The expansion policy pursued by the Norman King Edward I against Wales is evident in the magnificent 13th century castles, which were built or restored to secure the conquests in North Wales. These include the castles of Conwy, Caernarfon and Harlech.
Edward I Castles in County Gwynedd: Facts
|Official title:||Castles and fortified towns of King Edward I in Gwynedd County (Wales)|
|Cultural monument:||Conwy castles designed by the royal builder James of Saint George (d. 1309), Edward I’s first castle complex, Harlech (“Beautiful Rock”), Caernarfon and Beaumaris (“Beautiful Plain”)|
|Country:||UK, North Wales|
|Location:||Caernarfon, Conwy and Harlech, on the edge of Snowdonia National Park in the former County of Gwynedd; Beaumaris on the island of Anglesey|
|Meaning:||very well preserved military architecture of European rank from the time of King Edward I (1272-1307)|
Edward I Castles in County Gwynedd: History
|1283-89||Conwy Castle (River Conwy) with walls up to 4.5 m thick and 8 drum towers|
|1290-93||Harlech Castle (Harlecher March) under the command of James of St. George|
|14th century||St. Mary’s Church (Caernarfon) with wall tower (bell tower and since 1740 sacristy)|
|1628||Sale of Conwy Castle to the Viscount Conwy|
|1914||State-owned Harlech Castle|
|1953||Historic Monument for Conwy Castle|
|07/01/1969||at Caernarfon Castle coronation of Prince Charles as Prince of Wales|
The stone chain
They are regarded as outstanding examples of medieval fortress construction, but especially for the Welsh people they are seen as a chain made of stone. Because the independence-minded people with Celtic origins in the west of the British Isles did not want to bow to the Normans, who had conquered the English south coast and then most of the country in the 11th century. With Edward I’s accession to the throne, however, their fate was sealed. The new king wanted to have peace and quiet in the west of his empire and began a campaign – just like his father and grandfather. English troops crossed the Conwy in north Wales for the first time in 1283. The construction of the stone chain around the fists of the Welsh could begin.
A total of 17 large castles dominate the north and north-east coast of Wales and thus surround Snowdonia, the roof of Wales with Snowdon, the country’s highest mountain, a region to which the militarily weaker Welsh preferred to retreat. In the second half of the 13th century Edward had started the first fortress in Flint, at the end of that century he gave the order to build the last fortress, in Beaumaris on the island of Ynys Mon (Anglesey). Most of the castles are strategically located at an estuary that promised further protection. The best example and one of the most impressive buildings is Conwy Castle, which was completed in four years.
According to commit4fitness, the English king had won James of St. George, who had previously been chief architect of the Counts of Savoy, as builder, and provided him with 1,500 trained workers, including the best stonemasons in the empire, and numerous porters. The outer walls adapt to the terrain. Eight huge, round and crenellated towers, four in the north, four in the south, were watchtowers and the safest refuge for the apartments of the noble residents. Its walls were up to four meters thick. They used the Silurian rock on which the castle stands, yellow-brown lava rock from the region and a red sandstone, which was brought from the area around Chester, was used as a decorative stone on the window openings. In the outer courtyard, the Great Hall was built against the wall. It was the place of daily events, dining room and reception hall at the same time; Edward I did not simply want to exercise an occupation regime, but rather to turn the Welsh into English. In 1284 he enacted the English administrative system for the new colony, and at the same time began an extensive settlement program. About 80 walled cities were created in which only the English had residential and commercial rights. The Welsh people had to stay outside the gates, were allowed to go about farming and supply the new cities. Wherever possible, the city and the fortress formed a unit. Conwy is also a good example of this. The massive city wall starts directly from the castle: 1.3 kilometers long, 1.7 meters thick, with four city gates, 21 towers and twelve latrines that hung on the outside of the wall.
Edward’s son, who would later sit on the throne as Edward II, was born in Wales in 1284. Previously, the heir to the throne should be proclaimed Prince of Wales in 1301 in the English city of Lincoln. In 1969, however, Charles’ investiture took place in Caernarfon, a custom that was only suggested in 1911 by the future Prime Minister David Lloyd George, who grew up in Wales and was a member of the Caernarfon Parliament. Caernarfon is in many ways similar to Conwy: location on the river, eight towers, here already polygonal, more decorative and less defensive, the stone work interwoven with decorative strips of sandstone. Again, the city sticks with perfectly right-angled alleys dividing standard-sized plots of land for the settlers right between the castle and the protective Menai Strait. As early as 1652 the traveler John Taylor recognized: “After Caernarfon, where I thought I had seen a city and a castle, or a castle and a city; but I saw how both were one and one both. ”