Hello everyone, and welcome to another trip-focused blog! Being off work this week, I’ve got several trips lined up, beginning with what turned out to be an absolutely incredible trip to Anglesey! I love that island so much it’s untrue, but with perfect weather, it was just grand! So let me share some snaps with you of stage one: Beaumaris!
Obviously, any trip to Beaumaris these days almost has to include the famous castle. Built from 1295, it was the last of the four great fortresses constructed by Edward I in an ‘iron ring’ around the Snowdonia strongholds of the Princes of Gwynedd. By the time work had begun at the castle, the last Prince, Llywelyn ap Grufudd, had been dead for thirteen years, and the Edwardian invasion of Wales pretty much successfully concluded, but revolts throughout the final years of the thirteenth century showed a need for visible English dominance still.
Beaumaris was the only castle Edward built on Anglesey, its location chosen expressly for the purpose of supply by sea. The Welsh town of Llanfaes that already existed at the site was seen as the most prosperous in the whole of Wales, benefiting from its location on the main route between Chester and Holyhead, and beyond to Ireland. It was also the final resting place of Joan, the daughter of King John and wife of Llywelyn ap Iorwerth ‘the Great’.
That the town was also built on a marsh was of little consequence to Edward – the need for symbols of might and dominance was never far from his mind, so placing his castle here was the natural choice. Before work began, however, the revolt of Madog ap Llywelyn, a distant relative of Llywelyn the Last, broke out across English-controlled Wales. This revolt is most startling to me because it was led by a chap who had once been on good terms with Edward. Anyway, at one point the revolt razed the incomplete castle at Caernarfon, and the sheriff of Anglesey, Roger de Pulesdon, was lynched. The revolt was brutally quashed by the English, and it was perhaps in response to this that work was ordered to begin immediately at Beaumaris.
The castle was built on flat, open ground, which is probably why the architect, Master James of St George (see picture below), was able to make it the almost-perfect concentric fortress that it is. For years, the English had been building castles in Wales in this manner, perhaps most notably at Rhuddlan and Harlech, but at Beaumaris, the example is really quite stunning.
The castle was built speedily, with stone quarried from nearby Penmon, and within about ten weeks or so, there was enough standing for the records to describe the king as staying in thatched buildings ‘within the castle’ here. Some pretty amazing records survive, showing that the castle was costing about £270 a week to build in the first season, and was projected to run around £250 a week throughout the 1296 building season.
However, almost as soon as the conquest of Wales was considered complete, Edward turned his attention north to Scotland, and began waging wars up there. The consequence was an increasingly tight budget for all of the royal castles in Wales, and the records show that labourers and other workmen were leaving the site in droves because they weren’t being paid. As 1300 loomed, expenditure on the castle was virtually nonexistant.
The work was resumed early in the fourteenth century, but on nowhere near the scale that it had been taking place earlier. The primary focus was to secure the site, and complete the curtain wall circuit across the north and west (shown above). The reason for this was a commonly-held fear that the Scots might join forces with the simmering Welsh and attack the castles of north Wales. While the curtain walls were completed, work on the castle was eventually halted around 1330.
As an incomplete castle, Beaumaris has a peculiarly squat appearance in comparison with the other royal castles of Wales. No turrets here! The outer curtain towers were left at pretty much single-storey, and the work continued just long enough to secure the towers of the inner ward around a storey higher. A survey of 1343 estimated costs to bring the castle to completion at £684. This work wasn’t carried out, evidently.
But that doesn’t detract from the fact that Beaumaris is a superb castle, and is justly referred to as a perfect design. For years now, I’ve thought of Aberystwyth as my favourite of the Welsh castles, but walking around Beaumaris today, it makes me think that I may have to revise that opinion! An excellent day out – you should all go! Now!