Since watching Dan Jones’ Secret of Great British Castles, I’ve been wanting to visit Caernarfon Castle. Earlier this year I finally achieved my goal and stood at Caernarfon Castle!
It was built by Edward I and alongside nearby Conwy, Beaumaris and Harlech castles is a World Heritage Site. For good reason too, as it is one of the most beautiful surviving buildings from the 13th century. It is known as being the birthplace of Edward’s surviving son and heir (also called Edward) in 1284. Building work at Caernarfon Castle had only started the year before Edward’s birth in 1283 and ultimately took around 47 years to finish.
The building work faced a major setback in 1294 when rebellion broke out in Wales led by Madog ap Llywelyn, who claimed the title Prince of Wales. Caernarfon was at the centre of Edward’s Welsh dominance, and Madog and his followers lit the castle on fire causing mass destruction. Edward was brutal in his reaction to the rebellion, and Madog was captured although we do not know his ultimate fate. This rebellion may have contributed towards Edward’s reasoning to formally make his son Edward of Caernarfon Prince of Wales in 1301. He was the first English Prince of Wales, which was “a bitter pill to swallow for the newly conquered nation”. As part of this, the young prince was “endowed with the rule and revenues of all the Crown’s Welsh lands”.
Standing in Caernarfon’s grounds, it’s impossible not to be awed by the grandeur of the site. Like with the previous castles I visited in the area, there was interpretation panels in key locations as well as signs for which area you were in e.g. The Well Tower. There are pop-up exhibitions in various locations across the site as well as the impressive Royal Welsh Fusiliers Museum. My favourite of these was about Edward’s queen Eleanor of Castile. It was a beautiful circular wooden cutout, that followed Eleanor’s life chronologically. Eleanor’s story is one I’ve always been interested in, so I was really happy to see one of the exhibitions available dedicated solely to her. Other exhibitions included a video about the castle and an exhibition about Edward I.
We were unable to see the King’s Gate, however Cadw (custodians of the castle) are investing £4.5 million into conserving castle including the King’s Gate in which they’re installing a lift. These sites can be difficult to make accessible, but it’s great to see that they have found a way to make sure the castle can be enjoyed by all.
Have you visited Caernarfon Castle? What did you think? I look forward to hearing your thoughts in the comments section below!
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Caernarfon Castle Guidebook
Caernarfon Castle: https://cadw.gov.wales/visit/places-to-visit/caernarfon-castle
Dictionary of Welsh Biography: https://biography.wales/article/s-MADO-APL-1294