You might be forgiven for assuming that Beaumaris Castle, the
UNESCO world heritage site, is in the town of Beaumaris. But you'd
The castle actually stands mostly within in a different and much
older town, called Llanfaes. During the Middle Ages, Llanfaes was
an important town in its own right and a stronghold of the kings of
Gwynedd. Around the year 1200, Llewellyn the Great even founded a
priory here, to mark the grave of his wife, Joan.
So, in the 1290s, when King Edward I of England
moved to suppress the rebel Welsh on Anglesey, he naturally
targeted Llanfaes. Not only did he conquer it, he removed it!
Edward uprooted all the village's residents and forcibly moved
them across the island, to a brand-new village the English called
Newborough. Then he started to work on a castle.
The last (and greatest) castle in the Iron
In 1295 Edward ordered work to begin on the last - and most well
designed - of his five castles, a perfectly shaped fortress on the
'beautiful marsh' (beau marais in Norman French) -
Two thousand labourers and 400 masons quarried the stone from
Penmon and Benllech, transported it to Beaumaris, and erected it
into giant walls. In a year the castle had advanced far enough for
Edward to grant a charter to build the accompanying new town. Three
years after starting, the castle was defensible, but it was never
Innovations in design: protecting inhabitants -- and
their food supply
Come and see this perfect fortification. It is a soldier's
delight (and I ought to know, having been a soldier in the
Royal Welsh Fusiliers for more than 30 years).
For example, if you were
stationed to serve in Beaumaris Castle, you would not starve,
because its innovative design included defensible supply routes. An
inlet of the sea ran across "The Green" (where cars now park) to
the castle. The wall extending from the castle to the present road
allowed supply boats to be unloaded in safety.
Defence was strong. A surrounding moat - the East part of which
has now been filled in for a children's playground - kept attackers
at bay. And a high wall studded with towers made it easy to
shoot anyone who had crossed the moat.
Any attacker who somehow miraculously managed the moat and the
high outer wall then faced an inner open area, where he would
easily be spotted (and slain) by a sharp-eyed guard.
Then there was an even
higher inner wall, to protect any royal occupants. And the
entrances to the inner keep are out of line with those through the
outside wall - designed so that an attacker must slow down, change
direction, and become an easier target.
Still, not impenetrable?
In the English Civil War Sir Richard Bulkeley held the Castle
for the Royalists, until the Commonwealth Army conquered it in
1648. This led to some demolition of the castle in the late
Bulkeley's descendant, Sir Richard Williams-Bulkeley, remains
Constable of the Castle today. The Bulkeleys have a
magnificent alabaster tomb in the church in the middle of the town,
where there are superbly carved oak pews, reputedly taken from
Llanfaes Priory. The church also holds the stone sarcophagus of
Joan, wife of Llywelyn and daughter of King John of England.
Of course, after the castle was
built, Beaumaris town grew into an important settlement and
eventually served, for a few hundred years, as capital of Anglesey.
It was from the town's 1614 courthouse that troublesome locals
were "transported" (sent far away to work). In the 1829 town
gaol, prisoners were hung from a gallows over the
Beaumaris offers visitors so much history in one place, plus
lovely shops, fine restaurants and the chance for sea trips from
its elegant, renewed Victorian pier. Visit!