Castles of North Wales: Conwy

800px-Conwy_Castle_and_car_park_from_Town_Walls_-_geograph.org.uk_-_1723358

Conwy Castle and car park from the Town walls, viewed from the south west. Source: geograph.org.uk. Author: David Dixon. Creative Commons

The castles of King Edward I (1272-1307) in North Wales are amongst the finest medieval buildings in Britain. They were all built from scratch, often concurrently, in the unsettled aftermath of war. During my trip to Wales last week I’ve been to see just three of these castles. The simple map below shows their locations. Beaumaris is on the Island of Anglesey, across the Menai Straits:

North Wales Castles

Map showing three North Wales castles. Base map from Image:uk map,svg. Author: Paul at wts.wikivoyage. Wikimedia Commons.

Conwy Castle was built on a new site in the spring of 1283 as part of a ring of fortresses encircling the Welsh heartland of Snowdonia in Gwynedd. It followed Edward’s victory of his second campaign to subdue the Prince of Wales, Llwelyn ap Gruffudd. There had been conflicts in this region for many years between the Plantagenet kings of England (John 1199-1210 and Henry III 1216-72) and the princes of Gwynedd – notably Llwelyn ab Iorwerth, also known as Llwelyn the Great. (ab/ap are derived from the Welsh word mab, which means ‘son of”.)

Neither John nor Henry challenged the Prince of Gwynedd successfully, and on Edward’s succession in 1272 the prince’s refusal to do homage to the English king resulted in the war of 1276 -77. Edward’s victory was rapid – if, ultimately, inconclusive – but his second war (1282-3) proved more decisive.

The castle was built as part of a wider project to create the walled town of Conwy in order to control an important crossing point over the River Conwy. The whole project cost £15,000 – equivalent to £45 million today. The castle was intended as a centre for the administration for the area, but Caernarfon became the shire town and assumed that role. Edward only stayed at Conwy once.

Here are a couple of pictures of a model on display inside the castle. They show the castle and part of the walled town as they would have originally looked. Note the direct access to the River Conwy:140

144

The plan below shows the castle from the same (south) side as the last picture. The plan is roughly rectangular, with four towers spaced regularly along each side. The bulging outer (south) wall can be seen clearly on each, probably the result of the builders following the contours of the rocky outcrop. The great hall and chapel in the outer ward curves in line with this wall. The four towers closest to the river have small, round turrets overlooking the inner ward, where the royal apartments were located.

800px-Conwy_Castle_plan

Conwy Castle plan. Source: Cadw. Open Government Licence. Wikimedia Commons.

The castle is noted for its high towers and curtain walls, and its excellent state of preservation:

Inside the imposing outer shell the castle contains the most intact set of residential buildings left by medieval English monarchs in Wales or England. The outer ward – 2/3 of the main castle area – contains the great hall and chapel, as well as the chambers, stables and kitchen that served the garrison.

This is the outer ward. The two photos, bottom left are of the great hall and chapel. The chapel is at the far end, where the arched window can be seen.

The inner ward has the private chambers (top left photo below) and the royal chapel. A water gate, leading to the east barbican (gateway) provided private access for the king and queen. Here are some photos taken mostly from around the battlements, with an odd one or two inside the towers. Most look down into the inner and outer wards, or show views out across the River Conwy:

The suspension bridge ascross the R. Conwy (middle bottom) was designed by Thomas Telford and completed in 1826.

I’ve missed out so much detail about Conwy Castle, as well as many of the photos we took, otherwise this post would become a marathon.

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About milliethom

I am a reader and writer of historical fiction with a keen interest in the Earth's history and all it involves, both physically and socially. I like nothing better than to be outdoors, especially in faraway places, and baking is something I do when my eyes need respite from my computer screen.
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48 Responses to Castles of North Wales: Conwy

  1. Shivangi says:

    Spectacular!!! Thank you for taking us on a tour. Kudos to you Millie!

  2. Susanne says:

    Wow, that’s such a beautiful castle! I love castles, but have been to very few of them actually. Will try to visit some this summer when we go to Italy.
    It was very interesting to see this castle from so many angles. It would be cool to visit there some time.

