Caernarfon castle is located within the town of Caernarfon (sometime written in anglicised form as Carnarvon or Caernarvon) in the county of Gwynedd in north west Wales.
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Caernarfon, Harlech, Conwy and Beaumaris Castles
Caernarfon castle was created and built as part of King Edward I’s infamous ‘Iron Ring’, a strategic move designed to threaten and intimidate the native Welsh people. Castles at Harlech, Beaumaris, Conwy and Caernarfon effectively formed a circle around Snowdonia; the project is believed to be the most expensive military building project of the medieval era costing some £25,000. These four great castles and fortresses are the finest examples of medieval military architecture of their kind in Europe. King Edward wanted to conquer Wales and building these castles were a key part of that plan.
The fact that Edward felt it necessary to send the biggest military force ever seen in medieval Britain to Wales in 1277 showed how seriously he viewed the threat of the Welsh Kings. His target was the ‘rebel and disturber of the King’s peace’, the ambitious Welsh Prince Llywelyn ap Gruffudd, later known as Llywelyn ein Llyw Olaf (or Llywelyn the Last). Forced to retreat to his heartland in north Wales Llywelyn was hemmed in by a chain of new castles built by the King.
Edward’s oppressive rule led to another Welsh uprising in 1282, during which Llywelyn died at Cilmeri, near to Builth Wells in Powys, mid Wales.
UNESCO World Heritage Site
Today these castles and town walls collectively form a UNESCO World Heritage Site, one of three in Wales and they are formally known as the Castles and Town Walls of King Edward in Gwynedd - (the other two are the Pontcysyllte Aqueduct and Canal and the Blaenavon Industrial Landscape).
UNESCO states that “the castles, as a stylistically coherent group, are a supreme example of medieval military architecture designed and directed by James of St George (c. 1230-1309), King Edward I of England’s chief architect, and the greatest military architect of the age”.
Building Caernarfon Castle
The site that Caernarfon Castle sits upon was previously the site of a Norman castle, and the location is also very close to the remains of a vast Roman Fort – so this is clearly a place of some prestige! A commanding view of the surrounding area plus close proximity to the sea (and critical supply lines) made it the ideal site for a fortress. Based on its location, Edward and his military architect Master James of St George built not only Caernarfon Castle but its town walls and a quay all at the same time. The whole building project, the largest in history at the time eventually took 47 years and cost a staggering £25,000.
Master James of St George was Edward’s architect in chief, and under his guidance Edward’s castles evolved from the traditional square-shaped fortresses previously built and become more intricate and sophisticated. Circular or multi-sided lookout towers and concentric walls demonstrate his keen focus on strength and protection, and further illustrate the military-mindset the castles were influenced by. For example, the Eagle Tower, with its three great turrets and 18-feet thick walls, is the most fortified part of Caernarfon Castle. It was in this tower that the royal residents of the royal palace would sleep in splendour and safety.
Caernarfon was constructed in the 1280s and came at no inconsiderable cost. Caernarfon, Harlech and Conwy were all built at roughly the same time and cost a jaw-dropping 90% of the national income!
At its peak, the castle boasted glass windows, vast murals and exterior limestone and sandstone decorative elements. The castle’s distinctive rose-tinted walls are believed to have been inspired by the formidable fortress of Constantinople (now Istanbul), one of the most powerful cities of the Middle Ages.
Royal Welch Fusiliers Museum at Caernarfon Castle
The Royal Welch Fusiliers Museum occupies two of the towers of Caernarfon Castle and tells the history of over 300 years of service by Wales' oldest infantry regiment, in peacetime and in war, all around the world.
The history of the Royal Welch history begins with the campaigns of King William III, and includes Marlborough's wars, the American War of Independence and the wars with Revolutionary and Napoleonic France. In more modern history the Royal Welch has seen action in the Crimean and Boer Wars and also in China. Many battalions of the Regiment saw action in the First and Second World Wars. In peacetime the Royal Welch has provided garrison troops in Canada, India, Hong Kong and the West Indies.
In modern times, the Royal Welch has been involved in tours to Northern Ireland and has been deployed on peace-keeping and humanitarian operations, often under the UN or NATO. These have included missions in Bosnia, Iraq and Afghanistan.
The traditional home of the Royal Welch Fusiliers has always been in north Wales but recruits have come from all over the United Kingdom and Ireland, particularly during the two World Wars.
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