It’s inevitable, I suppose, that I would get to Harlech in my chronicle of the great Welsh castles! Good afternoon everyone, and welcome to Thursday! To bring you up to speed, I’ve been off around the north-west coast of Wales all week, visiting each of the castles built by Edward I during his Conquest of Wales in 1283. Starting on Anglesey, I’ve been to Beaumaris, Caernarfon and Conwy, and now the iron ring around Snowdonia is complete with a trip out to Harlech!
At this point, there seems very little history left to tell – my previous blogs have all told the story of the Conquest of Wales to some degree or other (Conwy with perhaps the most concision), but there are a few more tidbits left! As previously mentioned, then, Llywelyn ap Grufudd, ‘the Last’, was killed at Cilmeri in December 1282, leaving his brother Dafydd as the sole rallying point of Welsh resistance. However, the castles of Snowdonia soon began to fall, first with Dolwyddelan in January 1283, then Castell y bere surrendered in March. With that, Edward I’s lieutenant Otto de Grandison led the march up the west coast and arrived at Harlech in April. Almost immediately, plans for a castle were begun.
Harlech was built over a period of seven years, with work completed by 1289. Upon completion, the master of the king’s works, James of St George, was made Constable of the Castle. The castle was completed just in time for the Madog rebellion of 1294, where it was actually besieged from the landward approach. It was in circumstances such as these that the location of Edward’s castles showed its importance. Every one of the castles Edward I was personally responsible for (with the obvious exception of Builth) was sited directly on the coast, and could be supplied by sea in times of siege.
It’s not obvious now of course, but Harlech was built directly on the coast, and the above picture would have only been possible in 1289 if I were standing in the sea (and, y’know, if both I and cameras were around then). This is the water gate that was among the last of the fortifications to be built, and which allowed the siege at Harlech to be broken by provisions to the castle brought from Ireland.
The castle is quite compact, compared with the sprawling fortresses of Conwy and especially Caernarfon. Perhaps it was never intended as a royal castle in the same way as those two, but the rock upon which it was built no doubt determined much of the geography and planning. But it’s compact in a good way, if you follow me.
The castle next played a prominent role during the revolt of Owain Glyndwr between 1400 and 1414, when Owain actually captured the castle from the English and used it as the base for his court between 1404 and 1409, until it was recaptured by the future Henry V. But the Glyndwr rebellion is definitely the subject for another blog!
Harlech is quite dramatically sited, in the shadow of Snowdon, and is a fantastic day out! It’s also quite close to some of the native Welsh castles, which are very much worth a visit as well. I’ve already taken you to Dolbadarn, of course, but hopefully in the coming weeks and months I’ll take a look at some of the other imposing ruins from the Princes of Gwynedd! Criccieth is, after all, only across the water…