Castles and Town Walls of King Edward in Gwynedd
Castles And Town Walls Of King Edward In Gwynedd
Cultural United Kingdom Of Great Britain And Northern Ireland Europe And North America Gwynedd, North Wales

The castles and fortified towns of Gwynedd are the finest examples of late 13th-century and early 14th-century military architecture in Europe. Their construction, begun in 1283 and at times hindered by the Welsh uprisings of Madoc ap Llewellyn in 1294, continued until 1330 in Caernarvon and 1331 in Beaumaris. They have only undergone minimal restoration and provide, in their pristine state, a veritable repertory of medieval architectural forms: barbicans, drawbridges, fortified gates, chicanes, redoubts, dungeons, towers and curtain walls.

The royal castles bear unique testimony of construction in the Middle Ages. The accounts that have survived specify the origin of the workmen, who were brought in from all regions of England, and describe the use of quarried stone on the site. They outline financing of the construction works and provide an understanding of the daily life of the workmen and population and thus constitute one of the major references of medieval history.

Throughout his reign (1272-1307) Edward I, King of England, worked to expand and defend his domain, implementing at the same time a military and settlement policy whose traces are still visible from the Pyrenees to Scotland. Above all in Wales, it is the major illustration of the great construction policy of his reign: a series of superb castles, which in some cases are combined with new towns surrounded by fortified walls, are the examples of the medieval urban planning.

From 1283 he undertook a castle-building programme of unprecedented scale. What he did was to station garrisons so as to quell any possible revolts, foster the settlement of castral towns by settlers and finally illustrate in a more symbolic than strategic fashion English power.

In 20 years, 10 fortresses were built, not to mention those restored after being wrested from the enemy. From among this series of constructions, located close together, are Beaumaris Castle, on the south-east coast of the island of Anglesey;the fortified structures of Caernarvon and Conway castles on the north-west coast of Wales;and Harlech Castle, north of Cardigan Bay.

The typological, technical and stylistic coherence of these constructions are explained by the fact that all were built by the same man, the king's chief architect in Wales. Beaumaris and Harlech, begun in 1283, are of virtually the same design (the massive square of the inner wall is surrounded by an octagonal wall flanked by towers) both being the work of the Savoyard architect James de Saint George, the greatest military engineer of his time.

Beaumaris and Harlech represent a unique artistic achievement in that they combine the double-wall structure which is characteristic of late 13th-century military architecture with a highly concerted central plan and in terms of the beauty of their proportions and masonry. These are the masterpieces of James de Saint George who, in addition to being the king's chief architect, was governor of Harlech from 1290 to 1293.

The Caernarvon and Conway ensembles, where the royal castle, the ordinary residence of the governor and garrison are the keystone of the military installation which also comprises an adjacent fortified town, are very instructive regarding Edward I's policy in Wales. The castral towns, of a regular layout, were inhabited by English settlers who were able to muster up a militia in times of revolt.