    • milliethom says:

      Thank you, Susanne. Conwy is a beautiful castle, as are the others I visited last week. I think if you visit Italian or German castles you would find them very different in appearance to the British ones. Which makes things more interesting, of course. I hope you enjoy your trip to Italy. I’ve been to Sorento and to Sicily, and loved the country. I confess, I had a quick look at your blog, and I think you are in Sweden? I really want to see the site of Viking Birka because it features in my first book.
      Thank you for liking my post.

      • Susanne says:

        Yes, I’m in Sweden. We actually have a fantastic castle not far from us, Läckö slott.
        We go to the same place in Italy every year, a small town near Pescara, I haven’t been to neither Sorrento or Sicily but it would be interesting to visit Sicily some time.

      • milliethom says:

        Thank you for replying, Susanne. It was interesting to know that there are castles in Sweden, too. 🙂

  3. The first picture itself had me for a minute. The more you gaze at those strong walls and mighty towers, images of fighting armies while the castle withstanding all weapons float in front of the eyes. As I read further you placed characters and warriors in those images.
    The magnificent strategy and engineering done more than seven centuries ago tell a lot about the genius minds that walked that time.
    Once again, the images are exquisite to say the least ! 🙂

    • milliethom says:

      Hi Prateek. I’m glad you like Conwy Castle. I love the place – but then, I’m crazy about all castles! I’ve got two more of the North Wales ones to post about, but I’ll space them out, otherwise it would be castle overload! Like you, my imagination works overtime when I walk round these amazing buildings. They’ve all seen lots of battles and bloodshed in the past. It wasn’t such a pleasant day when we went to Caernarfon Castle, so the photos are rather dull. That will be next.
      Thank you for such a nice comment. 🙂

      • Greetings to you, ma’am. Castles of the medieval times deserve the craziness. Here, we have those built by the Mughal Emperors. But the architecture of English ones is quite different and beautiful. Would love to hear the story of Caernarfon Castle whenever you wish to post it. 🙂

      • milliethom says:

        I used to teach Year 8 about the Mughal Empire. They found it fascinating and a nice change from British history for a while. Much of the Mughal period was brutal in India – so many uprisings and rebellions, as would be expected. Yes, the architecture is very different, but that’s what makes it all so fascinating. I went to Andalucia in May (Southern Spain) and the Moorish architecture there is awesome! I’ll post soon about Caernarfon and then Beaumaris. Thank you so much for reading! 🙂

  4. I like the above comment – I also imagined, or tried to, life back then in this castle. I always think of how cold those old, stone castles must’ve been to live in! Sure, they had fire, but those castles are enormous. Here in the north, with cold winters, I honestly wonder how those people survived. Are you going to feature this castle in your new book? Does Snowdonia mean something, btw? Bet it hasn’t got anything to do with snow 🙂 My step-father is British, and an English teacher, and he’s always entertaining us with those Welsh names of places which are impossible for non-locals to pronounce! Lovely post! …PS. I’m going to start on your first book next weekend! Had to finish up an earlier book which was halfway. Very excited!!!!! 😀

    • milliethom says:

      Hi again, snowsomewhere. Thank you for liking all my recent posts! As I said before I went off to Wales, my intention was to visit some of the Welsh castles, and I really enjoyed it. They are really something. As to spending the winter months in them… you’re right, they would have been very cold and draughty. The windows were all just open spaces, and unless you were constantly by the big fireplaces, it would have been decidedly chilly.
      As for my book, castles weren’t built in Britain in the 9th century. There may have been odd fortresses, as at Dover, left by the Romans, but the Anglo Saxons didn’t build castles, as such. It was only after the Normans invaded in 1066 that castles were built all over the country. Most of those were wooden at first, then they were eventually replaced by stone.
      Snowdonia is a mountainous region of North Wales – very beautiful and an excellent region for the Welsh princes to mass their forces to rebel against the English invaders. Knowing that, Edward built his castles all around the area.
      Snowdonia gets its name from the highest mountain in the area, Mt. Snowdon. The name of Snowdon in Welsh means Eryri (derived from the Welsh name for eagle). The Old English name for Snowdon means Snow Hill, so that is probably the name that stuck – Snowdonia is the area surrounding the ‘Snow Hill’. I suppose all mountains have snow on top for most /all of the year.
      Welsh names are a law unto themselves! Your stepfather must be good if he can pronounce them. 🙂
      I really hope you like my book. I’ve had a nice surprise today. My inspection copy of my print version of Book 1 arrived – and I love it! That’s such a relief. I can get it onto Amazon now.

