This page is to a large extent indebted to a book by Dr. A.J. Taylor CBE entitled “The Kings Works in Wales 1277-1330”, an excellent publication often referred to by the late Fred Dibnah in his TV series on castles, their architecture and their building
Castles are often referred to in three ways. The first type was made mainly of wood, consisting of a large room in which the king, prince, etc held court and entertained with his followers and slaves. This type lasted from about 400 to 800 AD, an example being Pengwern which was burnt to the ground without difficulty in 457. Secondly we have stone castles, built to last, which was not only the grand house and living quarters of the Marcher Lords but also served as courts and prisons. One such is Shrewsbury Castle, built for defence against the Welsh, whose land it once was and were only built in modern day England. No building records were kept for these first two and this paper is concerned with the third type, which were built in Wales by English kings, starting in 1277 with Edward I, as he strove to defeat the Welsh, led by Llywelyn. These were Castles of War
To carry out his programme the English king had to call upon the skills and labour of a large force of Englishmen. The main rallying point of this labour force was Chester, with some meeting at Bristol. The Labour consisted of carpenters, diggers, masons and woodcutters - the latter, numbering some 1600 men, being used to clear forest from tracks and passes to prevent ambush from Welshmen
We will deal with the work in the order it was carried out.
With far less resistance in the south than the north, no castles were built in this time below Builth. It took the form of the refortification of the motte-and-bailey castle of Philip de Braose razed to its foundations by Llywelyn in 1260. Although originally £1834 was collected in taxes, expenditure amounted to £1666 9s 5¼d. Over the next 25 years a further £95 was spent on repairs.
Again a castle had already been established here on the banks of the river Ystwyth by Gilbert Fitz Richard and when the king’s brother, Edmund of Lancaster, arrived with his workmen on 25th July 1277 he built at Llanbadarn near the mouth of the Rheidol, but with the later shift of the Ystwyth’s course to this locality the name prevailed. These workmen came via Bristol with 40 measures of iron, 4 great chards of lead and 6 smiths. Completion cost £3885 17s 11½d using 120 masons and 120 carpenters, but only after the recruitment of 3 more smiths, 9 quarrymen and 24 workmen
From 1403 to 1408 the castle was in the hands of Owaine Glyndwr (Owen Glendower) and after its recovery some repairs had to be carried out. This amounted to less than £10 between 1409 and 1415.
Castles in the north were built under duress so, of necessity, had to be started from the edge working inwards, because of the Treaty of Montgomery in 1267 which ceded all central and north Wales to Llywelyn except the territory of Englefield. About 21st July 1277 a Master, 970 diggers, 330 carpenters, 320 woodmen, 200 masons, 12 smiths and 10 charcoal burners moved to a field headquarters on the banks of the River Dee. A further 300 arrived a week later from Boston and South Lincolnshire guarded by three mounted sergeants to stop them deserting. The walls of the castle were in the form of a square 200 feet (nearly 55 meters) apart with a tower at three of the corners with a fourth much larger tower 30 feet from the walled fourth corner and connected by passages. Flint castle cost an original £6224 7s 3d. of which 87,000 bags of lime were used costing £112 9s 9d
In 1301-3, 15 years after completion, substantial repairs were undertaken at a cost of £146, after in 1301 being conferred on Edward of Caernarvon as part of his Earldom of Chester.
Llywelyn ap Gruffydd’s destruction of Henry III’s castle of Dyserth in 1263 left the most northern reach of Offas Dyke unprotected. Dyserth could have been rebuilt but having been cut off by the Welsh earlier it was decided to build new at Rhuddlan. To make the River Clwyd navigable to shipping it required a new ‘cut’ nearly 3 miles long, for which 66 diggers were employed at a cost of £755 5s 3d. The initial cost of Rhuddlan was £9292 11s 0½d. It was built in roughly a diamond shape with a tower top and bottom and two towers at each side corner. The moat was dug around a fairly close outer wall
In 1301 the town and castle of Rhuddlan were granted by Edward II to his son Edward of Caernarvon and thereafter administered by the justiciar and chamberlain of Chester.
