Iron Ring

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Harlech Castle
Caernarfon Castle

The Iron Ring was a system of castles built by King Edward I after his conquest of the principality of Gwynedd, set in a ring around Snowdonia in order to suppress rebellion from those wild mountains. The castles were all within a day's march of each other and able to be supplies by sea in case of siege. The success of the system is demonstrated by the scarcity and brevity of rebellions following the conquest, until the Glyndwr rebellion by which time the system had been neglected.

The sites collectively have been declared by UNESCO a 'World Heritage Site' by the name 'Castles and Town Walls of King Edward in Gwynedd', as the "finest examples of late 13th century and early 14th century military architecture in Europe".[1].

The 'Iron Ring' includes:

There can also be included within the system:


The castles and fortifications of the Iron Ring were built by King Edward I after his invasion of North Wales in 1282. Edward defeated the Prince of Gwynedd, Llywelyn, and his allied princes in a major campaign. He then dissolved the Principality of Gwynedd and its allies and set about permanently colonising the area. He created new fortified towns, protected by castles, in which English immigrants could settle and from which to administer the new territories. The castle-building project was hugely expensive and stretched royal resources to the limit, but proved valuable as fresh revolts followed in 1294 under the leadership of Madog ap Llywelyn. Conwy and Harlech were kept supplied by sea and held out against the attack, but Caernarfon, still only partially completed, was stormed. In the aftermath, Edward reinvigorated the building programme and ordered the commencement of work at Beaumaris.

Later however, Edward's wars in Scotland began to consume royal funding, however, and work soon slowed once again. Building work on all the fortifications had ceased by 1330, before Caernarfon and Beaumaris had been fully completed.

The fortifications played an important part in the conflicts over the coming centuries. They were involved in the Glyndŵr Rising of the early 15th century and the Wars of the Roses in the late 15th century. Despite declining in military significance following the succession of the Tudor dynasty to the throne in 1485, they were suddenly pressed back into service during the Civil War in the 17th century.

After the Civil War, Parliament ordered the slighting, or deliberate destruction, of parts of Conway and Harlech, but the threat of a pro-Royalist invasion from Scotland ensured that Caernarfon and Beaumaris remained intact. By the end of the 17th century, however, the castles were ruinous. They became popular with visiting artists during the late 18th and early 19th centuries, and visitor numbers increased as access to the region improved during the Victorian period. The British state invested heavily in the castles and town walls during the 20th century, restoring many of their mediæval features. In 1986 the sites were collectively declared to be a World Heritage Site, as outstanding examples of fortifications and military architecture built in the 13th century, and are now operated as tourist attractions by the Welsh heritage agency Cadw.

The location of castles such as Caernarfon and Conwy were chosen for their political significance as well as military functions, being built on top of sites belonging to the Welsh princes. The castles incorporated luxury apartments and gardens, with the intention of supporting large royal courts in splendour. Caernarfon's castle and town walls incorporated expensive stonework, probably intended to evoke images of Arthurian or Roman imperial power in order to bolster Edward's personal prestige.



Edward I portrait in Westminster Abbey

The Edwardian castles and town walls were built as a consequence of the wars fought for the control of Wales in the late 13th century. The kings of England and the Welsh princes had vied for control of the region since the 1070s, with Norman and English nobles and settlers slowly expanding their territories over several centuries.[2] In the 1260s, however, the ruler of Gwynedd, Llywelyn ap Gruffudd, exploited a civil war between King Henry III and rebel barons in England to become the dominant power in Wales, and the King formally recognised him as Prince of Wales under the Treaty of Montgomery.[3]

Edward I became the king of England in 1272, bringing extensive experience of warfare and sieges, having fought in Wales in 1257, led the six-month siege of Kenilworth Castle in 1266 and joined the crusade to North Africa in 1270.[4] He had seen numerous European fortifications, including the planned walled town and castle design at Aigues-Mortes.[5] On assuming the throne, one of Edward's first actions was to renovate and extend the royal fortress of the Tower of London.[5] Edward was also responsible for building a sequence of planned, usually walled, towns called bastides across Gascony as part of his attempt to strengthen his authority in the region.[6] Edward also authorised new planned towns to be built across England.[6]

Relations between Edward and Llywelyn rapidly collapsed as Llywelyn withheld the customary homage to the king and consorted with his enemies. Initial conflict ended with Llywelyn losing much of his land in the Treaty of Aberconwy of 1277.[7] Then a rebellion by Llywelyn's brother Dafydd in 1282 brought about the final war.

