Caernarfon Castle

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Caernarfon Castle (Welsh: Castell Caernarfon) – often anglicised as Carnarvon Castle or Caernarvon Castle – is a medieval fortress in Caernarfon, Gwynedd, north-west Wales cared for by Cadw, the Welsh Government's historic environment service. It was a motte-and-bailey castle from the late 11th century until 1283 when King Edward I of England began to replace it with the current stone structure. The Edwardian town and castle acted as the administrative centre of north Wales, and as a result the defences were built on a grand scale. There was a deliberate link with Caernarfon's Roman past,[citation needed] and the Roman fort of Segontium is nearby.

While the castle was under construction, town walls were built around Caernarfon. The work cost between £20,000 and £25,000 from the start until the work ended in 1330. Although the castle appears mostly complete from the outside, the interior buildings no longer survive and many of the building plans were never finished. The town and castle were sacked in 1294 when Madog ap Llywelyn led a rebellion against the English. Caernarfon was recaptured the following year. During the Glyndŵr Rising of 1400–1415, the castle was besieged. When the Tudor dynasty ascended to the English throne in 1485, tensions between the Welsh and English began to diminish and castles were considered less important. As a result, Caernarfon Castle was allowed to fall into a state of disrepair. Despite its dilapidated condition, during the English Civil War Caernarfon Castle was held by Royalists, and was besieged three times by Parliamentarian forces. This was the last time the castle was used in war. The castle was neglected until the 19thcentury when the state funded repairs. The castle was used for the investiture of the Prince of Wales in 1911 and again in 1969. It is part of the World Heritage Site 'Castles and Town Walls of King Edward in Gwynedd'.

The first fortifications at Caernarfon were built by the Romans. Their fort, which they named Segontium, is on the outskirts of the modern town. The fort sat near the bank of the River Seiont; the fort was probably built here due to the sheltered position and because it could be resupplied via the river Seiont. Caernarfon derives its name from the Roman fortifications. In Welsh, the place was called y gaer (lenition of caer) yn Arfon, meaning 'the stronghold in the land over against Môn'; Môn is the Welsh name for Anglesey. Little is known about the fate of Segontium and its associated civilian settlement after the Romans departed from Britain in the early 5thcentury.

Following the Norman Conquest of England, William the Conqueror turned his attention to Wales. According to the Domesday Survey of 1086, the Norman Robert of Rhuddlan was nominally in command of the whole of northern Wales. He was killed by the Welsh in 1088. His cousin Hugh d'Avranches, Earl of Chester, reasserted Norman control of north Wales by building three castles: one at an unknown location somewhere in Meirionnydd, one at Aberlleiniog on Anglesey, and another at Caernarfon. This early castle was built on a peninsula, bounded by the River Seiont and the Menai Strait; it would have been a motte and bailey, defended by a timber palisade and earthworks. The motte, or mound, was integrated into the later Edwardian castle, but the location of the original bailey is uncertain, although it may have been to the north-east of the motte. Excavations on top of the motte in 1969 revealed no traces of medieval occupation, suggesting any evidence had been removed. It is likely that the motte was surmounted by a wooden tower known as a keep. The Welsh recaptured Gwynedd in 1115, and Caernarfon Castle came into the possession of the Welsh princes. From contemporary documents written at the castle, it is known that Llywelyn the Great and later Llywelyn ap Gruffudd occasionally stayed at Caernarfon.

War broke out again between England and Wales on 22March 1282. The Welsh leader, Llywelyn ap Gruffudd, died later that year on 11December. His brother Dafydd ap Gruffydd continued to fight against the English, but in 1283 EdwardI was victorious. Edward marched through northern Wales, capturing castles such as that at Dolwyddelan, and establishing his own at Conwy. War finally drew to a close in May 1283 when Dolbadarn Castle, Dafydd ap Gruffudd's last castle, was captured. Shortly afterwards, Edward began building castles at Harlech and Caernarfon. The castles of Caernarfon, Conwy and Harlech were the most impressive of their time in Wales, and their construction—along with other Edwardian castles in the country—helped establish English rule. The master mason responsible for the design and construction of the castle was probably James of Saint George, an experienced architect and military engineer who played an important role in building the Edwardian castles in Wales. According to the Flores Historiarum, during the construction of the castle and planned town, the body of the Roman emperor Magnus Maximus was discovered, and EdwardI ordered its reburial in a local church.

