Caernarfon Castle is the most impressive of a string
of majestic castles built by Edward I after his conquest of North Wales in 1283.
An enormous fortress-palace by the sea, it has good claim to be one of the
most important castles in the UK. It is the product not only of Edward's military genius, but
also of the king's ambition to be like the legendary King Arthur the mythical ruler of a united
island of Britain.
Caernarfon Castle and Wales'
One obstacle to Edward's ambition was the fact that, when he was crowned in
1274, Wales was ruled by an independent prince called Llywelyn ap Gruffudd. In 1277, Edward led
a huge army into north Wales and forced the prince into a humiliating surrender, hemming him in
with four new English castles at Rhuddlan, Flint, Aberystwyth and Builth.
When Llywelyn and the Welsh rose up in rebellion against these new English
castles in 1282, Edward's reaction was swift and decisive. He drove enormous armies into Wales
and conquered it completely. Llywelyn ap Gruffudd was killed in the fighting, leaving the way
clear for the king to confiscate North Wales for himself. To secure his hold on his new
province, he began to build three mighty new castles –
Conwy, Harlech and Caernarfon.
Edward chose the sites for these castles with care, selecting positions by
the sea so he could keep them supplied during siege, and deliberately (and callously) building
on top of centres of Llywelyn's power, to erase the memory of the Welsh prince and his
The new castles rose at astonishing speed. Drawing manpower and materials
from all over his empire, Edward ensured that within a decade of the conquest, Conwy and
Harlech were completely finished and Caernarfon Castle was already
half-built. The specifics of the design, however, the king left to a brilliant master mason,
Master James of St George. Master James had built spectacular castles for Edward's uncle, the
count of Savoy, which the king had seen when he dropped in on the count on his way back from
De luxe fittings:
For Edward's new castles, Master James spared no expense, producing designs
which combined formidable military strength and the greatest possible degree of luxury. At
Conwy, Harlech and Caernarfon we see not only massive gatehouses, mighty towers and countless
crossbow loops (slits in the walls), but also evidence of piped water, glazed windows and
At Caernarfon, Master James really pulled out all the
stops, creating not just a fortress and royal residence, but a statement of Edward's imperial
dream. With its polygon-shaped towers and banded masonry, the castle deliberately evokes the
walls of Constantinople, the capital of the eastern Roman empire, and therefore proclaims
Edward as a conquering Caesar. Other artistic touches, such as the stone eagles on top of the
Eagle Tower, continue this imperial theme.
Caernarfon Castle - Symbol of conquest
If these artistic subtleties were lost on the Welsh, the overall message of
Caernarfon was clear – you are conquered. It was a message which the Welsh resisted furiously,
storming the castle in 1294 and throwing down its half-finished walls.
Although Edward put down the rebellion and building work was resumed,
Caernarfon Castle was never finished. When the king died in 1307, his
imperial dreams died with him. Within a generation of Edward's death, building work at
Caernarfon ground to a halt forever, and the greatest chapter of English castle-building was
Caernarfon Castle today
The accession to the English throne in 1485 of a king of Welsh lineage,
Henry VII, softened the old hostilities between England and Wales. From the 16th century
onwards, Caernarfon Castle was increasingly neglected. During the 19th
century a programme of repairs was undertaken at government expense.
The Caernarfon Castle is now managed by CADW: Welsh
Historic Monuments, and is open to the public. Much of the original castle survives and today
it houses a number of historical displays and museums.
Caernarfon Castle Map&Location
Address: Caernarfon Castle, Castle Ditch, Caernarfon, Gwynedd LL55 2AY,
United Kingdom. Get help with directions using the map provided bellow:
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