War of 1282–83

Reconstruction of Conway Castle and town walls at the end of the 13th century

On the rebellion by Llwelyn's brother, Dafydd ap Gruffydd,[8] Edward mobilised a royal army of 8,000 foot soldiers and 750 cavalry, which he marched north to Rhuddlan, while in southern and mid-Wales, forces of the Marcher Lords advanced from Carmarthen and Montgomery.[9] Edward then mounted a naval invasion of the Isle of Anglesey and formed a temporary bridge to cross over onto the mainland, taking the war into the Welsh heartlands of Snowdonia.[8] Llywelyn was killed that December, and in early 1283 Dafydd was captured and executed.[8]

Rather than planting a new, dependent prince on the land, Edward chose to permanently colonise North Wales instead. The remaining royal family of Llwelyn and Dafydd was removed and their lands divided amongst major Welsh and English nobles.[8] The governance of Wales was reformed, and the arrangements set out in the Statute of Rhuddlan, enacted on 3 March 1284. Wales was divided into counties, emulating he way England was governed, with three new shires created in the north-west: Caernarfon, Merioneth and Anglesey.[10]

The Iron Ring

Edward had found that Snowdonia, the vast mountain fastness of north-west Wales provided a natural fortress to which the princes of Gwynedd and later resistance could withdraw, and from which they could burst forth upon Edward's armies. He therefore determined to hold down this fortress by a ring of castles, all in a mutually supporting system, with a supply line from Chester by way of Flint Castle in the east to Rhuddlan Castle, and around the coasts beneath the mountains, at Conway, guarding the bridge on the river, Caernarfon, and over the water at Beaumaris, and Harlech.

In 1283 Edward ordered the construction of his new castles and walled towns, and encouraged substantial migration to the region from England.[11] Amongst these were Caernarfon Castle and its walled town, overlooking the River Seiont; Conwy Castle and its walled town, controlling a crossing point over the River Conwy; and Harlech Castle, protecting a sea port and newly established town. Plans were probably made to establish a castle and walled settlement near the strategically important town of Llanfaes on Anglesey, the future Beaumaris, but were postponed due to the costs of the other projects.[10]

The new towns were important administrative centres for the new governmental structures, and Caernarfon and Harlech were the centres of new shires. The castles were key military centres, but were also designed to function as royal palaces, capable of supporting the king and queen's households in secure comfort. Several of the projects also carried special symbolic importance.[12] Conwy was deliberately sited on the top of Aberconwy Abbey, the traditional burial place of the Welsh princes, while the abbey was relocated eight miles inland.[13] The native rulers had prized the former Roman site at Caernarfon for its imperial symbolism, and parts of the fortifications of the Welsh princes were seized and symbolically reused to build Edward's new castle there,[14] the walls using banded stonework in the Roman manner. The site of Harlech Castle was associated with the legend of Branwen, a Welsh princess.[15]

Reconstruction of Caernarfon Castle and town walls at the end of the 13th century

Edward employed trusted architects and engineers to run the projects, most prominently the Savoyard Master James of St George, but also Edward's close friend Otto de Grandson, the soldier Sir John de Bonvillars and the master mason John Francis.[16] Edward had built castles in the wake of the 1272 conflict, usually larger and more expensive than those of the local Welsh rulers, but the new fortifications were on a still grander scale. Carpenters, ditch diggers and stonemasons were gathered by local sheriffs from across England and mustered at Chester and Bristol, before being sent to the new sites in the spring, returning home each winter.[17] The number of workers involved was so great that it placed a significant strain on England's national labour force.[18] The costs were huge: Caernarfon's castle and walls cost £15,500, Conwy's castle and walls came to around £15,000 and Harlech Castle cost £8,190 to construct.[19]

The walled towns were planned out in a regular fashion, drawing both on the experience of equivalent bastides in France and on various English planned settlements. Their new residents were migrants, with the local Welsh banned from living inside the walls. The towns had varying levels of success. Measured in terms of burgages, town properties rented from the Crown by citizens, Conwy had 99 around 1295, and Caernarfon had 57 in 1298. Harlech lagged badly behind in terms of growth, and the town had only 24 and a half burgages in 1305.[20] The castles were entrusted by Edward to constables, charged to defend them and, in some cases, also empowered to defend the town walls as well. Permanent garrisons of soldiers were established, 40 at Caernarfon, 30 at Conwy and 36 at Harlech, equipped with crossbows and armour.[21] The castles and towns were all ports and could be supplied by sea if necessary, an important strategic advantage as Edward's navy had near total dominance around the Welsh coastline. The castles were each equipped with a rear or postern gate that would allow them to resupplied directly by sea even if the town had fallen.

Rebellion of 1294–95

Reconstruction of Harlech Castle in the early 14th century

Edwards's fortifications were tested in 1294 when Madog ap Llywelyn rebelled against English rule, the first major insurrection since the conquest. Madog appears to have encouraged a rising over the introduction of taxation, and he had considerable popular support.[8] By the end of the year, Edward had returned to Wales with a large army and marched west from Chester, reaching his castle at Conwy by Christmas.[8] Here he was trapped and besieged until January 1295, supplied only by sea, before forces arrived to relieve him in February.[22] Harlech was also besieged but was saved from defeat by the arrival of supplies by sea from Ireland.[23] Caernarfon, however, was still only partially completed and was stormed by rebel forces and the castle and town set alight.[24] In Anglesey, rebels killed the royal sheriff.[25] In the spring Edward pressed home his counterattack with a force of 35,000 soldiers, putting down the uprising and killing Madog.[8]