Under the Treaty of Montgomery Prince Edward had granted the cantreds of Dyffryn Clwyd and Rhufoniog to David, Llywelyn’s brother and antagonist, ‘to hold until he shall have obtained all his inheritance as well beyond the Conway as elsewhere in North Wales’. In the summer of 1277 English arms recovered the Four Cantreds. A castle at Ruthin was decided upon
120 diggers arrived on 7th November and work commenced. However later in November the Treaty of Conway postponed David’s recovery of his inheritance in Snowdonia for the period of Llywelyn’s lifetime and building Ruthin became David’s responsibility and the next five years is unknown
David’s rebellion in March 1282 led to his defeat by August and Ruthin was returned to English ownership. The king was there and he sent to Chester for £500 to finish building. He then granted it to Reginald de Grey along with the chantrel of Defferencloyt, but was also charged with maintaining it.
Llywelyn ap Gruffydd destroyed a castle at Hawarden in September 1265. The Treaty of Montgomery allowed the Lordship to be restored to Robert de Mohaut on condition no castle was built there for thirty years. By the Welsh uprising of March 1282 a castle once more stood there but as far as is known not financed through the king. No finances are available.
The Welsh uprising escalated the need to build and in 1282 writs were being sent to all parts of the country, including Ponthieu, Ireland and Gascony for the supply and provision of goods and services to be centred at Chester. By the beginning of July there were 600 diggers and 30 odd masons at Hope
Almost exactly £300 had been expended by 27th August when it was destroyed by an accidental fire. The remains were conferred on Edward of Caernarvon, who, on his accession granted it to John of Cromwell on the understanding that he would restore it at his own expense. This is doubtful.
Denbigh castle appears to have been built on the site of the residence of the Prince of Rhufoniog, with Denbigh as its centre. It seems work started within days of the king granting the Lordship on 16th October to Henry de Lascy, Earl of Lincoln. The only contribution made by the king was £22 for the purchase of 1200 clays (for scaffolding) and 184 cartloads of timber from nearby woods.
This was a new foundation built between 1282 and 1311 after the king had granted the lands of Bromfield and Yal to John de Warenne, Earl of Surrey. In the 17th century plans and drawings were made of it showing a single ward castle planned as a regular pentagon, with a range of buildings against each wall and flanking towers at the corners
The castle was demolished between 1675 and 1683 to provide building stone for Sir Thomas Grosvenor’s ‘Eaton Hall’.
The king granted Chirkland to Roger Mortimer the Younger in June 1282. Between then and 1329 when substantial repairs were required to the stone tiled roof, a castle had been built. It is not known if the castle was fully completed around this time but it has had a full time resident ever since and many alterations have been made.
Early in 1283 King Edward’s army moved from Clwyd to the upper Conway with Dolwyddelan castle, the birthplace of Llywelyn the Great, its objective. The castle fell to the English immediately and work started the same day
The costs of the work have been lost and must be assumed to be part of the £9419 expended on workmen’s wages on various castles repair. From the few specific costs that have survived it is thought that the work cost hundreds not thousands of pounds.
Conway (Conwy to the Welsh and pronounced Conooy) was reached in March 1283. Only two significant groups of buildings were there at the time, the Cistercian Abbey of St. Mary and the ‘Hall of Llywelyn’. It was an ideal place for a castle with the wide, sheltered anchorage of the river and the flat open country around it, so the abbey was moved to other ground and the castle built in its place. By 15th October 1284 the abbey had been moved, to its advantage, and the castle started. Later a further £100 was paid to the abbey as compensation for war damage
Completion, including the walls of the town, was made on 12th October 1287 at an overall total cost of £14,248 14s 5½d. but it must be remembered that it was a very large structure with a total of eight towers and measuring some 200 yards long. The king and queen had their own apartments built in
During the next 50 years some £220 was spent on repairs.
The plan of Edward I to encircle Snowdonia to defeat Llywelyn had so far been successful on two fronts, namely from the east and south, but now he needed to seal off the north and at the same time bring Anglesey under his control. It could only be done from the sea
So although not a castle it is thought that this construction should be included and was just as great an act of war. Ships carrying troops and materials could best be landed at what is now Bangor, so the bridge had to be built nearby
Work started with 200 ‘strong and agile men’ well armed, sent to the Dee estuary where two new 32 oar barges were being constructed and provided with crews. This was at a cost of 100 marks. Each barge had to be provided with four anchors and were used after delivering men and materials to provide building platforms. A further 14 ships were sent for use to make a floating platform on which the bridge could be constructed (possibly the first pontoon bridge)
By November the bridge was declared finished and 87 tuns and 2 pipes of wine were drunk in celebration. On the 6th Tany, the army commander, led his men over to take Anglesey. They were ambushed and forced back by the Welsh and, having forgotten that a rising tide would be a hazard to the bridge for their retreat the day ended in disaster. 16 knights, including Tany, and some 300 infantry were lost, mostly by drowning
The bridge was not destroyed but later with Caernarvon and Anglesey defeated the bridge was dismantled. The timbers were sent to Caernarvon to use building that castle.
