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Beaumaris Castle
Uncompleted Medieval Concentric Castle in Wales

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Beaumaris Castle is a great unfinished masterpiece. It was built as one link of the 'iron ring' of North Wales castles by the English monarch Edward I, to stamp his authority on the Welsh. Begun in 1295, this was the last and largest of the castles to be built by King Edward I in Wales during his programme of royal castle building.

The castle is possibly the most sophisticated example of medieval military architecture in Britain and has few equals anywhere in the world. It is surrounded by a water-filled moat with a seaward entrance protecting a tidal dock and allowed supply ships to sail right up to the castle.

Its symmetrical concentric design, involving four successive lines of fortifications, represented the state of the art for the late 13th century. This outstanding castle, built in Gritstone, is a World Heritage inscribed site.

 


Contact
Telephone from the UK: 01443 33 6000
Telephone from the US: 010 44 1443 33 6000
Telephone from France: 00 44 1443 33 6000
Telephone from other countries: +44 (0)1443 33 6000

Fax: 01443 33 6001
Website: http://www.beaumaris.com

 

 

Google Maps

 

Small scale map showing the location of
Beaumaris Castle

Google map showing the location of
Beaumaris Castle

Large scale map showing
Beaumaris Castle

 

Location

 

Beaumaris Castle is located in Beaumaris, Anglesey, Wales.

The castle was positioned to face Garth Celyn on the opposite shore of the Menai Strait and was intended, along with Conwy Castle and Caernarfon Castle at either end of the Menai Strait, to dominate and control the centre of potential resistance to Norman rule.

The castle stands at one end of Castle Street, and is closely linked with the history of the town of Beaumaris, named after the 'beau marais' (fair marsh) that Edward chose for a castle and garrison town.

Beaumaris does not rear up menacingly like other royal castles in Wales, buts sits in a scenic setting overlooking mountains and the sea, partially surrounded by a water filled moat.

There are spectacular views across the Menai Straight to the Snowdonia Mountains beyond.

Aerial View of Beaumaris Castle

 

History

 

A castle here was probably planned when King Edward I visited Anglesey in 1283 and designated the Welsh town of Llanfaes to be its seat of government. Royal resources were already stretched and the scheme was postponed. In 1294-95 the Welsh rose in revolt under Madog ap Llywelyn. The rebels were crushed after a winter campaign, and the decision was taken to proceed with a new castle in April 1295.

The entire native population of Llanfaes was moved to a newly established settlement, named Newborough. The castle itself was begun on the "fair marsh," and was given the Norman-French name Beau Mareys. It was raised on an entirely new site, without earlier buildings to constrain its designer's genius. Building progressed at an astonishing speed, with some 2,600 men engaged in the work during 1295, the first year of construction. Work continued for 35 years, with over 3,500 workmen employed at the peak of construction.

In charge of the operation was Master James of St. George, a castle architect with many years of experience in castle-building, both in Wales and on the Continent. He was arguably the best castle designer who ever lived. Even after 700 years it is easy to appreciate the sophistication in his design at Beaumaris. James of St George, brought all his experience and inspiration to bear when building this castle, the biggest and most ambitious venture he ever undertook. He explained the cost as follows:

In case you should wonder where so much money could go in a week, we would have you know that we have needed – and shall continue to need 400 masons, both cutters and layers, together with 2,000 less skilled workmen, 100 carts, 60 wagons and 30 boats bringing stone and sea coal; 200 quarrymen; 30 smiths; and carpenters for putting in the joists and floor boards and other necessary jobs. All this takes no account of the garrison ... nor of purchases of material. Of which there will have to be a great quantity ... The men's pay has been and still is very much in arrears, and we are having the greatest difficulty in keeping them because they have simply nothing to live on. (McNeill, Tom (1992), English Heritage Book of Castles, London: English Heritage and B. T. Batsford, ISBN 0-7134-7025-9, p. 43)

By 1298 the funds for building Beaumaris had dried up. £15,000 (many millions in today's money) had already been expended on its construction. The king was increasingly involved with works in Gascony and Scotland. Although there were minor building works in later times, the castle was never fully realized and the fortifications never reached their full height. Neither the towers of the inner ward nor the great gatehouses were built to full height and many buildings of the inner ward were left unfinished when large scale work ceased in 1298. Even so, the castle is an imposing sight, regarded by many as the finest of Edward's castles in Wales - and therefore among the finest in Europe.

Small-scale work was carried out in the early 14th century. However, the outer walls were crenellated, and unlike many other castles Beaumaris did not suffer slighting during the Civil War so the extant castle is very well-preserved.

Aerial View of Beaumaris Castle

 

Interior View of Beaumaris Castle

1610 plan of f Beaumaris Castle

 

 

Architecture

 

A high inner ring of defences at Beaumaris Castle is surrounded by a lower outer circuit of walls, combining an unprecedented level of strength and firepower. The inner ward is completely surrounded by the outer ward.

The first line of defence was provided by a water-filled moat, some 18ft wide. At the southern end was a tidal dock for shipping, where vessels of 40 tons laden weight could sail up to the main gate. Dock walls extend from the south near the gatehouse, and serve as a defensive firing platform (Gunner's Walk). Unlike the simple outer walls at Caerphilly and Harlech, the walls here are very thick and have internal passages to allow defenders access to protected arrow slits.