In the aftermath of the rebellion, Edward ordered work to recommence on repairing and completing Caernarfon. Once Anglesey was reoccupied he also began to progress the delayed plans to fortify the area.[25] The chosen site was called Beaumaris and was about 1.0 mile (1.6 km) from the Welsh town of Llanfaes. The decision was therefore taken to move the Welsh population some 12.0 miles (19.3 km) south-west, where a settlement by the name of Newborough was created for them.[25] The deportation of the local Welsh opened the way for the construction of an English town, protected by a substantial castle.[26] A furious programme of building work commenced on the site under the direction of James of St George, the workforce sheltering in temporary huts in the centre of the half-built fortification. The project was very expensive, frequently falling into arrears, and by 1300 had cost around £11,000.[27] Despite the absence of town walls, the surrounding settlement grew quickly and by 1305 it had 132 and a quarter burgages paying rent to the Crown.[20]

By 1300 only Harlech and Conwy had been properly completed: Caernarfon's town walls were finished, but much of the castle was still incomplete and at Beaumaris Castle the inner walls was only half their intended height, with gaps in the outer walls.[28] By 1304 the total building programme in Wales had come to at least £80,000, almost six times Edward's annual income.[29] Edward had meanwhile become embroiled in a long-running sequence of wars in Scotland which began to consume his attention and financial resources, and as a result further work on the Welsh castles slowed to a crawl.[30] In 1306 Edward became concerned about a possible Scottish invasion of North Wales, spurring fresh construction work, but money remained much more limited than before.[31] By 1330 all new work had finally ceased, and Caernarfon and Beaumaris were never fully completed.[32]


The North Gate in Caernarfon's town walls

Maintaining the castles proved challenging, and they rapidly fell into disrepair. The money given to the castle constables to enable them to maintain and garrison the castles had not been generous to start with, but the sums provided declined considerably during the 14th century.[33] The constable of Conwy Castle had been provided with £190 a year in 1284, but this fell away to £40 a year by the 1390s; Harlech's funding fell similarly from £100 a year to only £20 by 1391.[33] By 1321 a survey reported that Conwy was poorly equipped, with limited stores and suffering from leaking roofs and rotten timbers, and in the 1330s, [Edward III was advised that none of the castles were in fit state to host the royal court should he visit the region.[34] A 1343 survey showed that Beaumaris needed extensive work, with several of the towers in a ruinous conditions.[35]

Repairs and renovations were sometimes carried out. When Edward II was threatened in South Gwynedd by the Mortimer family of Marcher Lords, he ordered his sheriff, Sir Gruffudd Llywd, to extend the defences leading up to the gatehouse with additional towers.[36] Edward, the Black Prince carried out extensive work at Caernarfon after he took over control of the fortification in 1343.[34]

Richard II and the Glyndŵr Rising

In August 1399, King Richard II returned from Ireland and took shelter in the castle from the forces of his rival, Henry Bolingbroke.[37] Henry Percy, Bolingbroke's emissary, went into the castle to conduct negotiations with the king.[37] Henry Percy took an oath in the castle chapel to protect the king if he agreed to leave the castle, but when Richard left he was promptly taken prisoner, and was taken away to die later in captivity at Pontefract Castle.

John Speed's Beaumaris

The deposed king Richard II had been popular amongst the Welsh nobility, who were thus reluctant to accept the usurpation by Henry Bolingbroke, the new King Henry IV. In 1400, Owain Glyndŵr rebelled over a lost inheritance claim and a personal feud with the King's adviser, Lord Grey: Glyndŵr invaded Grey's lands, and the action turned into a general revolt, drawing many discontented Welsh lords to his side in the Glyndŵr Rising.[38]

At the start of the conflict, Harlech's garrison was badly equipped, and Conwy had fallen into disrepair.[39] Conwy Castle was taken at the start of the conflict by two Welsh brothers, who took control of the fortress in a sneak attack, enabling Welsh rebels to attack and capture the rest of the walled town.[40] Caernarfon was besieged in 1401, and that November the Battle of Tuthill took place nearby between Caernarfon's defenders and the besieging force.[41] In 1403 and 1404, Caernarfon was besieged again by Welsh troops with support from French forces, but withstood the attacks.[42] Beaumaris fared less well. It was placed under siege and captured by the rebels in 1403, only being retaken by royal forces in 1405.[43] Harlech was attacked and taken at the end of 1404, becoming Glyndŵr's military headquarters until English forces under the command of the future King Henry V retook the castle in a siege over the winter of 1408–09.[44] By 1415 the uprising had been completely crushed, but the performance of the great castles and town walls is assessed by historian Michael Prestwich to have been "no more than partially successful".[33]