  5. Bekki Hill says:

    Wow! Amazing ruins. Thanks for sharing. Wales seems to have lot of castles. Are they just better preserved or did the Welsh build more?

    • milliethom says:

      A bit of both, I think. They were strongly built by Edward I, who spent a lot of money on them and hired the very best builders and craftsmen. They were all used and lived in until the Civil War, so would have been well looked after. Cromwell did order then ‘slighted’ afterwards, as they had been Royalist strongholds, but they were never badly destroyed, like some (eg. Newark Castle, near to where I live, is just basically one wall, thanks to OC!). All the info about Conwy and Caernarfon go on about how well preserved they are. But look at the thickness of those walls! So strongly built – to keep out the Welsh!

  6. Ann Koplow says:

    Wonderful! Now I want to go to Wales!

  7. Beautiful, Millie. Thank you for sharing. Looks like you had nice weather for your trip to Wales.

    • milliethom says:

      Thanks, Jack. It did manage to stay dry for most of the week, and the day we went to Bodnant Gardens in the morning and Conwy in the afternoon was warm and sunny at times. Unfortunately, for Caernarfon and Beaumaris it was really dull and cool, with a few moments of drizzle here and there. We had a great week though. 🙂

      • Wonderful! That castle was awesome. Really enjoyed your pics and the history of the area.

      • milliethom says:

        Hi Jack. Thank you again. 🙂 I’m trying to leave a few days between each ‘castle’ post, otherwise I could bore people to death. There is such a thing as becoming ‘all castled out’! I have other things to do in between – like a couple more blog awards! I’ll probably just do one post for the two, although they are different awards. (So time consuming, aren’t they?)
        I’m squeezing a little of my own writing in this week, but still not enough. I’m sure you’re galloping away with yours. (Which is good, …as long as it’s Book 2 of your series! :D)

      • Understand, Millie. Can’t wait to see the other castles when you post. Been a challenging week around my place so haven’t been up on the computer a lot much less post a blog entry. Trying to get back on schedule. Still plugging along on Book 2 and other projects. (sigh); I’ll get there, eventually. Speaking of books, how’s your Book 3 coming along?

      • milliethom says:

        My Book 3 is coming on a little more quickly now. It’s a challenging book, as so much happens in Wessex over the years the story will cover. I really could make two books out of it, but don’t want to do that.
        I know you haven’t posted in a while, so I imagined you were busy with your various projects. You seem to have moved a long way on from your earlier ‘procrastinating’ days. Good for you. All I can say is that I’m trying…honest!

      • Around Castle Cotner there’s an adopted saying concerning writing: “There is no try. Only do or don’t do.” Grant you it’s just a motto and I’ve been known to wallow in the ‘don’t do’ more often than the ‘do’. (some might say the ‘do, do’…but I won’t go there.

        I’m enjoying your Book 2; can’t wait to read your Book 3.

  8. domrey0800 says:

    My dream to get there One day

    • milliethom says:

      Conwy’s well worth a visit, but not so easy if you’re the other side of the world. I have a long list of places I’d like to visit, one day. Hopefully, I’ll manage to see some of them. Thank you for the nice comment. 🙂

  9. Norma says:

    Those walls might be cold but they do tell stories. I so love these castles – hope I could visit them some day, but until then thanks to you for taking me on a blog tour Millie. 🙂 I can see where you get your inspiration from about your stories. I loved History and still do but hated to remember dates. On the other hand I’ve got unconditional love for Geography.
    Walking in the ruins stirs up imagination and when it is a castle or a fort you fell like falling back to that time and feel somewhat like royal or commoner or knight or whatever suits ones imagination.

    • milliethom says:

      I’m a geogragher through and through. Geography and Geology are what I’ve done all my adult life. But History has a special fascination for me, and you’re right to say these old places are brilliant for inspiring stories and characters. I’m sure you have many wonderful sites in India. I’d love to see some of the old Mughal palaces and your fabulous temples. There are so many great places in the world to visit. Sadly, few of us can afford to globe trot!

      • Norma says:

        Geology – that’s new. Yes, we do have some marvelous places here. I love the idea when some people just take off to places for the love of travelling without thinking much about anything else.