Across the moat is a low curtain wall of the outer ward, its circuit featuring 16 towers and two gates. On the northern side, the Llanfaes gate was probably never completed. The gate next to the sea certainly was - it preserves solid wooden doors and "murder holes" above.

Once through the outer curtain wall, an attacker would still have to face 11 further obstacles before entering the heart of the castle. These included the barbican, three portcullises and several sets of doors. Defences include ingeniously sited arrow slits and entrances protected by murder holes from which stones and hot sand and water could be poured over enemy forces. Attackers of Beaumaris Castle would have met 14 separate obstacles within the four lines of fortification making up the concentric design. An attacker caught hesitating between the inner and outer walls would not have survived for long. A rain of heavy crossfire would have poured down from all directions.

The inner ward is large, covering about 3/4 of an acre. It was surrounded by a further six towers and two great gatehouses. There was an intention to provide lavish suites of accommodation here. Both gatehouses were planned to have grand state rooms at their rear, like those at Harlech Castle. Apartments were planned for the king and his queen (if as expected he should marry again), and for his son, the Prince of Wales who was approaching marriageable age. All three would have their own substantial households, and in addition the castle would need to accommodate royal officers, a castelan of Beaumaris, and the sheriff of Anglesey.

The plan of the castle is nearly square, sharing much in common with Caerphilly and Harlech. The inner ward is rectangular with a round tower at each corner. On the north and south sides are massive gatehouses following the typical pattern of two D-shaped towers flanking the gate passage. Two more D-shaped towers defend the east and west walls. The great hall and other domestic buildings would have been constructed within this inner ward.

Beaumaris' six interior towers are huge. Only William Marshall's great tower at Pembroke Castle and William ap Thomas' tower at Raglan Castle rival the six huge inner towers at Beaumaris Castle. The inner and outer gatehouses are deliberately not aligned, denying attackers a straight path through the gates.

The north gate, on the far side, was raised only as far as its hall level. The second story was never built. Even as it now stands, with its five great window openings, it dominates the courtyard. Another block of equal size was planned for the south gate, but this was never to rise further than its footings.

Around the edges of the ward further buildings were planned and must have included a hall, kitchens, stables and perhaps a granary. Although there is some evidence of their existence in the face of the curtain wall, it is not certain they were ever completed.

There is a little chapel situated in the Chapel Tower. Its vaulted ceiling and ogive windows make it one of the highlights of the castle. Also in this tower there is a fascinating exhibition on the "Castles of Edward I in Wales which provides useful background to the building of Beaumaris.

Aerial View of Beaumaris Castle

 

Artists impression of Beaumaris Castle
(if it had been completed)

 

Detail of the water entry at Beaumaris Castle

 

Entrance of Beaumaris Castle

 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

 

 
 
 

 
 
 

 





Unesco World Heritage Site


Unesco name of World Heritage site: Castles and Town Walls of King Edward in Gwynedd (added in 1986)


Justification for Inscription: "The four castles of Beaumaris, Conwy, Caernarfon, Harlech and the attendant fortified towns at Conwy and Caernarfon are the finest examples of late 13th century and early 14th century military architecture in Europe, as demonstrated through their completeness, pristine state, evidence for organized domestic space, and extraordinary repertory of their medieval architectural form.

The castles as a stylistically coherent groups are a supreme example of medieval military architecture designed and directed by James of St George, King Edward I of England’s chief architect, and the greatest military architect of the age.

The extensive and detailed contemporary technical, social, and economic documentation of the castles, and the survival of adjacent fortified towns at Caernarfon and Conwy, makes them one of the major references of medieval history.

The castles of Beaumaris and Harlech are unique artistic achievements for the way they combine characteristic 13th century double-wall structures with a central plan, and for the beauty of their proportions and masonry.

Criterion (i): Beaumaris and Harlech represent a unique achievement in that they combine the double-wall structure which is characteristic of late 13th century military architecture with a highly concerted central plan and in terms of the beauty of their proportions and masonry. These are the masterpieces of James de St George who, in addition to being the king’s chief architect, was constable of Harlech from 1290 to 1293.

Criterion (iii): The royal castles of the ancient principality of Gwynedd bear a unique testimony to construction in the Middle Ages in so far as this royal commission is fully documented. The accounts by Taylor in Colvin (ed.), The History of the King’s Works, London (1963), specify the origin of the workmen, who were brought in from all regions of England, and describe the use of quarried stone on the site. They outline financing of the construction works and provide an understanding of the daily life of the workmen and population and thus constitute one of the major references of medieval history.

Criterion (iv): The castles and fortifications of Gwynedd are the finest examples of late 13th century and early 14th century military architecture in Europe. Their construction, begun in 1283 and at times hindered by the Welsh uprisings of Madog ap Llywelyn in 1294, continued until 1330 in Caernarfon and 1331 in Beaumaris. They have only undergone minimal restoration and provide, in their pristine state, a veritable repertory of medieval architectural form: barbicans, drawbridges, fortified gates, chicanes, redoubts, dungeons, towers, and curtain walls."

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