Edward I and the Castles of North Wales

Alan Rogers describes how the Welsh fortresses founded by the English King were ‘outlying strongholds thrust into the heart of enemy country.’

The great fortresses of Edward I in North Wales stand for all the world to see, a series of monuments to a great King and military leader. Their massive stone walls, seemingly growing straight out of the rocks on which they were founded, rear high above the surrounding countryside; their gloomy gateways bar entrance as much by their appearance as by their rows of portcullises.

Even those castles, like Beaumaris, which do not physically dominate the neighbouring fields still leave a strong impression of impregnability. Nor is it just the individual fortress that clamours for the attention of the traveller, for castle after castle crowds into the small peninsula of North Wales. There are the great four, Harlech, Caernarvon, Beaumaris and Conway. There are the lesser castles in the far west—Criccieth, Dolwyddelan and Castel-y-Bere.

There are the castles on the approaches into the heart of North Wales—Hawarden, Flint and Rhuddlan on or near the coast, Ruthin and Denbigh farther inland. The whole series leaves one amazed at the skill of the builders—the engineers who planned, the craftsmen who wrought and the quartermasters who organized.

And behind them all stands Edward I himself, the conqueror of Wales. He it was who built them or ordered others to build them. He planned their strategy and chose their designs. And each one, whether they belonged to the King or to great lords, is a grim reminder of the fact of the conquest.

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