Caernarfon CastleWatch Video
Caernarvon is an architectural masterpiece of medieval design. The construction began in 1283 following a seven-year campaign by Edward I to defeat the Welsh. Of all the castles in Edward's 'Iron Ring' of defensive fortresses in North Wales, Caernarvon was Edward's final and most powerful statement. This is because unlike the other castles, such as Harlech and Beaumaris, it was designed to be a new seat of government and therefore a commanding symbol of English authority over the subdued Welsh. It was designed to echo the walls of Constantinople, the imperial power of Rome and the dream castle, 'the fairest that ever man saw', of Welsh myth and legend.
The construction incorporated cutting edge defences (that could protect the castle from both internal and external attack) as well as ostentatious statements of power. Most impressive of all is the Eagle Tower, crowned by a triple cluster of turrets. In the 13th century this was almost certainly the residential quarters of Sir Otto de Grandison, King Edward's first Justiciar of North Wales. Everything about it is on a regal scale, each of the turrets bearing a stone eagle as further symbolic evidence of the links with imperial power.
Behind The Scenes: Armed and DangerousCopycat Castle
When Edward ordered the building of Caernarfon Castle in 1283, he was consciously copying the fortresses he had observed while fighting in the Crusades. Consequently, the great walls and towers of Caernarfon recall the massive fortifications of Constantinople. Edward, along with most of the royals, nobles and knights in Western Europe, would have been deeply involved in the Crusades.
The Crusades were a long series of military expeditions mounted by Western Christians. They were aimed at containing Islamic expansion in the Middle East and Asia Minor. The First Crusade was launched in 1095 and was initially successful, expelling Muslims from Palestine and Syria. Gradually, though, Islam's influence and military power in the Middle East increased and, in 1291, the Christians were forced out of their kingdom in Syria. Occasional Crusades followed over the next two centuries, but they had lost much of their potency. As papal authority waned in the face of the Protestant Reformation during the 16th century, the Crusades petered out.
The History of Caernarfon CastleThere was a Norman castle here from about 1090 and a number of Welsh princes, including Llywelyn the Last, fought for Caernarfon until they were overcome by English forces in 1283. Edward I then built a chain of castles to consolidate his victory - including Conwy, Harlech and Caernarfon.
Dreams of Rome
In his quest to subdue the Welsh, Edward was keen to ensure that Caernarfon Castle had symbolic, as well as actual power. He drew inspiration from the Roman Empire and from the fact that the Roman fort of Segontium lay just above the castle.
Segontium is linked with Magnus Maximus the usurper emperor who appears in the Welsh tales the Mabinogion. Maximus (or Macsen Wledig) had a dream in which he travelled to a great city with coloured towers and golden eagles - thought to be Constantinople - one of the wonders of the ancient world. Edward clearly had this in mind when he built Caernarfon Castle with its hexagonal towers (rather than the rounded ones at Conwy) and its walls of coloured bands of stone.
A powerful fort
Anyone trying to get into Caernarfon Castle would have to pass over two drawbridges, through the curtain wall with its nine towers and two gatehouses, through five heavy doors and six portcullises - all the time under constant surveillance by soldiers manning the arrow slits in the walls. Not a comfortable feeling!
In 1284, Edward I's son, Edward of Caernarfon, was born at the castle. Again, this was part of his father's plan to subdue the people and to drive home the fact that the English monarch was here to stay. At the age of seventeen, Edward was invested as Prince of Wales, giving him the power to rule and take the revenues from Welsh lands. Since 1301, the title has traditionally always gone to the eldest son of the reigning monarch. Prince Edward (Edward VIII) had his investiture here in 1911 as did Prince Charles in 1969.
Caernarfon was the effective capital of Wales with a seat of government, residences and an entourage of officials for several hundred years. By the time of Henry VII (1485-1509), who had Welsh ancestry, the relations between England and Wales had improved tremendously. Gradually, over the following centuries, the need for these massive strongholds in Wales diminished and Caernarfon, like the other castles, were needed less and less.
Feature supplied by Heritage magazine. About Heritage Magazine.
Events from CadwCadw, the Welsh Assembly Government's historic environment service events programme for 2007 sees some of Wales' most famous castles and abbeys providing dramatic backdrops for plays, pageants, battles and military displays.
From Criccieth Castle in north Wales to Caerphilly Castle in the south, Cadw has arranged a feast of over 270 family friendly events across twenty sites.
The season kicks off at Criccieth Castle on 6 April with 'The Wise Woman' offering medicinal tips and talking about herb lore through the ages. Songs and ballads played on the lute and Celtic harp will also be provided on the same day by Scott Baker and Bethan Nia.
Other April highlights include Samhain's Life in Glyn Dwr's Wales at Chepstow Castle (8 to 9 April) and Marcher Stuarts' display of The Servants at the Court at Tretower Court and Castle (28 to 29) near Brecon, mid Wales.
At Plas Mawr (6 May), the restored Elizabethan townhouse in the heart of medieval Conwy in north Wales will become centre stage for entertainers Renaissance Footnotes, who will perform music and dancing from Tudor and Stuart times.
Other events in May include 14th Century Military Life in The Retinue Of John Plantagenet with the Company of Chivalry at Caerphilly Castle (7 May) and the Company of Bow will demonstrate the skills of 15thCentury archers at Kidwelly Castle, in south-west Wales on 27 May.
June sees the Raglan Music Festival at Raglan Castle (10 June) with music and song from the Blaenavon Male Voice Choir. If drama's more your thing, don't miss Anvil Productions' performance of their acclaimed version of Shakespeare's The Taming of the Shrew at St David's Bishops Palace on 28 June.
A Roman extravaganza is in store at Caerleon Roman Amphitheatre on 7 July, with a living history encampment featuring Roman soldiers. At the Gothic fairytale Castell Coch on the outskirts of Cardiff, The Spellbinder will tell tales from Aesop's Fables on 28 July.
Cadw is the Welsh Assembly Government's historic environment service with responsibility for protecting, conserving and promoting an appreciation of the historic environment of Wales. This includes historic buildings, ancient monuments, historic parks and gardens, landscapes and underwater archaeology. For more information on the 2007 events calendar go to Cadw's website www.cadw.wales.gov.uk.