The Wars of the Roses and the Tudors

The reign Henry VI, grandson of Glyndŵr's enemy, was convulsed with rebellion, first by Richard Duke of York and continued by his sons and their allies, and thus began a series of civil wars known as the Wars of the Roses, between the rival factions of the House of Lancaster and House of York. After the Battle of Northampton in 1460, Harlech formed a refuge for Queen Margaret of Anjou, and between 1461–68 it was held by her Lancastrian supporters, under the command of Dafydd ap Ieuan, against the Yorkist Edward IV.[45] Thanks to its natural defences and the supply route by sea, Harlech held out and eventually became the last major stronghold still under Lancasterian control.[46] It finally fell after a month's siege, the events credited with inspiring the song Men of Harlech.[47]

The ascension of the Tudor dynasty to the English throne in 1485 marked the end of the Wars of the Roses and heralded a change in the way Wales was administered. The Tudors were Welsh in origin, and their rule eased hostilities between the Welsh and English. As a result, the Edwardian castles became less important. They were neglected.

In 1538 it was reported that many castles in Wales were "moche ruynous and ferre in decaye for lakke of tymely reparations".[48] Harlech appears not to have been repaired following the 1468 siege, and became completely dilapidated.[49] Conwy was restored by Henry VIII in the 1520s and 1530s, but soon fell into disrepair once again, and was sold off by the Crown in 1627.[50] Complaints about the poor state of Beaumaris mounted, and by 1609 the castle was classed as "utterlie decayed".[51] Caernarfon Castle's walls were intact, but buildings inside were rotten and falling down.[42] In 1610 the cartographer John Speed produced a famous sequence of pictorial maps of the towns of North Wales, including their castles and town defences, which have become iconic images of the sites at the turn of the 17th century.[52]

The Civil War

Harlech's gatehouse, slighted by Parliament

The Civil War broke out in 1642 between the Royalist supporters of King Charles I and the supporters of Parliament. The castles of the Iron Ring were held by supporters of the king and in some cases became strategically important as part of the communications route between royal forces operating in Great Britain and supplies and reinforcements in Ireland.[53] The castles and towns' defences were repaired at considerable expense and brought back into service, garrisoned by local Royalists.[54] Parliament in time gained the upper hand in England, but entered North Wales in earnest only in 1646. Caernarfon, Beaumaris and Conway were taken that year.[55] Harlech, the last fortress to hold out for the king, surrendered in March 1647, marking the end of the first phase of the civil war.[56]

After the war, Parliament ordered the slighting of castles across the country, deliberately destroying or damaging the structures to prevent them being used in any subsequent Royalist uprisings.[57] King Edward's castles proved to be a special case, as there were concerns that Charles II might lead a Presbyterian uprising in Scotland and mount a sea-borne attack on the region.[57] Conwy, Caernarfon and Beaumaris were initially garrisoned by Parliament to defend against such an attack.[58] Conwy was later partially slighted in 1655, but Caernarfon and Beaumaris escaped entirely.[59] Harlech, less of a potential target, was rendered unusable by Parliament, but was not totally demolished.[60]

In 1660, Charles II was restored to the throne and ownership of the castles changed once again. Beaumaris was restored to the control of the Bulkeley family, traditionally the constables of the castle, who promptly stripped the castle of any remaining materials, including the roofs, and Conway was returned to the Conway family, who stripped down the castle for lead and timber, reducing it to a ruin as well.[61] Charles' new government regarded Caernarfon's castle and town walls as a security risk and ordered them to be destroyed, but this order was never carried out, possibly because of the costs involved in doing so.[62]

Modernity: picturesque ruins

Turner: Caernarfon Castle

The castles of the Iron Ring began to pass into varied private ownership. Lord Thomas Bulkeley bought Beaumaris from the Crown in 1807, incorporating it into the park that surrounded his local residence.[63] Conway Castle was leased by the descendants of the Conways to the Holland family.[64] In the late 18th and 19th centuries, the ruined castles started to be considered picturesque and sublime, attracting visitors and artists from across a wide area. The fashion was encouraged by the events of the Napoleonic Wars at the turn of the 19th century, which made it difficult for British artists to visit the continent, leading many to travel to Snowdonia instead.[65] These artists included John Cotman, Henry Gastineau, Thomas Girtin, Moses Griffith, Julius Ibbetson, Paul Sandby, J. M. W. Turner and John Varley.[66] The sites became heavily overgrown with ivy and other vegetation. In the 1830s the stonework of Caenarfon Castle began to collapse, and the Crown employed Anthony Salvin to conduct emergency repairs.[67]

Transport infrastructure to the region began to improve throughout the 19th century, adding to the flow of visitors to the sites, including the future Queen Victoria in 1832.[68] Academic research into the sites, particularly Caernarfon and Conwy, began to occur in the middle of the 19th century.[69] Local and central government interest began to increase.