Harlech was started in April 1283 when a force of 560 infantry arrived there. Only 10 masons and quarriers were sent to start, followed by a further 15 masons later, so that work was slow that year. All ditches, etc., had to be hewn from rock, which made work slow and difficult
From 1286 work speeded up with the workforce increasing from 60 in January to 770 by September. With work at its peak there were 227 masons, 115 quarriers, 30 smiths, 22 carpenters and 546 minor labourers. It was built not quite square with a tower on each corner on the rock overlooking the sea with a moat round two sides
The total cost was £8591 15s 6¼d with additions in 1306 of £4 6s 5d for a new ‘cruck’ construction bakehouse and £43 in 1323-4 for two bridge piers
From 1403 to 1409 it was held by Owen Glyndower and when it was retaken extensive repairs costing £52 5s 8¼d had to be carried out.
First mentioned in 1239 it probably owed its establishment to Llywelyn ap Iorworth. No details of its capture are available but it was in Edward I hands by 14th March 1283 when Henry of Greenford was made constable
The upper part had been destroyed and it was mainly the replacement of this on which a total of £564 9s 6¾d was spent
During Edward II reign a further £250 was spent and in 1404 it was captured and partly demolished by Owen Glyndower. When recaptured it was left abandoned.
Also founded by Llywelyn ap Iorwerth it is thought to have been built about 1221 and being the castle of Merioneth. Edward’s forces captured Bere by seige on 25th April 1283, and after the army left 5 masons and 5 carpenters stayed ‘to carry out various works’, but only about £263 was spent
Excavations in 1952 point to the probability of the destruction and abandonment of the castle about 1294 to 5.
Caernarvon was the ancient centre of Gwynedd, so becoming Edward’s prime ambition, which he achieved following the death of Llywelyn in battle, in about May 1283. The castle was conceived and commissioned as a celebration and a symbol of past greatness. It is not known how much was left of the ruins of the old Roman Segontium, the old Caernarvon. King Edward’s plans were to incorporate some of the walls of the old castle in the new
Edward proved he had a sensitive side with the discovery of what he thought to be the body of Magnus Maximus, ‘father of the noble emperor Constantine’ in 1283. He had it reburied in the church with all due ceremony
Caernarvon was built with one end close to the Menai Strait, overlooking Anglesey and toward Beaumaris, where he planned to build yet again. The plan of Caernarvon is very different from the rest, having polygonal rather than round towers and turrets. This was unique in British architecture, the only comparison being at Constantinople, and it is wondered if this was a direct compliment to Constantine
Most materials were shipped from Liverpool and, even before the end of June, 20 shipments had arrived and the rest of that year the groundwork was done using small amounts of money that were unrecorded. The first account, from August 1284 to November 1285 records an expenditure of £3040, at least £1818 of which was spent on the town wall
The castle itself was about 166 metres (634 feet) long and had 12 towers, including the four at the two main gates, with the town wall branching out from one side. Although walled the town approach was by a neck of land it was also protected by the Menai Strait down one side, the river Seiont another and the river Cadnant looping from the top edge half way down the last
Total recorded costs for Caernarvon are listed as £19,892 9s 0¾d.
This is the last of this spate of castles to be built and is the principle castle of Anglesey, constructed at the other end of the Menai Strait from Caernarvon. It was required in this position not only to oversee the rule of Anglesey but also to provide a seagoing port for trade and, if necessary, escape. On 7th December 1294 £26 13s 4d was issued to Sir Henry Latham to take 12 ships holding 500 men, with 50 diggers and 21 carpenters to the site. Although work started in earnest shortly after this, until a barricade had been built at its outer extremities, the Welsh did not let work run smoothly
Standing only 20 metres from the dock Beaumaris was completely surrounded by a 50-foot wide moat, on the inner edge of which a wall with 14 tuurets was built. The castle itself was built inside this outer wall in a square form with a tower on each corner, a middle tower on two opposite sides and double towers as the north and south gatehouses
By 1330 £14,444 8s 10d had been spent in the construction of Beaumaris
After studying many books on the history of Wales, its fight for survival and eventual subservience to English rule it is apparent that only Powys and Gwynedd offered any real resistance. Powys had, in the early 5th century, suffered the indignity of being driven back from their lands extending to Lichfield all the way back to the Severn river, so put up much resistance