Caernarfon Castle

Caernarfon Castle

Caernarfon Castle is one of many castles built on the orders of King Edward I of England as part of his annexation of Wales in the late 13th century. Unlike the others, Caernarfon has polygonal towers, modelled on defences built for the emperor Constantine in Constantinople, capital of the eastern Roman empire. The towers’ shape was meant to project England’s conquering power.

Painting of Caernarfon Castle by JMW TurnerA Norman motte and bailey was built here in the 11th century but captured by the Welsh in 1115. Edward’s castle was planned and built in conjunction with a new town to the north, surrounded by defensive walls which joined onto the castle. Castle construction began in 1283, focusing initially on the southern side because the new town walls protected the northern side.

Welsh rebels captured the town and castle, causing damage, in 1294 but were soon ousted. The episode inspired a renewed focus on the castle’s northern walls. Building the castle took 47 years. Some of the castle’s stone was taken from the nearby Roman fort.

The Eagle Tower, with walls 5.5 metres (18ft) thick, housed the royal quarters. Edward’s son, who became King Edward II, was reputedly born there in 1284, although local tradition says he was born at Plas Puleston, a mansion in the walled town, before being presented at the castle. Edward named the boy “Prince of Wales” to emphasise that Wales no longer had indigenous princes. This began the convention of male heirs to the throne taking that title. Investiture ceremonies for Princes of Wales were held in the castle in 1911 and 1969. The latter was watched on television by over 500 million people worldwide.

The castle was captured by Parliamentarians in the Civil War of the 17th century. It fell into the ruinous state shown here in JMW Turner’s painting of 1799. This view of the castle was transformed in 1817 when the slate quay was greatly enlarged. High retaining walls replaced the slope on the right and the ground was built out into the river alongside the castle.

Local civic leader Sir Llewelyn Turner instigated restoration works in the 19th century. He was conscious of the growing economic importance of tourism and tried to have the town’s jail rebuilt on the outskirts of town so that it wouldn’t be visible from the castle.

Today the castle is in the care of Cadw. The castle and walled town are part of a UNESCO World Heritage Site, along with those of Conwy, Beaumaris and Harlech. Two of the castle’s towers host the Royal Welch Fusiliers Museum. Follow the links below for visiting information.

Postcode: LL55 2AY    View Location Map

Caernarfon Castle – Cadw website

Royal Welch Fusiliers Museum website