In 1865 Conwy Castle passed to the civic leadership of Conwy town, which began restoration work on the ruins, including the reconstruction of the slighted Bakehouse tower.[64]

From the 1870s onwards, the government funded repairs to Caernarfon Castle. The deputy-constable, Llewellyn Turner, oversaw the work, controversially restoring and rebuilding the castle, rather than simply conserving the existing stonework.[70] Despite the protests of local residents, the moat to the north of the castle was cleared of post-mediæval buildings that were considered to spoil the view.[71]

State restoration

Conwy Castle, flanked by three 19th- and 20th-century bridges

In the early 20th century the state began to reacquire control of the sites. Caernarfon had never left the direct control of the Crown, but Harlech was transferred to the control of the Office of Works in 1914, Beaumaris followed in 1925 and Conway was finally leased to the Ministry of Works in 1953.[72] The state invested heavily in conservation of the sites. The 1920s saw large-scale conservation programmes at both Beaumaris and Harlech, stripping back the vegetation, digging out the moat and repairing the stonework, but otherwise leaving the sites intact and avoiding outright restoration.[73] Major work was undertaken at Conwy in the 1950s and 1960s, including the clearing away of newer buildings encroaching on the 13th-century walls.[74]

In 1911, Caernarfon Castle was the site of the investiture of the Prince of Wales (later King Edward VIII), which was the first investiture in Wales for centuries. In 1969 Caernarfon was again used for the investiture of Prince Charles as Prince of Wales; the first time the Prince took his oath in the Welsh language.

Academic research increased at the turn of the 20th century, and as the Ministry of Works took control of the sites, government spending on these investigations began.[75] Historians such as Sidney Toy and Charles Peers published work on the sites, and research continued under Arnold Taylor, who joined the Office of Works as an assistant inspector in 1935.[69] Major academic reports were published in the 1950s, adding to the sites' reputation.[76] Taylor was also instrumental in the successful opposition to road projects proposed in the 1970s which would have had a substantial impact on the appearance of Conway Castle.[77] In the late 20th century, detailed reconstructions of the castles were painted by historical artists including Terry Ball, John Banbury and Ivan Lapper.[78]

In 1984 Cadw was created and took over the management of the castles of Wales, operating them as tourist attractions.[79] In 2007, over 530,000 visits were made to the sites.[80]

World Heritage site

In 1986, Beaumaris, Caernarfon, Conway and Harlech Castles and associated town walls were collectively declared a UNESCO World Heritage site, entitled the Castles and Town Walls of King Edward in Gwynedd. UNESCO considered the castles and town walls to be the "finest examples of late 13th century and early 14th century military architecture in Europe".[1] UNESCO also cited the importance of their links to Edward I and James of St George, their scale and advanced military architecture, and their unusually good condition and historical documentation.[81] The sites require ongoing maintenance, and as an example of this it cost £239,500 between 2002–03 to maintain the historical parts of the properties.[82] "Buffer zones" have been established around the sites, aimed to protect the views and setting from inappropriate development or harm.[83]

The castles are protected by law, each being a Scheduled Ancient Monument and a Listed Building.[84]

The castles

Beaumaris Castle

The moated north-west walls
Main article: Beaumaris Castle

Beaumaris Castle was built at around sea-level and was constructed from local Anglesey stone.[85] The castle design formed an inner and an outer ward, surrounded in turn by a moat, now partially filled.[86] The main entrance to the castle was the "Gate next the Sea", next to the castle's tidal dock that allowed it to be supplied directly by sea.[87] The dock was protected by a wall later named the Gunners Walk and a firing platform that may have housed a trebuchet siege engine during the Middle Ages.[88] The outer ward consisted of an eight-sided curtain wall with twelve turrets; one gateway led out to the Gate next the Sea, and the other, the Llanfaes Gate, led out to the north side of the castle.[89] The walls of the inner ward were more substantial than those of the outer ward, with huge towers and two large gatehouses.[90] The inner ward was intended to hold the accommodation and other domestic buildings of the castle, with ranges of buildings stretching along the west and east sides of the ward; some of the remains of the fireplaces for these buildings can still be seen in the stonework.[91]

Historian Arnold Taylor described Beaumaris as Britain's "most perfect example of symmetrical concentric planning", and for many years the castle was regarded as the pinnacle of military engineering during Edward I's reign.[92] The castle is considered by UNESCO to be a "unique artistic achievement" for the way in which is combines "characteristic 13th century double-wall structures with a central plan" and for the beauty of its "proportions and masonry".[93]

Harlech Castle

Harlech Castle
Main article: Harlech Castle

Harlech Castle stands on the spur of rock called the Harlech Dome overlooking the sea and the town. It has a concentric design, with one line of defences enclosed by another, forming an inner and outer ward; the outer wall was originally somewhat taller than today.[94] Harlech is built from local grey-green sandstone, with large, regular blocks used for the towers and irregular material, possibly taken from the ditch, used for the walls.[95] The main entrance to the castle would have involved crossing a stone bridge between the two easterly ditch bridge towers and the main gatehouse; little remains of the bridge towers today and a timber entrance way to the gatehouse replaces the bridge.[96] A water gate overlooks a protected stairway of 127 steps that runs down to the foot of the cliffs.[97]

