Wednesday, 31 August 2016

The ‘Iron Ring’ of Welsh Castles

conwy castle

After King Edward ‘The Longshanks’ of England conquered North Wales, he was faced with a dilemma, how would he assert dominance over the proud and uprising Welsh people? Well, he did this in the form of creating a small number of strategically placed castles.

Read in Welsh here.

All the existing castles west of Chester had been under attack in one way or another by the unrelenting Welsh rebels. This called for the most ambitious and concentrated medieval building project in the entirety of Europe; rebuild all useable castles, and where that is not possible to construct new, modern castles.

These formed Edwards famous ‘Iron Ring’ of Castles.

Harlech Castle

Built on a rocky outcrop closely located to the Irish Sea. This was important for withstanding the Welsh siege of Madog ap Llewelyn. However, this fortification couldn’t hold off the Welsh forever, as Owain Glyndwr captured the great castle 100 years later. It was here where Owain resided and led is rebellion from until it was recaptured by the English in 1409. The castle saw action once more when loyalist forces resisted the parliamentary armies. This world heritage site is classed as one of the finest examples of layer 13th century military architecture.

Caernarfon Castle

Originally the site of a precursor Motte and baily castle, until it was replaced with its current stone incarnation. This castle, and its walled Edwardian town was the administrative centre of the entirety of North Wales, defences were therefore built on a grand scale as it was a key settlement in holding the area. The castle was captured during the rebellion of Madog ap Llewelyn, this didn’t last long though, as it was recaptured the following year. As tensions between England and Wales began to lessen, the castles weren’t seen as a necessity. They then fell into a state of disrepair; the castle was used again however during the English Civil War, where, like Harlech it was held by Royalist Forces. The site has been used as the site of the investure of the Prince of Wales the past two times, more recently, Prince Charles.

Conwy Castle

The famous castle overlooks the Conwy Estuary as it pours out into the Irish Sea. It withstood the siege of Madog ap Llewelyn, but, like other castles was held by those loyal to Owain Glyndwr. Parliament slighted the castle after it was held by royalist forces during the civil war, after this the Earl of Conwy Edward Conway stripped the castle of remaining iron, since then the castle has been a ruin. These ruins have been considered picturesque, with visitors coming from far away to see the castle, itself being painted by many famous painted including JMW Turner.

Beaumaris Castle

Beaumaris Castle was the only the Iron Ring to be built on the isle of Anglesey. This was an important fixture in asserting control of the island which had large Welsh support throughout. Its concentric design and moat were a new style, meaning that inner walls would overlook outer wall, ensuring a doubled defence and superior sightlines. The castle itself was never properly completed, but its design shows that it likely would have been the same as Harlech castle. It was made from Anglesey stone sourced not 10 miles away.

Costs and Designs

Edward Struggled to pay for this building project, it’s impossible to know how much exactly he spent, but it’s estimated around £60,000 (In today’s terms, about £33 million. These castles were designed by celebrated architects, James of St. George, who which each project, brought more advanced designs into play, from the elevated Conwy Castle to the sophisticated concentric designs of Beaumaris castle.

This is how much effort they had to put in, in order to bring the North Wales area under control!

The well planned programme, with each borough defended by a great castle, and each castle accessible by sea secured the English stranglehold on Wales. It did however, in return leave behind a legacy of medieval architecture, so many castles in a fairly condensed area. It truly puts Wales on the map of a site of incredible historical importance on an international level.

From the Black Boy Inn, it is easy to access all of these superb castles. Many visitors take the time to enjoy exploring these excellent structures along with participating in some of the adventure, adrenaline style activities that North Wales has developed recently. We are a widely used hotel near Zip World and other major attractions in the North Wales and Snowdonia region.