Beaumaris Castle, Anglesey, Wales

 

Beaumaris Castle on the Island of Anglesey is a great unfinished masterpiece. The 'beau marais' (fair marsh) on the north east tip of Anglesey was chosen for a castle and garrison town. It was the last and largest of the 'iron ring' of North Wales castles by the English king Edward I, to subdue the Welsh.

Edward had visited Anglesey  in 1283, and thought about building a castle then, but nothing was done until a Welsh  revolt  in 1294-95,under Madog ap Llywelyn, caused some concern to the English overlords. Madog ap Llywelyn was defeated after a long winter campaign, and Edward decided to build a new castle in April 1295, but it was never finished as money and supplies ran out before the fortifications reached their full height. In 1298 the money for building Beaumaris had gone. The king was increasingly involved with Gascony and Scotland, rather than Wales

Beaumaris is nonetheless an awesome sight, regarded by many as the finest of all the great Edwardian castles in
Wales. Begun in 1295, it was also the last. The king's military architect, the brilliant James of St George, produced the biggest and most ambitious venture he ever undertook in all his works

In pure architectural terms Beaumaris, the most technically perfect castle in Britain, has few equals. Its ingenious and
perfectly symetrical concentric 'walls within walls' design, involving  four successive lines of fortifications. It was state of the art for the late 13th century.   It is the best British example of medieval military architecture. In spite of its preparedness, or maybe because of it, the castle saw little action apart from the Civil War in the 17th century.


There are 14 separate major defences that any attacker would have to overcome, hundreds of cleverly sited arrow-slits, the deadly use of 'murder holes' to defend entrances.

The Moat The first line of defence was the moat, 18 feet wide, and connected to the sea.

A sea lock protected the 18 feet wide tidal moat which allowed supply ships, up to 40 tons weight, to sail up to the castle walls.

The dock was protected by a shooting deck on Gunner's Walk.

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Low Curtain Wall The low curtain wall is across the moat, and has 16 towers and two gates. The Llanfaes gate on the north was probably never completed. The gate at the sea side undoubtedly was, and one can see the  "murder holes" above.
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Inner defences Once through the low curtain wall, the attacker would still have to face further obstacles before reaching  the heart of the castle. These included the barbican, more "murder holes," three portcullis and a number of walls to cross. The space between the inner and outer walls could be defended with cross fire
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The inner ward is large, covering 3/4 of an acre, and is surrounded by a further six huge interior towers with  two great gatehouses. Both gatehouses were planned to have state rooms at their rear. Neither the north gate ( the projected second storey was never built) nor the south gate (only got as far as the foundations) appartments were ever completed.

Today all is peaceful, with swans swimming in the moat. This is a very beautiful castle with wonderful views afforded across
the Menai Straight to the Snowdonia Mountains beyond  Beaumaris Castle has been designated a "World Heritage Site"
because it represents a significant step forward in the art of medieval castle-building.

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