Keep your eyes peeled as you walk around Conwy Castle for traces of lime render on the walls. They tell you something truly incredible. This darkly forbidding fortress was originally white.
Imagine a 13th-century visitor gazing across the River Conwy at the castle’s gleaming white walls, heraldic banners, painted shutters and shields hanging from the battlements. This was truly a fortress fit for a king – inside and out.
First master mason James of St George raised the mighty towers and curtain wall. There was no point in luxury until the castle was secure. Then he built a suite of royal apartments inside this bristling outer shell.
What remains at Conwy is the most complete set of residential rooms inhabited by the medieval monarchy anywhere in England or Wales. Not even the Tower of London comes close.
Feel free to clamber up the spiral staircases or trace the ingenious servants’ passages between the rooms. Explore the King’s Great Chamber, the beautiful and atmospheric chapel or the ‘watching chamber’ – equipped with its very own latrine – from which royal personages could observe religious services in privacy.
You’ll gain a vivid insight into the life of the medieval English royal court. Even though actual kings and queen were mostly noticeable by their absence.
Despite spending an astronomical £15,000 on Conwy, Edward I only stayed here once. Trapped by a Welsh rebellion of 1284, he spent a miserable Christmas with just one barrel of wine in the castle cellar for comfort.
His queen Eleanor of Castile, for whom Master James built a relatively modest first-floor chamber, died in 1290 after years abroad. She can only have seen Conwy as a building site.
In 1301 the future Edward II came to the castle to receive homage as Prince of Wales and stayed for a couple of months. Conwy also hosted tense negotiations between Richard II and his eventual captors in 1399.
History tells us these were the only times the royal apartments were used for their intended purpose. By the 17th century the original suite with two entrances – one for the king and one for the queen – had been converted to a single unit.
Now the rooms became ever more private as the visitor passed through them in a clockwise direction. ‘Great chamber’ led to ‘presence chamber’ and finally, should you be so lucky, to ‘privy chamber’.
But damage caused in the aftermath of the Civil War, a familiar story at medieval sites across Wales, soon meant these royal rooms were never lived in again.