Welcome to Caernarfon Castle
An Unusual Design
The design of Caernarfon Castle is a little unusual when compared to other castles in the region. It is best to imagine the structure as a figure of eight; at the middle of the castle, the walls narrow into each other, effectively forming two large and symmetrical courtyards. Surrounding the central courtyards are thick, reinforced walls on all sides. The walls extend back from the bay, and wrap around the old town of Caernarfon, meaning the whole place is securely held within the stone castle.
The Mightiest of the Iron Ring
Edward I of England was ferocious and wanted to conquer independent Wales, which he finally did in 1282 when he defeated the last prince of Wales, Llywelyn ap Gruffudd. He then defined his power by taking various Welsh castles for his own, restoring old ones and building new ones. Caernarfon was the most ambitious of the new ones, making it the mightiest of what was dubbed the ‘Iron Ring’, a series of huge fortresses in North Wales that was seen as one of the biggest and best medieval building projects.
An Expensive Build
The cost of building Caernarfon Castle also indicates it was the biggest in the area. Edward I spent around £22,000 on building it, which was more than what he would have taken in tax in one year. Hundreds of tradesman and craftsman worked on the castle, with timber shipped from Liverpool and Anglesey, and labourers even coming from London! It wasn’t just the huge cost that makes Caernarfon impressive; it was also completed within five years – incredibly quick for the 1200s!
Dominating Octagonal Towers
One of Caernarfon Castle’s appealing characteristics is its 12 octagonal towers. The style of the towers is different to the others in the area built by Edward I and were much harder to build. It is thought the design was chosen to evoke Constantinople, what is now Istanbul in Turkey, and even used multicoloured stone to mirror the Byzantine city. The towers are large; the Eagle Tower measures 10m across at the base.
Caernarfon Castle can only be entered through one of two gatehouses, the King’s Gate which faces the town and the Queen’s Gate, which faces the sea. The Queen’s Gate was mostly used for unloading supplies from ships. But the King’s Gate is something else. It was built with holes and slots, for pouring boiling oil and water over people trying to enter and shooting arrows from. In its glory days, the gatehouse would have contained more than four doors and five different portcullises.
Overcome by Welsh Rebels
Despite all the defences Edward I put into Caernarfon Castle, or maybe because of all the defences, the castle was a target for Welsh rebels. As such, it was the site of many attacks aiming to defeat Edward I and drive him out of Wales. The 1294 a revolt by the Welsh caught the English off-guard, and the rebels managed to destroy many of Caernarfon’s town walls, even managing to occupy the castle. However, Edward I quickly mustered troops and quelled the rebellion, recapturing the castle in 1295, rebuilding the walls and punishing rebels.
A Museum Castle
Today, the castle is a tourist attraction, and the many rooms, passageways and towers are great fun to explore. The place has also become a museum, including the Museum of Royal Welsh Fusiliers in the Queen’s Tower. The exhibition explores the long history of the Welsh Fusiliers regiment, with uniforms, guns, medals and memorabilia on display. In the Eagle Tower, there is an interactive display about the history of the castle, and the Chamberlain Tower has information about past and present Princes of Wales.
The Place of the Prince of Wales ‘Coronation’
The UK still has a Prince of Wales, namely Prince Charles, and the investiture, or ‘coronation’ which is the ceremony that gives the Princes his official title, took place at Caernarfon Castle in 1969, and where Edward VIII was given his title in 1911. It is more than likely Prince William will be ‘crowned’ Prince of Wales at Caernarfon too!