UK Travel Guide


Caernarfon Castle

Description: Caernarvon is architecturally one of the most impressive of all of the castles in Wales. It's defensive capabilities were not as overt or as powerful as those of Edward I's other castles such as Harlech and Beaumaris, but Caernarfon was intended as a seat of power and as a symbol of English dominance over the subdued Welsh. The castle of Edward I at Caernarvon succeeded first a Roman fort, and then a Norman motte and bailey - built by Hugh of Avranches around 1090. This motte was incorporated into the Edwardian castle, but was destroyed around 1870. The Welsh retook the original motte in 1115 and retained control until Edward's invasion and colonization in 1283. The site's previous history also demonstrates the strategic importance of the site. Edward's building was initiated by his march from Chester, and work probably began in May 1283. Edward wanted to create a nucleus of English influence in this area, which was previously so rich in Welsh tradition and anti-English feeling. He also wished to create Caernarvon as the capital of a new dominion and that was why he incorporated a town and market into the strong walls of the site. At the end of the first building phase, the north side of the castle had no wall, but was defended by the town walls and a wide rock cut ditch. Madog ap Llywelyn over-ran the castle through this ditch in his revolt of 1294, and succeeded in burning part of the castle and damaging the town walls. The English retook the castle next summer, and orders were given to make the castle defendable again by 11th November 1295. The town walls and castle were repaired, and the north wall of the castle was finally added, including the King's Gate. By 1330, the building payments ceased and the castle stood much as it does today. Overall, the expenditure on Edward I's grandest castle had been 25,000 over 50 years. The Eagle Tower, Queen's Tower, Chamberlain Tower and Black Tower are all accommodation towers built on several floors, and most have self contained chapels on each floor. Two halls existed - the Great Hall and a hall in the King's Tower. The castle was intended to be and was capable of accommodating the household of the King's eldest son (created Prince of Wales under Edward I), with his council, family and guests also in attendance. As mentioned before, this was as the castle was intended as the capital of a new dominion, and a palace for the dynasty of the new Prince of Wales. In addition to the grandeur, the castle also permanently housed a constable, watchmen, and the garrison. It successfully withstood sieges by the forces of Owain Glyndwr in 1403 and 1404. During the Civil War, Caernarfon finally surrendered to Parliamentary forces in 1646. Centuries of neglect were halted by repairs undertaken in the late 19th century and, in 1911, it was the scene of the Investiture of Prince Edward (later Edward VIII) as Prince of Wales.
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Notes: The castle is open to the public but check before visiting as ceremonial events take place, such as the Investiture of the Prince of Wales. The English spelling is Caernarvon but the Welsh use the spelling Caernarfon.