The Forgotten Castles of Wales (Almeley: Logaston Press) p. 174-5
  • Remfry, P., 2008, The Castles and History of Radnorshire (SCS Publishing)
  • Morgan, Gerald, 2008, Castles in Wales: A Handbook (Talybont: Y Lolfa Cyf.) p. 249 (listed)
  • Salter, Mike, 2001, The Castles of Mid Wales (Malvern) p. 64
  • Pettifer, Adrian, 2000, Welsh Castles, A Guide by Counties (Boydell Press) p. 181
  • Reid, Alan, 1998, Castles of Wales (John Jones Publishing) p. 97
  • Remfry, P., 1996, Castles of Radnorshire (Logaston Press) p. 99-100 (plan)
  • King, D.J.C., 1983, Castellarium Anglicanum (London: Kraus) Vol. 2 p. 408-9
  • Fry, P.S., 1980, Castles of the British Isles (David and Charles) p. 361
  • Howse, W.H., 1949, Radnorshire (Hereford) p. 269-70
  • RCAHMW, 1913, An inventory of the Ancient Monuments of Radnorshire (HMSO) p. 24-5 no. 87 online copy
  • Lewis, Samual, 1849, A Topographical Dictionary of Wales online copy [online copy >]


  • Remfry, P., 1997 Sept 5, 'Knucklas Castle' Mid Wales Journal online copy
  • Hogg, A.H.A. and King, D.J.C., 1967, 'Masonry castles in Wales and the Marches: a list' Archaeologia Cambrensis Vol. 116 p. 71-132

Primary Sources

  • 1906, Calendar of Patent Rolls Henry III (1232-47) Vol. 3 p. 489 online copy
  • Williams (ab Ithel), John, (ed), 1860, Annales Cambriae (444 – 1288) (London: Longman, Green, Longman, and Roberts)1262 online copy
  • Christie, R.C. (ed), 1887, Annales Cestrienses: Chronicle of the Abbey of S. Werburg, at Chester p. 83 [online copy >
  • Rickard, John, 2002, The Castle Community. The Personnel of English and Welsh Castles, 1272-1422 (Boydell Press) (lists sources for 1272-1422) p. 400-1