Wales is known as the castle capital of the world for its extraordinary amount of castles. It was once home to around 600 castles of which around 100 remain standing today. The most famous and spectacular of these castles are the four UNESCO-listed castles built by King Edward I (the king depicted rather poorly in the 1995 movie Braveheart).
These castles are considered some of the finest military architecture of the age and have been UNESCO listed since 1986. They are located in the former principality of Gwynedd in North Wales and remain extremely well-preserved.
Background of the Castles Of King Edward I
Today they are some of the best places to learn about medieval history in the United Kingdom. They are considered the zenith of English castle-building and the most powerful castles of any age or any country. They are just one of the many reasons why Wales should be on one's bucket list.
- Edward I: Reigned 1272 to 1307
- Nicknames: He Was Known as "Edward Longshanks (shanks = legs)" and "Hammer of The Scots"
- The Four Castles: Beaumaris, Conwy, Caernarfon, Harlech, and the Attendant Fortified Towns at Conwy and Caernarfon
UNESCO notes they have:
"demonstrated through their completeness, pristine state, evidence for organized domestic space, and extraordinary repertory of their medieval architectural form."
James Of St George: The Chief Architect and The Greatest Military Architect of The Age
The mountainous terrain made it difficult for the English to subdue the region. For a long time, Wales resisted domination by the English (Side note, this was the time when the Normans were assimilating into the English. Some will refer to them as Normans and others to them as English).
Edward Longshanks was finally able to subdue the last of the independent North Wales principalities in 1282 and to solidify his grip, he created new fortified towns that were protected by castles.
These projects were hugely expensive and stretched the royal finances to the limit.
There was another Welsh revolt in 1294 and the castles of Conwy and Harlech managed to hold out. But the incomplete castle of Caernarfon was stormed. Afterward, Edward I reinvigorated the work and set about constructing Beaumaris as well. At this time he was also fighting in Scotland (William Wallace) and so his northern war forced him to redirect the royal funds and Beaumaris was never completed.
The mighty Beaumaris Castle was surrounded by a moat. Being built by the sea meant that it was able to be supplied directly by the sea at its tidal dock. The outer ward was made up of an eight-sided curtain wall with twelve turrets.
It is situated on the island of Anglesey and is famous as the greatest castle never built (it was never completed thanks to the expensive wars in Scotland). It was the last of the royal strongholds that Edward I built in Wales that some regard as his masterpiece.
- Incomplete: Beaumaris Castle Was never Completed
The castle has four concentric rings of formidable defenses and a water-filled moat with its very own dock.
Harlech Castle is one of the mighty coastal fortresses and crowns a sheer rocky crag called the Harlech Dome that overlooks the dunes below. Originally the sea came much closer to the castle and it was able to be supplied from the sea.
During the rebellion of Madog ap Llewelyn, the castle held out even though it was completely cut off - supplied by its lifeline with the sea.
- Supplied: It Could Be Supplied by Sea
The castle is built with a concentric design with one line of defenses enclosed by another. These form an inner and outer ward.
Caernarfon Castle is something of a brute of a fortress and is as intimidating today as it was hundreds of years ago. Instead of having round towers, Caernarfon has polygonal towers of which Eagle Tower is the most impressive.
It is built on the ruins of an older Norman motte and bailey castle and before that, a Roman fort stood nearby. While the walls remain impressive and in great shape, all that remains of the buildings inside the castle are the foundations. The walls remain unbroken and stretch for 734 meters or 2,408 feet.
- First English Prince of Wales: Was Born In This Castle
- Current Prince of Wales: HRH Prince Charles Had His Investiture Here in 1969
- Construction: Eventually Took 47 Years
Conwy Castle and Town Walls
Conwy has a dark and brooding atmosphere. This castle was built to dominate and intimidate and is naturally dark from the rock from which it was built.
Its walls stretch for a mostly unbroken 1.3 kilometers (or 0.81 miles) and form a triangular circuit around the town within it. It has 21 surviving towers and a unique set of twelve medieval latrines is built that was built into its southern town walls. They were built for use by the royal staff.
While in the United Kingdom, be sure to see Scotland's many dreamy locations and castles.