March 26th, 2018
During turbulent medieval times Edward I built an array of impressive castles along the Welsh Coast, not to keep enemies out, but to keep the Welsh in, and quiet!
The year is 1272. After decades of civil war and unrest, England is in turmoil. The aristocracy are battling over land rights and the working classes are sensing unrest. A new king, Edward I, has just come to the throne and he is determined to restore peace; he plans to begin by dealing with England’s most troublesome neighbour, Wales.
Tensions between the king of England and Welsh rebels had been brewing for years, and by 1277 Edward could stand it no longer. Goaded by the Welsh Prince Llywelyn ap Gruffudd, who was slowly claiming more and more land towards the English border, Edward not only invaded Llywelyn’s territory but came up with a grand and costly plan in a bid to control the unruly Welsh army.
He would build great fortresses, designed to subdue rebels and remind them of the power of their new English rulers. The plan worked; by 1284 Wales was officially incorporated into England and Llywelyn was killed in battle.
Known as Edward’s “Iron Ring”, the most prominent castles were built at key positions along the Welsh coast. They are almost 800 years old and have survived countless battles and brutal attacks but most they have aged extraordinarily well. They are fine examples of groundbreaking medieval castle architecture and of Edward I’s determination to assert his authority over the Welsh.
Although the castle at Beaumaris is considered the most perfect of Edward and Master James’ concentric designs, it sadly never had a chance to prove itself.
Edward commissioned French architect Master James of St George to design and build all of the Welsh Castles, and paid him handsomely. Master James earned three shillings a day, which was more than an average builder would be paid for a whole week’s work.
Work began in earnest in 1295 on a fortress that was to be the jewel in Edward’s crown of castles, safeguarding the island of Anglesey and watching over the northern shores of the Menai Straits. Despite spending the equivalent of over £7 million, employing 3,500 men and taking 35 years, the castle was never completed.
Work stopped at Beaumaris by 1330, mainly because of a lack of funds but by then the King’s attentions were pulled elsewhere; the unruly Welsh having long since been contained and controlled and the uprising had come to an end.
Despite being unfinished, Beaumaris is widely considered to be the most beautiful of Edward’s castles. It’s almost perfect symmetry, incredibly well-preserved buildings packed full of medieval history and design, and the sweeping and dramatic views across the Menai Straits means that there truly is plenty to fall in love with at this ancient and very special site.