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Saturday, 11 March 2017

Beaumaris Castle ... 8 centuries and still not finished ...

Work on Beaumaris Castle, the castle on the fair marsh, started on 18th April 1295 … and they still haven’t got the place finished.

It was to be the last of Edward I’s mighty castles guarding the north Wales seaboard. As I've mentioned before, I'm very grateful to dear old Ted the First for building all these wonderful castles within easy striking distance of the Dublin ferry. They make perfect places to stop-off and kick back for a few hours when you show up too early for your crossing.  See for example my thank you note for the wonder that is Conway Castle.


Beaumaris Castle, Anglesey, Wales
Beaumaris Castle, Anglesey, Wales




The story goes that this one was designed by his favourite go-to military architect, Master James of St. George, the Savoyard stonemason who’d worked for him on his earlier castles. Like the others, Beaumaris is designed as a series of concentric rings. At the centre is a mighty main courtyard, surrounded by a narrow enclosing ward, which is, in turn, protected by a wide outer moat. These days the moat doesn’t appear to be very deep or very imposing. 


Beaumaris Castle, Anglesey, Wales

We spotted a rather lovely swan, standing up and walking around when he couldn’t be bothered to swim. But back in the day it was fed by seawater, and they were able to bring ships right up to the castle walls to dock, enabling it to be more easily provisioned.


Beaumaris Castle, Anglesey, Wales
Beaumaris Castle, Anglesey, Wales

It's a low-build affair as castles go. The guide book that they sell at the gate rather apologetically says: Lacking the surmounting turrets of Harlech, or Conwy, or Caernarfon, the skyline at Beaumaris is visually rather less impressive. The Anglesey stronghold has a certain squatness and somehow fails to dominate its surroundings. Talk about underselling the asset ... . That's one author who needs a lesson in the art of spin.

In fairness they had planned to pimp up the towers with some more height and to add upper parapets and lead roofs, but Edward (Hammer of the Scots, and all that) got a bit distracted with pursuing his nemesis, Robert the Bruce, and he never quite got around to finishing Beaumaris. 


Beaumaris Castle, Anglesey, Wales
Beaumaris Castle, Anglesey, Wales


Edward had notionally conquered Wales, but the Welsh weren't totally sold on his kingship and in 1277 they rebelled under the leadership of Llywelyn ap Gruffudd, the sovereign Prince of Wales and Lord of Snowdon.

Beaumaris Castle, Anglesey, Wales
Beaumaris Castle, Anglesey, Wales

Llywelyn had played dynastic politics marrying, Eleanor, the daughter of Simon de Montford, the great baron who had led the rebellion against Henry III, Edward's dad, during the Baron's War and become de facto ruler of England when Henry III was deposed. De Montfort had died at the Battle of Evesham in 1265, but the family's influence was not totally spent. The two were married by proxy in 1275, much to Edward's annoyance.

Edward worried about the political repercussions of the alliance.  Eleanor, a Plantagenet princess, was his first cousin. It was all a bit incestuous. Her mother was his aunt, Eleanor of England, the daughter of King John, Edward's grandfather. Edward felt suspicious that Llwelyn was trying to outmanoeuvre him, and perhaps to even build a claim, through his wife, to the Crown of England. The stakes were potentially high for both of them.

Beaumaris Castle, Anglesey, Wales
Beaumaris Castle, Anglesey, Wales

When Eleanor left France to meet Llywelyn, her new husband, Edward hired some pirates to seize her ship, and had her imprisoned in Windsor Castle until Llywelyn could be brought to heel. In 1276 Edward declared Llywelyn a rebel and gathered an enormous army to seize Gwynedd, his ancestral lands, and defeat the dangerous prince.

The English seized Angelsey, starving Llyweln's men of food and provisions. A peace treaty was entered into, pursuant to which Edward recognised the marriage, which was formally celebrated in Worcester Cathedral, where it is remembered to this day in a stained glass window depicting the nuptials of the Lady Eleanor and the Prince of Wales. Apparently it was a love match. Llywelyn did not father any illegitimate offspring, which historians say was unusual for the time given that under Welsh law they could inherit equally with their legitimate half-siblings. 

Things ticked along reasonably well for a while, but soon the Welsh princes became disillusioned with their overlord, the English King, and rebelled against him for a second time. Llywelyn, their natural leader, led the campaign. On 11th December 1282 he was killed by the English at the Battle of Orewin Bridge. According to one account he was lured away from his men by trickery and ambushed by the enemy.


With Llywelyn out of the way Edward had a bit of a breathing space. He came to Anglesey in August 1283 to take stock. At that time there was neither a town nor a castle at Beaumaris. He stayed down the road in Llanfaes for a week. His other castles at Conwy, Harlech and Caernarfon were already under construction. To counter further Welsh rebellions, and ensure control over the Menai Strait, linking Anglesey with the Welsh mainland and protecting a valuable trade route to Ireland, he chose the flat coastal plain here at Beaumaris to build his castle. In the fullness of time a charming walled town would grow up around its castle.

Beaumaris Castle, Anglesey, Wales
The view from the battlements of Beaumaris Castle, Anglesey, Wales

With all the other castle building that was going on at the end of the 13th century, however, work didn't start on Beaumaris until 18th April 1295. At first there was a massive spurt of activity employing 200 quarrymen, 400 stonemasons and 2,000 minor workmen.  Edward came back a couple of months later in August 1295. Temporary thatched buildings were erected within the castle walls to shelter the royal party, and the Hammer of the Scots spent two summer nights here enjoying his new castle, and listening to the soothing notes of the harpist Adam de Clitheroe.

Beaumaris Castle, Anglesey, Wales
Beaumaris Castle, Anglesey, Wales

Work on the castle ground to a halt when Edward got serious about trying to defeat Robert the Bruce up in Scotland. There was another brief flourish of activity in 1306 when Edward was concerned that the Bruce and his troublesome Scots might try to invade North Wales from the sea, but work finally ground to a halt in 1330, and the castle was never completed. 

Today it's a tranquil place with a few tourists, a lot of seagulls ... 



... and a few jackdaws.


It's hard to imagine the bustle and activity that must have echoed around its walls when Edward Longshanks, Hammer of the Scots, was in his prime.



We visited on a summer day in the middle of July. We'd turned up much too early for our sailing because of my perennial worry about the traffic on the M6, and Beaumaris provided us with a great way to spend the afternoon.  We drove along through dense woodland, where red squirrels lived to get there. We enjoyed wonderful views of the Britannia Bridge along the way.

Britannia Bridge, Anglesey, Wales
Britannia Bridge, Anglesey, Wales

And in the middle of the Pwill Ceris, the Swellies, an area of the Strait known for its strong, swirling tidal currents we found the Ynys Gored Goch


Ynys Gored Goch, Anglesey, Wales
Ynys Gored Goch, Anglesey, Wales

A gored is a traditional Welsh fish trap that works by trapping fish behind a stone wall as the tide falls. At high tide the walled area is submerged, and the fish swim merrily to and fro, but they are stranded behind the walls when the tide falls and the locals are able to casually wander out and gather them up in buckets for supper - so simple, and yet so effective. 

And before we knew where we were we had to rush off for the Dublin Swift!

All the best for now,

Bonny x


3 comments:

  1. Beautiful photos and rather like life...a work in progress.

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    Replies
    1. Thank you, Sandra. That's a lovely way of looking at life.

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  2. I just love that you upload pics big enough to get a good view...I so enjoyed all of these. I really loved the one where you're looking down through the doors....but then it isn't my favorite. I am not sure which is.

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