The gatehouse has two massive "D-shaped" defensive towers flanking the entrance.[98] The passage into the castle was guarded by three portcullises and at least two heavy doors.[99] The gatehouse has two upper floors, broken up into various rooms.[100] Each floor has three large windows overlooking the inner ward; the second floor has two additional grand windows on the sides of the gatehouse. The gatehouse was fitted with fireplaces and would originally have had prominent chimneys.[101] The inner ward is guarded by four large circular towers which at various times housed a dungeon and an artillery workshop.[102] Several ranges of buildings were built around the inner ward, including a chapel, kitchen, service buildings, a granary and a great hall.[103] The battlements may originally have been built with triple finials in a similar fashion to Conway, although little remains of these in the modern era.[104]

Caernarfon Castle and town walls

Caernarfon's North East Tower and town walls
Main article: Caernarfon Castle

Caernarfon Castle is divided into an upper and lower ward. The lower ward contained royal accommodation, while the upper consisted of service facilities and the accommodation for the garrison. These are surrounded by a curtain wall, defended by polygonal towers. Defensive firing galleries were built along the southern side of the castle. There are two main entrances, the King's Gate, leading from the tow, and the Queen's Gate, allowing more direct access to the castle. All that remains of the buildings contained within the castle are the foundations.[105] If Caernarfon been completed as intended, it would have been able to contain a royal household of several hundred people.[106] In the opinion of military historian Allen Brown, Caernarfon was "one of the most formidable concentrations of fire-power to be found in the Middle Ages".[107]

Caernarfon's town walls present an unbroken circuit of 800 yards around the town centre, enclosing ten acres.[108] They are mostly built from the same carboniferous limestone used at the castle.[109] The eight towers along the wall are mostly "gap-backed", lacking walls on the inside of the towers, and originally included removable wooden bridges to allow sections of the walls to be sealed off from attackers.[110] The two original entrances to the town were through the West and East Gates. The West Gate faced onto the harbour, and was also known as the Golden Gate, named after the principal gateway in the city of Constantinople.

Conway Castle

Conwy Castleand town walls
Main article: Conwy Castle

Conwy Castle hugs a rocky coastal ridge of grey sandstone and limestone, and much of the stone from the castle is largely taken from the ridge itself, probably when the site was first cleared.[111] The castle has a rectangular plan and is divided into an inner and outer ward, with four large towers on each side.[112] The main entrance to the castle is through the western barbican, an exterior defence in front of the main gate.[113] The barbican features the earliest surviving stone machicolations in Britain.[114] A postern gate originally led down to the river where a small dock was built, allowing key visitors to enter the castle in private and for the fortress to be resupplied by boat.[115] Conwy's outer ward was originally crowded with administrative and service buildings.[116] The inner ward was separated from the outer by a wall, a drawbridge and a gate, protected by a ditch cut into the rock.[117] Inside, it contained the chambers for the royal household, their immediate staff and service facilities. On the east side of the inner ward is another barbican, enclosing the castle garden.[118]

The Conwy town walls form a largely unbroken triangular circuit of almost a mile around the town, enclosing 25 acres.[119] They are mostly built from the same local sand- and limestone used at the castle, but with additional rhyolite stone used along the upper parts of the eastern walls.[120] When first built, the walls were possibly whitewashed.[121] The 21 surviving towers are mostly "gap-backed", lacking walls on the inside of the towers, and originally included removable wooden bridges to allow sections of the walls to be sealed off from attackers.[122] The tops of the walls feature an unusual design that uses a sequence of corbels to provide a flat, relatively wide wall-walk.[123] A unique set of twelve mediæval latrines is built into the southern town walls, first constructed for the use of royal staff working in adjacent buildings in the 13th century.[124]

Rhuddlan Castle

Main article: Rhuddlan Castle

Rhuddlan Castle

Rhuddlan Castle is today ruinous. It was planned as a concentric castle but has a unique 'diamond' in layout as the gatehouses are positioned at the corners of the square baileys instead of along the sides like at Flint, Harlech or Beaumaris.

The inner ward has defensive walls with twin-tower gatehouses. The outer ward is surrounded by a curtain wall that has small towers and turrets. The castle also had a dry moat to improve defence on its landward side. Within the inner ward there was a great hall, kitchens, private apartments and a chapel. The outer bailey had a granary, stables and a smithy.

Rhuddlan is beside to the River Clwyd, guarding the crossing. During the fortification's lengthy construction, the river course was straightened and dredged to allow ships to sail inland along a man-made channel. Its purpose was to allow provisions and troops to reach the castle even if hostile forces or a siege prevented overland travel.