      • milliethom says:

        I think I was born with the ‘travel bug’. I’d spend my life travelling, given half the chance, especially since all our children have left home. Unfortunately, travelling is rather expensive, and few people can manage many holidays abroad each year. We like to do a few trips to different parts of Britain, though – and some of those are staying with family, so cost us only spending money. India holds great appeal and I’d love to visit some day. 🙂

      • Norma says:

        Sure, Millie whenever you plan do let me know. Would love to meet you in person someday. 🙂

  10. exiledprospero says:

    Excellent castle, Millie. Would make an excellent summer cottage.

    But I’m about two hundred years ahead of you with Wolf Hall (Mark Rylance as Thomas Cromwell). Really good.

    • milliethom says:

      Firstly, these castles are very draughty, even in summer. Not to mention, you’d be sharing your summer home with dozens of nesting gulls, who make very noisy house-mates. 🙂
      As for Wolf Hall… I’ve read it. I didn’t watch it when it was on TV though, which (from your opinion of the production) was a silly thing to do. Next time round, I think.
      Thank you for liking the castle, but it’s best to leave it for the tourists. 🙂

      • exiledprospero says:

        The merriment of gulls wouldn’t bother me as I live by the ocean (in the ocean is a better description, but let’s not get hung up on small details). Frankly, I find it a little cramped. I like a place that can grow with you.

        Oh Millie, how could you, a history buff and Cromwell worshipper (p.s. I used the British spelling, just for you), have missed this fantastic adaptation? You will never be able to live this down.

      • milliethom says:

        But I read the book, Prospero, and loved the story! I like that Cromwell (i.e. Thomas) very much, but the one who had our lovely Newark Castle cannoned down is not a favouroite person of mine. 😦
        As for the TV series, I hang my head in shame for missing it. My excuse …? I haven’t got one. Next time round, as I said.
        I like the sound of gulls, too. I grew up by the sea and I miss their interminable screeching. My husband hates it – he’s an ‘inlander’.
        When all’s said and done, I don’t think Conwy Castle’s up for sale right now. 🙂

  11. Amazing pictures! Thanks for this wonderful post Millie. 🙂

  12. exiledprospero says:

    I just purchased ‘Shadow of the Raven.’ I feel good knowing that my small contribution (assuming Amazon doesn’t keep it all) will have helped to make possible your retirement in that quaint villa you liked so much, you know, the one by the Alhambra.

    • milliethom says:

      Wow, thank you Prospero! A villa by the Alhambra would suit me just fine. The weather is so much better than it is here. I can only say that I hope you like the book, and don’t get really annoyed with the Anglo Saxon names. They have been a bit daunting to some people. Your kind gesture is very much appreciated. 🙂

  13. I of July says:

    I see you much enjoyed your vacation in Wale, Millie… grand pics 🙂

    • milliethom says:

      It was a nice change to Lincolnshire, Heath. I love Wales, anyway – my maternal grandfather was Welsh. We visited three castles but there were several others we could have visited if we’d had time. Thank you for liking the photos. 🙂

  14. Inspired from you, I yesterday took a trip to the ‘Old Fort’ in Delhi. I hope you like it. If you do, I would like to mention my inspiration on the post by editing it. 🙂

    • milliethom says:

      Thanks for this, Prateek. I’ve now read your post and love it! The sories about the ‘Old Fort’ are wonderful and the building itself is awesome, as well as inspirational. You could write an excellent novel set at the time of the Mughals, or even way back, 5,000 years ago when that amazing original building was constructed. What fun you’d have doing all the research. 😀

  15. Pingback: Laughing through centuries – The Uncertainty Principle

    • milliethom says:

      Wow, Prateek, thank you so much for the mention! If anything, I’m really glad my Conwy post inspired you to write your own historical piece. It was a wonderful and inspirational post, and I learned a lot from it. That original, 5,000-year-old building is quite something. Just imagine what that ancient civilisation could have been like.

  16. Beth says:

    It’s lovely to meet you, Millie. I found you through our friend, Prateek Kohli, and am enjoying your blog. Cheers and see you in the blogosphere:0).

    • milliethom says:

      Hi Beth. It’s lovely to meet you, too. I
      agree, Prateek’s blog is great – he’s a wonderful poet, and now he’s doing historical posts, too. What more could I ask? 🙂 I intend to pop over to have a look at your blog, too, as soon as I can. I just have to read Prateek’s, as he’s sent me a link to his latest post. We can catch up tomorrow, when it isn’t so late. 🙂

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