Castles of Edward I

Caernarfon Castle

Caernarfon Castle

In 1276–77 and 1282–83, King Edward I led two military campaigns in Wales to defeat the Welsh princes and bring Wales under English rule. To do this, between 1276 and 1295 many castles were built or repaired.

Castles built or rebuilt by Edward I: Aberystwyth, Beaumaris, Builth, Caernarfon, Conwy, Flint, Harlech, Rhuddlan

Welsh castles captured and repaired by Edward I: Castell y Bere, Criccieth, Dolwyddelan and Caergwrle  

Castles built or rebuilt by lords on their own land for Edward I: Chirk, Denbigh, Hawarden, Holt, Ruthin

After each campaign, castles were built to maintain hold of the land that was captured and rule the defeated enemies. Snowdonia, a mountainous area, was the heartland of the Welsh, and King Edward surrounded it with a ring of castles. Most of these were on the coast or by a river so that supplies could be brought by ship. The latest ideas in castle-building were used, and the new castles had

  • concentric defences.
  • massive curtain walls and towers.
  • multiple arrowloops.  
  • powerful gatehouses.

The cost of all this building was about £30m in today's money. New walled towns were built alongside the castles at Caernarfon, Conwy, Denbigh and Flint.

The castles built at this time are some of the most famous in Wales. Four of the most complete – Beaumaris, Caernarfon, Conwy, and Harlech – are today designated a World Heritage Site. (You can find out more about this by clicking on the link).

Caernarfon Castle
Building began in June 1283.  The castle has nine towers and two gatehouses. It had accommodation for the king’s household and family, and acted as the administrative centre for the area.

Harlech Castle
Building began in 1283 during the second campaign. In the summer of 1286, the busiest time during the building of the castle, nearly 950 men were employed – 227 masons, 115 quarriers, 30 smiths, 22 carpenters and 546 labourers. The stone came from quarries in Anglesey, Caernarfon, Egryn and from the site itself.

Conwy Castle
Conwy Castle took four and a half years to complete and cost about £15,000 (over £6m today). Its eight impressive towers dominate the area and overlook the river Conwy, which was used for moving troops and supplies by ship. The town of Conwy has the most complete set of town walls in Wales.

Beaumaris Castle
This was the last of Edward I’s castles to be built in north Wales. Begun in 1295, it is a concentric castle with a water-filled moat as an extra line of defence. Sea-going ships could sail right up to the castle gate.