The construction of the new stone castle was part of a programme of building which transformed Caernarfon; town walls were added, connected to the castle, and a new quay was built. The earliest reference to building at Caernarfon dates from 24June 1283, when a ditch had been dug separating the site of the castle from the town to the north. A bretagium, a type of stockade, was created around the site to protect it while the permanent defences were under construction. Timber was shipped from as far away as Liverpool. Stone was quarried from nearby places, such as from Anglesey and around the town. A force of hundreds worked on the excavation of the moat and digging the foundations for the castle. As the site expanded, it began to encroach on the town; houses were cleared to allow the construction. Residents were not paid compensation until three years later. While the foundations for the stone walls were being created, timber-framed apartments were built for EdwardI and Eleanor of Castile, his queen. They arrived at Caernarfon on either 11or 12July 1283 and stayed for over a month.

Construction at Caernarfon Castle continued over the winter of 1283–84. The extent of completion is uncertain, although architectural historian Arnold Taylor speculated that when Edward and Eleanor visited again in Easter 1284 the Eagle Tower may have been complete. The Statute of Rhuddlan, enacted on 3March 1284, made Caernarfon a borough and the administrative centre of the county of Gwynedd.[Gwynedd was not a county.] According to tradition, EdwardII was born at Caernarfon on 25April 1284. Edward was created Prince of Wales in 1301, with control over Wales and its incomes. Since then the title has traditionally been held by the eldest son of the monarch. According to a famous legend, the king had promised the Welsh that he would name 'a prince born in Wales, who did not speak a word of English' and then produced his infant son to their surprise; but the story may well be apocryphal, as it can only be traced to the 16th century. In 1284, Caernarfon was defended by a garrison of forty men, more than the thirty-strong garrisons at Conwy and Harlech. Even in peace time, when most castles would have a guard of only a few men, Caernarfon was defended by between twenty and forty people due to its importance.

By 1285, Caernarfon's town walls were mostly complete. At the same time work continued on the castle. Spending on construction was negligible from 1289 and accounts end in 1292. EdwardI's campaign of castle-building in Wales cost £80,000 between 1277 and 1304, and £95,000 between 1277 and 1329; by 1292 £12,000 had been spent on the construction of Caernarfon's castle—of which the southern façade was furthest along—and town walls. As the southern wall and town walls completed a defensive circuit around Caernarfon, th...

  • The castle from across the River Seiont
  • Map of Caernarfon in 1610 by John Speed. The castle was at the south end of the settlement.
  • Plan of Caernarfon Castle: A – Site of Water Gate; B – Eagle Tower; C – Queen's Tower; D – Well Tower; E – Lower Ward; F – Great Hall; G – Kitchens; H – Chamberlain Tower; I – King's Gate; J – Upper Ward; K – Black Tower; L – Granary Tower; M – North-East Tower; N – Cistern Tower; O – Queen's Gate. Blue shows the area built between 1283–92, red that between 1295–1323
  • Caernarfon Castle from the west. The town's walls, which were mostly complete by 1285, join with the castle and continue off to the left of the photo.
  • A painting of Caernarfon by J. M. W. Turner in 1830–1835
  • A painting of Caenarfon castle from the  18th century  by Joseph Farrington
  • The King's Gate was one of the few areas of the castle which still had a roof by 1620.
  • Demolition work in 1959 to clear modern buildings around the Eagle Tower
  • The ward of Caernarfon Castle, showing (from left to right) the Black Tower, the Chamberlain's Tower, and the Eagle Tower. By the 17th century, the castle's domestic buildings had been stripped of valuable materials such as iron and lead.
  • The unfinished rear of the King's Gate, the main entrance to the castle from the town.
  • The Queen's Gate
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Wikipedia Article
Caernarfon Castle
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