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Harlech Castle
Well Preserved Medieval Concentric Castle in Wales

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Harlech Castle is a concentric castle, constructed an top of a cliff close to the Irish Sea. Harlech was one of 14 castles built by Edward I in the closing decades of the 13th century. It was besieged repeatedly durig the Welsh Wars, during the Wars of the Roses and again during the English Civil War. During the English Civil War It withstood the longest known siege in the history of the British Isles – seven years.

Following the defeat of the Lancastrians at the Battle of Towton, during the the Wars of the Roses, Edward IV of England (1461–1470) controlled the country and Harlech became last major stronghold under Lancastrian control.

Architecturally, it is notable for its massive gatehouse.The castle is now in the care of Cadw and is open to visitors.

 


Address:
Harlech Castle
Castle Square
Harlech, LL46 2YH
Gwynedd
Wales

Contact
Telephone from the UK: 01766 780552
Telephone from the US: 010 44 1766 780552
Telephone from France: 00 44 1766 780552
Telephone from other countries: +44 (0)1766 780552

Fax: 01766 780552
Website: http://www.cadw.wales.gov.uk
e-mail: Cadw@Wales.gsi.gov.uk

 

 

Google Maps

 

Small scale map showing the location of
Harlech Castle

Google map showing the location of
Harlech Castle

Large scale map showing
Harlech Castle

 

 

 

Charles Oman, Castles (1926), reproduced courtesy of www.fromoldbooks.org

Harlech Castle is located in Harlech, Gwynedd, Wales.

War broke out between Wales and England on 22 March 1282. The Welsh leader, Llywelyn ap Gruffudd, died later that year, but his brother Dafydd ap Gruffudd continued to fight. Dolwyddelan Castle was captured by the English in January 1283 and this opened up access to the Conwy valley. After Castell y Bere fell to English forces two months later, 560 soldiers marched on Harlech, led by Sir Otto de Grandison. Work then began on building a castle at Harlech.

Like many of the castles in the area, Harlech was designed by Master James of St. George. The castle took seven years to build, and cost an estimated £8,190. After its completion, James was appointed Constable of the Castle, a position that he held for over three years.

All the royal castles of Edward's second Welsh campaign were sited so that they could be kept supplied at all times, often from the sea. Harlech is now inland but was not in medieval times as the sea used to come to the foot of the cliffs.

The castle is built to a concentric plan, with one line of defences enclosed by another. The outer walls are shorter and thinner than the inner walls, and have no towers defending them apart from the small gatehouse.

The inner ward is roughly square, with a large round tower at each corner. Domestic buildings, including the great hall, are built against the inside of the inner walls.

Since the surrounding cliffs made it practically impossible to attack the castle except from the east, this side is faced by the imposing gatehouse. The gateway is flanked by two massive "D-shaped" towers, and defended by a series of doors, portcullises and murder-holes. There are large windows on the inner face of the gatehouse. The west wall of the inner ward also has large windows – it forms one wall of the great hall.

Outer ditches at Harlech were cut into the rock. In the height of construction, in 1286, the workforce was 546 general labourers, 115 quarry men, 30 blacksmiths, 22 carpenters and 227 stonemasons. Like many of Edward's castles, Harlech was originally designed to be attached to a fortified borough.

Harlech Castle is notable for an unusual feature: the "way from the sea". Edward's forces were in danger from land-based attack, but he enjoyed total supremacy on water. Many of his castles included sally ports which allowed re-supply from rivers or the sea, but Harlech's is far more elaborate. Here, a fortified stairway hugs the rock and runs almost 200 feet (61 m) down to the sea at the foot of the cliffs. Today, the sea has retreated several miles, making it difficult to envisage the original setting.

James of St. George's "Way to the Sea" was a success In 1294, Madoc ap Llywelyn, cousin to Llywelyn ap Gruffydd, began an uprising against English rule that spread quickly through Wales. Several English-held towns were razed and Harlech (along with Criccieth Castle and Aberystwyth Castle) were besieged that winter. At Harlech, the "Way to the Sea" helped the defenders survive until the siege was lifted the following spring.

In 1404, the castle fell to Owain Glyndŵr after a long siege when starvation reduced the garrison to just twenty-one men. Harlech became Owain’s residence and family home and military headquarters for four years. He held his second parliament in Harlech in August 1405. Four years later, after another long siege of eight months, Harlech Castle was retaken in 1409 by Prince Henry (later Henry V) and a force of 1000 men under John Talbot, during which Edmund Mortimer starved to death and Glyndŵr's wife, Margaret Hanmer, two of his daughters and four grandchildren were captured.

In the Wars of the Roses in the first part of the reign of Edward IV of England (1461–1470), Harlech was held by its Welsh constable Dafydd ap Ieuan as a Lancastrian stronghold. Following the Battle of Northampton, Margaret of Anjou and the infant Henry VII of England fled to Scotland via Harlech. Following the defeat of the Lancastrians at the Battle of Towton, Edward controlled the country and Harlech became last major stronghold under Lancastrian control.

Sir Richard Tunstall arrived as reinforcement to the Lancastrians in the latter half of the siege in 1465. In 1468 it was the last Lancastrian fortress to surrender; it was able to withstand the seven-year siege through its being provisioned from the sea. It is the longest known siege in the history of the British Isles. According to tradition his famous siege inspired the song "Men of Harlech". The castle was also briefly occupied during the insurrection of 1498.

Harlech Castle shown on a map of 1610

 

During the English Civil War the castle was the last royalist fortress to hold out against the Parliamentary forces. The surrender, on 16 March 1647, over a year after King Charles had himself been captured, marked the end of the first phase of the war. The parliamentarians slighted the castle after its fall, which accounts for its present condition

 
 

Aerial View of Harlech Castle (Crown Copyright, photograph used here by courtesy of the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Wales)

 

An artists impression of Harlech Castle when complete

 

Model of Harlech Castle
(photograph courtesy of Euratlas.org.)

 
 
 
 
 

Gatehouse with Barbican

 

 





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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