Caernarfon Castle, Gwynedd
Caernarfon, one of the most impressive and most symbolic of all British castles has been described as 'An edifice of stupendous majesty and strength'. Few castles can compare.
The site was chosen not only for its strategic importance but for its symbolism. It is from where the Romans had established the northwest outpost of their empire. Its polygonal towers and cross-banded masonry, based on the walls of Constantinople, are unique in Wales. The 120 feet high Eagle Tower with a stone eagle on each of its three turrets are a further reference to its symbolism to imperial Rome.
The strength of this fortress is evident in its entrance via the Kings Gate, a vast twin towered fortress in itself.
It would have been necessary to go across a drawbridge, through five reinforced doors and under six portcullises, turn right, and then across a second drawbridge, whilst subject to continual attack from all sides & at all levels.
~ History ~
1090 - Earl Hugh of Chester establishes Norman rule in much of North Wales through the building of castles including a timber motte and bailey castle at Caernarfon.
1110's - Welsh princes recover their losses including Caernarfon.
1282 - March 22nd Palm Sunday. For the second time in five years there is war between King Edward I of England and Llywelyn, prince of Wales. In December Llywelyn is killed in a skirmish with the English near Builth. Within a month Dolwyddelan Castle, the key to Snowdonia is captured. The fall of Castelle y Bere on 25th April followed by Dolbardarn in May, denies Llywelyn's brother, Dafydd, his last remaining strongholds. Following the execution of Dafydd, Welsh resistance crumbles and Edward's ambitious castle building program moves on at pace at Conwy, Harlech and Caernarfon.
1284 - Much of Caernarfon is complete by the time Edward and his Queen Eleanor arrive at the castle and on 25th April their second son Edward is born. Just four months later their eldest son Alfonso dies and so Edward becomes first in line to the throne.
1294 - Widespread revolt right across Wales takes King Edward I by complete surprise under the leader of Madog ap Llywelyn, who assumes the title of prince of Wales. The incomplete Caernarfon Castle is overrun, and the sheriff is assassinated. Heavy damage is done to the new town walls and the castle and town are burnt. The King's response is swift and devastating and soon all that was lost to the Welsh uprising is recovered.
1301 - Edward's seven year old son is formally created prince of Wales. By the end of the year building work to the near completed castle is put on hold for the next three years whilst both labour and materials are transferred to the war in Scotland.
1304 - Following Edward's victory against the Scot's at Stirling building work resumes at the castle. Building work is to continue for a further 26 years. The total expenditure in building the castle between 1283 & 1330 amounts to some £25,000.
1307 - King Edward I dies. His son, Edward Prince of Wales, succeeds his father as Edward II.
1399 - The sparse comforts of the castle are evident when King Richard II is forced to sleep on straw during his stay in the castle.
1401 - Under the leadership of Owain Glyndower, the Welsh rise up all across Wales. Caernarfon Castle is attacked. Over 300 Welshmen are killed in the unsuccessful attempt to take the castle.
1403 - A sustained Welsh revolt under the leadership of Owain Glyndower and his French allies fail to take Caernarfon on two separate occasions. Much of Wales is overrun and many other castles are captured but Caernarfon holds out.
1404 ~ The Welsh renew their attacks on Caernarfron with the help of their French allies cannon. With French ships patroling the Welsh coast line the English are forced into a lengthy siege.
1405 ~ Following constant attacks against the castle and vice-like grip siege by the Welsh, Caernarfon Castle is close to surrendering.
Nearby Beaumaris is recaptured by the English forcing the Welsh to flee Anglesey. King Henry grows in confidence that he can at last defeat Glyndwr, persuading Parliament for further funds to finish the campaign. He leaves Hereford with 40,000 men and heavy artillery. Glyndwr chooses not to give open battle against such numbers, instead uses hit and run tactics to frustrate and slow down the English army. The successful guerrilla attacks and foul weather leads to heavy losses on the demorilised English. The King's valuable baggage train falls into Welsh hands.
1485 - Following the accession to the English throne by Henry Tudor, a king of Welsh lineage, hostilities gradually diminish and within 50 years a survey reports the castle as 'moche ruynous and ferre in decaye for lakke of tymely reparations'.
1620 - Only the Eagle Tower and the King's Gate are still roofed and leaded, the ground floor of the latter having long been used as a county prison for felons and the other for debtors. As for the buildings within the castle, they are 'all quite faln down to the ground.'
1642 - With the outbreak of Civil War Caernarfon is garrisoned for the King and besieged several times.
1660 - The government give order for the castle and town walls to be dismantled and demolished. The work is never followed through.