See also

Castles of King Edward's "Iron Ring"
Beaumaris Conway Rhuddlan

Outside links

("Wikimedia Commons" has material
about Beaumaris Castle)
("Wikimedia Commons" has material
about Caernarfon Castle)
("Wikimedia Commons" has material
about Conway Castle)
("Wikimedia Commons" has material
about Harlech Castle)
("Wikimedia Commons" has material
about Rhuddlan Castle)


  1. 1.0 1.1 "Castles and Town Walls of King Edward in Gwynedd". UNESCO. Retrieved 15 November 2012. 
  2. Ashbee 2007, p. 5; Taylor 2004, pp. 6–7
  3. Prestwich 2010, p. 1
  4. Prestwich 2010, pp. 1–5
  5. 5.0 5.1 Prestwich 2010, p. 4
  6. 6.0 6.1 Prestwich 2010, p. 5
  7. Prestwich 2010, pp. 1–2
  8. 8.0 8.1 8.2 8.3 8.4 8.5 8.6 Prestwich 2010, p. 2
  9. Prestwich 2010, p. 2; Prestwich 2003, pp. 12–13
  10. 10.0 10.1 Taylor 2004, p. 5
  11. Stephenson 2010, p. 9; Prestwich 2010, p. 6
  12. Creighton & Higham 2005, p. 101; Liddiard 2005, p. 55
  13. Ashbee 2007, p. 47
  14. Liddiard 2005, p. 55; Wheatley 2010, pp. 129–130
  15. Taylor 2007, p. 5
  16. Ashbee 2007, p. 8
  17. Pounds 1994, pp. 174, 177; Taylor 2008, pp. 8–9
  18. Pounds 1994, p. 177
  19. Ashbee 2007, p. 9; Taylor 2007, p. 8; Taylor 2008, pp. 12–13; Creighton & Higham 2005, p. 102
  20. 20.0 20.1 Lilley 2010, pp. 104–106
  21. Taylor 2007, pp. 7–8; Prestwich 2010, p. 7
  22. Ashbee 2007, p. 10; Brears 2010, p. 91
  23. Taylor 2007, p. 9; Prestwich 2010, p. 5
  24. Taylor 2008, pp. 12–13
  25. 25.0 25.1 25.2 Taylor 2004, p. 6
  26. Taylor 2004, pp. 5–6
  27. Taylor 2004, pp. 8, 11, 21
  28. Taylor 2004, p. 8; Prestwich2003, p. 25; Taylor 2008, p. 15
  29. Pounds 1994, p. 176; Prestwich 2003, p. 15
  30. Taylor 2004, p. 8; Prestwich2003, p. 25
  31. Taylor 2004, pp. 8, 10–11
  32. Taylor 2004, pp. 8, 11; Taylor 2008, pp. 13, 15
  33. 33.0 33.1 33.2 Prestwich 2010, p. 7
  34. 34.0 34.1 Ashbee 2007, p. 11
  35. Taylor 2004, pp. 12–13
  36. Taylor 2007, p. 8
  37. 37.0 37.1 Ashbee 2007, pp. 11–12
  38. Davies 1995, pp. 68–69
  39. Taylor 2007, p. 10; Liddiard 2005, p. 82; Ashbee 2007, p. 12
  40. Ashbee 2007, pp. 12–13
  41. Davies 1995, p. 105
  42. 42.0 42.1 Taylor 2008, p. 16
  43. Taylor 2004, p. 14
  44. Davies 1995, p. 115f; Taylor 2007, p. 10;Gravett 2007, p. 56
  45. Taylor 2007, p. 11
  46. Hicks 2012, p. 179
  47. Cannon 1997, p. 454; Taylor 2007, p. 11
  48. Taylor 2008, p. 19
  49. Taylor 2007, pp. 11–12
  50. Ashbee 2007, pp. 13–14
  51. Taylor 2004, pp. 14–15
  52. Lilley 2010, p. 99
  53. Taylor 2004, p. 15
  54. Taylor 2004, pp. 14–15; Ashbee 2007, p. 14; Taylor 2007, p. 13; Taylor 2008, pp. 16–17
  55. Ashbee 2007, p. 16; Taylor 2004, p. 14; Taylor 2008, p. 17
  56. Taylor 2007, p. 13
  57. 57.0 57.1 Thompson 1994, pp. 153–155.
  58. Thompson 1994, p. 155
  59. Ashbee 2007, p. 16
  60. Thompson 1994, p. 155; Taylor 2007, p. 13
  61. Taylor 2004, pp. 15, 17; Ashbee 2007, pp. 15–17
  62. Taylor 2008, p. 17
  63. Taylor 2004, p. 17; "Part 2: Significance and Vision". Cadw. p. 62. Retrieved 12 September 2012. 
  64. 64.0 64.1 Ashbee 2007, p. 18
  65. "Part 2: Significance and Vision". Cadw. pp. 54–55. Retrieved 15 November 2012. 
  66. Taylor 2007, pp. 13–14; Ashbee 2007, p. 17
  67. Avent 2010, pp. 140–141
  68. Ashbee 2007, p. 18; Taylor 2004, pp. 15, 17
  69. 69.0 69.1 Kenyon 2010, p. 151
  70. Avent 2010, pp. 143–148
  71. Taylor 2008, p. 18
  72. Taylor 2007, p. 14; Taylor 2004, p. 17; Ashbee 2007, pp. 18–19
  73. Taylor 2004, p. 17; Taylor 2007, p. 14
  74. Ashbee 2007, pp. 18–19
  75. Kenyon 2010, p. 150
  76. Kenyon 2010, p. 152
  77. Kenyon 2010, p. 153
  78. "Part 2: Significance and Vision". Cadw. p. 55. Retrieved 15 November 2012. 
  79. Taylor 2007, p. 14
  80. "Communities and Culture Committee: Scrutiny Inquiry, Promoting Welsh Arts and Culture on the World Stage". National Assembly for Wales. Retrieved 15 November 2012. 
  81. "Part 2: Significance and Vision". Cadw. pp. 44–45. Retrieved 15 November 2012. 
  82. "Part 2: Significance and Vision". Cadw. p. 56. Retrieved 15 November 2012. 
  83. "Part 2: Significance and Vision". Cadw. p. 61. Retrieved 15 November 2012. 
  84. "Part 2: Significance and Vision". Cadw. pp. 72–74. Retrieved 15 November 2012. 
  85. Lott 2010, pp. 118–119; Taylor 2004, p. 40.
  86. Taylor 2004, p. 19
  87. Taylor 2004, pp. 20, 39
  88. Taylor 2004, p. 39
  89. Taylor 2004, pp. 19, 39
  90. Taylor 2004, pp. 19, 21
  91. Taylor 2004, pp. 21–22
  92. Taylor 1987, p. 125; Creighton & Higham 2003, p. 49; Toy 1985, p. 161
  93. "Castles and Town Walls of King Edward in Gwynedd". UNESCO. Retrieved 22 September 2012. 
  94. Taylor 2007, pp. 17–18
  95. Lott 2010, p. 116
  96. Taylor 2007, p. 18
  97. Taylor 2007, pp. 17, 31
  98. Taylor 2007, p. 18; Goodall 2011, p. 217
  99. Taylor 2007, p. 21
  100. Taylor 2007, p. 25
  101. Taylor 2007, p. 23
  102. Taylor 2007, pp. 27–28
  103. Taylor 2007, pp. 28–30
  104. Taylor 2007, p. 29
  105. Taylor 2008, p. 24
  106. Brears 2010, p. 91
  107. Allen Brown 1984, p. 87
  108. Creighton & Higham 2005, p. 23; Taylor, p. 41; Lilley, p. 106.
  109. "World Heritage Site Management Plan: Part 1". Cadw. p. 21. Retrieved 15 November 2012. 
  110. "World Heritage Site Management Plan: Part 1". Cadw. p. 20. Retrieved 15 November 2012. 
  111. Ashbee 2007, p. 21; Lott 2010, p. 115
  112. Ashbee 2007, pp. 21, 24; Lepage 2012, p. 210
  113. Ashbee 2007, pp. 24–25
  114. Ashbee 2007, p. 25
  115. Ashbee 2007, pp. 43–44
  116. Ashbee 2007, p. 26
  117. Ashbee 2007, pp. 32–33
  118. Ashbee 2007, p. 43
  119. Creighton & Higham 2005, p. 223; Ashbee 2007, pp. 47, 55
  120. Lott 2010, p. 115
  121. Creighton & Higham 2005, p. 136; Ashbee 2007, p. 50
  122. Creighton & Higham 2005, p. 274; Ashbee 2007, p. 51
  123. Ashbee 2007, p. 48; Creighton & Higham 2005, p. 125
  124. Ashbee 2007, p. 62; Creighton & Higham 2005, p. 147


