The Ghost of Rhuddlan Castle
Rhuddlan Castle, or Castell Rhuddlan in Welsh, is an impressive ruin on the banks of the river Clwyd in North Wales. Managed by the Welsh heritage organisation, Cadw, it is a popular destination for visitors. From history enthusiasts to families with a love for castles, it is a place of much enjoyment throughout the year.
But the site has had a troubled past, and like many castles up and down the country, Rhuddlan is said to have its own ghost.
What we see of Rhuddlan Castle today are the ruins of the fortress built by Edward I. Part of his chain of fortifications throughout Wales, it was completed in the late 13th Century .
There has been a castle on this site for many years. The area has been fought over since the Saxons battled the native people for control of this area. Rhuddlan was left in the Welsh land when Offa built his famous dyke to control the borders.
Rhuddlan became a seat of power for Gruffydd ap Llwelyn. Considered the last true High King of Wales, this prince turned the tables and plundered English lands to east. The Anglo-Saxon Earl Harold Godwinson took his forces to the dragon's den, and drove Gruffydd from Rhuddlan before burning the fortress to the ground.
Harold Godwinson would soon be King of England, but his days were numbered with the coming of the Normans only three years later.
After Harold's death in 1066 at the Battle of Hastings, the Norman Conquest began. Britain was carved up by William the Conqueror, who gifted estates to his Dukes, and those who swore fealty to him. Rhuddlan was gifted Robert of Rhuddlan, who was a lieutenant of the Earl of Chester, Hugh d'Avaranches.
The castle changed hands several times over the next couple of centuries as the Welsh and Anglo-Norman forces battled for control.
The tempestuous history is reflected in legend, as we see in the story below .
The Knight of the Blood Red Plume
In the north east of Wales, on the banks of the river Clwyd, sits Rhuddlan Castle, an impressive fortification built by Edward I during his campaign to try to tame the Welsh. It has been a place of much strife and bloodshed, with a medieval legend adding to its infamy.
During these times of conflict, efforts were made to unite the north and south of Wales. Peace negotiations had resulted in an arrangement of marriage by the rulers of the respective kingdoms. The north was to offer fair Erilda’s hand to the prince of south Wales. The maiden had objected to this political union and prayed to any who would listen to help her get out of the marriage. It seems that her calls were answered.
On the day of the wedding, she and her betrothed were led to the chapel for the ceremony. Nobles and dignitaries from north and south attended in their finest attire, with weapons left behind as a token of respect for the hallowed ground. With murmurs of excitement and anticipation, the guests were filled with hope that this union would bring peace to Wales.
Just before the vows were to be exchanged, the doors burst open, and a knight raced in. His helm was decorated with a plume of crimson, and his armour was the finest any had ever seen. Striding purposefully to the bride and groom, he pushed the prince aside and approached fair Erilda. Crying out with joy, she kissed the handsome fellow as he took her in his arms. But her happiness was to be short lived.
Just before the vows were to be exchanged, the doors burst open, and a knight raced in... Striding purposefully to the bride and groom, he pushed the prince aside and approached fair Erilda.
Releasing Erilda from his embrace, he held her fast by the hand as he drew his blade. The knight then swung his sword and cut off the head of the young prince, which landed on the chapel flagstones with a meaty thud. As the groom's body slumped to the floor, the knight then drove his blade through the heart of Erilda’s father. The wedding guests screamed and clamoured in panic, climbing over each other to escape the swinging sword of this unexpected visitor.
The would-be bride was frozen in the knight's grip as this dreadful scene unfolded before her eyes. Traumatised by the bloodshed, Erilda could do nothing against her saviour who dragged her screaming, out of the chapel. The fair maid was never to be seen alive again.
Many believe that the knight was an infernal angel, sent from Hell with a mission of discord. The events at the wedding that day caused old feuds to be reignited.
Traumatised by the bloodshed, Erilda could do nothing against her saviour who dragged her screaming, out of the chapel. The fair maid was never to be seen alive again.
What was to be the feast night of the wedding became a devastating evening of outrage, anger and blame, as each guest accused the other of arranging the kidnapping and murders. All previous efforts towards obtaining peace were ruined that day, and Wales once again was thrown into turmoil.
It is said that as the knight fled with Erilda, the glamour of his spell faded and he revealed himself as a daemon with scaly skin and eyes like hot coals. Some say that the princess died of fright the moment she saw him in his devilish form. Others believe that he drowned her in the river Clwyd.
To this day, Erilda’s spirit remains bound to the place of this tragedy. Her phantom is sometimes glimpsed in Rhuddlan Castle, her sobs and cries echoing among the walls at night. Her soul is unable to find peace after the bloody events of her wedding day.
Is there any Truth to the Tale?
Whilst the above story is gripping and gory, it is not likely to be an account of a factual event.
"The Unknown! Or The Knight of the Blood-Red Plume" appeared in "Welsh Legends: A Collection of Popular Oral Tales" in 1802 . The Editor, William Earle, describes how each story collected is a traditional legend, passed down through the generations in the way of folklore.
There are many who state that Ann Julia Hatton, also known as Ann of Swansea, fabricated this story herself; a work of fiction being passed off as a genuine legend. In the "Encyclopedia of Gothic Fiction", it is stated that Ann had written this story for Minerva Press's Gothic Fiction series, in the earlier part of the 19th Century .
In the original tale, Erilda falls in love with a mysterious knight and enters a pact to elope with him. Betrothed to another, she is convinced by the knight to murder her father during her escape from Rhuddlan Castle. The knight eventually reveals himself to his true form; a scaly green daemon, before explaining his devilish plot to Erilda and running her through with a trident!  This element has been lost over the years in the re-tellings.
Gothic horror was at its peak later in the 19th Century with the readers of the Victorian period, and the tale of a dreadful punishment for refusing to obey one's parents struck a chord with the morals of the age.
"The Unknown! Or The Knight of the Blood-Red Plume" has been recounted and retold many times. The most widely circulated version appeared in "Haunted Castles of Britain and Ireland" by Richard Jones .
But fear not. Like any ancient abode, there may still be ghosts walking the grounds. I have heard accounts of the sound of the footsteps of marching soldiers on the site, and with all its history, there is certainly an atmosphere at Rhuddlan.
Why not visit the place, and see if you can find a ghost for yourself?
Visiting Rhuddlan Castle
Rhuddlan Castle is open daily from 10.00 - 17.00, including Bank Holidays from April to November. The site is closed for the rest of the year.
Visit the castle's website for details of opening hours and events at the castle.
There is a fee for admissions, with prices available from the website. Free entry to members of Cadw. You can find out more about membership here.
The castle grounds are mostly flat, and much of the site is accessible to those with mobility issues. There are some unprotected drops, and naturally care must be taken when exploring the ruins.There are toilet facilities including a disabled toilet and baby changing. Parking is available on site, and visitors can also purchase refreshments on site or take their own picnic. Dogs are welcome, but clean up after them if they leave any mess!
Rhuddlan Castle is a Cadw site, not far from the seaside town of Rhyl in North Wales.
© 2015 Pollyanna Jones
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