Caernarfon Castle, North Wales

 

Caernarfon Castle is 8 miles west of Bangor, on the Menai Straits in North Wales. Whilst it may not have had the defensive capabilities of, say Beaumaris, it is architecturally one of the most impressive of the Welsh Castles built by Edward I.

As Caernarfon was built as much for show as for defence, it was designed differently to its more functional neighbours.. It was to be a symbol of the king's power over the Welsh. While at the same time, it's position at the western end of the Menai Strait, meant that it controlled both the passage throught the Strait, and access to the rich farm lands on Anglesey. Further, by being built on the sea, Caernarfon Castle could be supplied by sea, rather than having to rely on vunerable overland baggage trains

The strategic importance of the site meant that there had been earlier fortifications here - both a Roman fort and a Norman motte and bailey from the early days of the Norman conquest. This early Norman fort was later re-taken by the Welsh in 1115, and they held the area until 1283. Edward arrived then with his army, the original Welsh settlement at the site was razed to the ground, and a new English town grew around the new Castle that he had built. Hiis aim was to destroy Welsh nationalism in the area and create a new centre of English domination

The Castle took about 50 years to complete. A temporary wooden castle was first built to defend the workers, then materials brought in by sea to construct the castle proper. Within two years, Master James of St George, Edward's castle architect, had substantially completed the main outline of the castle and town. But gaps in the defences led to Madog ap Llywelyn entering and burning part of the castle in 1294. It took the English a year to get Caernarfon back. It was then re-fortified with a series of improvements, until it was completed in around 1330


As the new capital of Wales, Caernarfon was built with grand accommodation for the royal family. Edward had created his eldest son the first Prince of Wales, and the intention was for the Prince of Wales to have a court here. A mixture of palace and fortress - perhaps fitting as the Prince of Wales had actually been born in the castle in 1284. However price Edward never lived up to his father's dream, and never returned to the castle as an adult

In contrast to the "pure" castles like Beaumaris or Harlech, which relied on concentric rings of defensible walls, Caernarfon
used first water filled moats, then the town walls (800 yards in circumferance) to provide an outer line of defense for the castle itself, which in turn had nine massive towers in its walls. To compensate for the lack of outer defences, the castle wall was honeycombed by continuous wall-passages on two separate levels. To enter the castle, an attacker would have to break down 5 solid doors and six portcullises

By the mid 14th century, the castle was no longer a palace, merely a military depot. It withstood sieges by Owain Glyndwr in 1403 and 1404. And in the Civil War Caernarfon fell to Cromwell's forces in 1646, by then gunpowder had seen off the power of the castle.

The castle then suffered years of neglect, until the late 1800's when restoration work began. In 1911, it was the scene of the Investiture of Prince Edward (later Edward VIII) as Prince of Wales and in more recent times of Prince Charles in 1969.

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