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  • Creighton, Oliver; Higham, Robert (2005), Medieval Town Walls: an Archaeology and Social History of Urban Defence, Stroud, UK: Tempus, ISBN 978-0-7524-1445-4 
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  • Given-Wilson, Chris (2011), The English Nobility in the Late Middle Ages, London, UK: Routledge, ISBN 978-0-203-44126-8 
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  • Lepage, Jean-Denis G. G. (2012), British Fortifications Through the Reign of Richard III: an Illustrated History, Jefferson, US: McFarland, ISBN 978-0-7864-5918-6 
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World Heritage Sites in the United Kingdom

BathBlaenavon Industrial LandscapeBlenheim PalaceCanterbury Cathedral, St Augustine's Abbey & St. Martin's ChurchCastles and Town Walls of King Edward ICornwall and West Devon Mining LandscapeDerwent Valley MillsDurham Castle & CathedralEdinburgh Old Town & New TownForth Bridge • Frontiers of the Roman Empire: Antonine Wall & Hadrian's WallGiant's CausewayIronbridge GorgeJurassic CoastKew GardensLiverpool Maritime Mercantile CityMaritime GreenwichNew LanarkHeart of Neolithic OrkneyPontcysyllte AqueductSt KildaSaltaireStonehenge, Avebury & Associated Sites • Studley Royal Park & Fountains AbbeyTower of LondonPalace of Westminster, Westminster Abbey & St Margaret's Church