Interestingly, Edward I was not the first castle builder to make use of this strategically important site. The Welsh actually had a fortification on the rocky hilltop, at least as early as the start of the 13th century, and it was probably still occupied by the powerful Princes of Gwynedd when Edward stormed Wales and crushed the unruly Welsh in 1282. Historical records indicate that Dafydd ap Gruffydd, the troublesome brother of Llywelyn the Last, Prince of Wales, had a stronghold at Denbigh, which he may have inherited from his famous ancestor, Llywelyn ab Iorwerth (also known as Llywelyn Fawr, or “the Great”). Indeed, Llywelyn the Great apparently met with an abbot who journeyed to Denbigh from a monastery in England for a meeting in 1230.
Unfortunately, nothing of the native-built castle has survived, but, thanks to historical documents, we do know that it contained a hall, private chambers, a bakehouse, and a buttery. The Welsh inhabitants made a brave showing from inside the castle, lasting a month or so against the might of England’s army. Inevitably, however, the English seized the site.
Just north of Denbigh Castle, an unusual tower stalwartly stands the test of time. The tower is the only reminder of the medieval chapel that once offered services to the castle and the town. Better known as St. Hilary’s, the chapel stood almost midway between the castle gatehouse and the northernmost face the town’s walling. Sadly, only the fine fortified tower survived the demolition efforts of 1923. Religious services were moved to a new church in 1874.