7th July 1307. Building Castles, But Not In The Air.
Castles from the 9thc onwards became the secure households for the nobility: under Pax Romana there was no need for such elaborate protection.
The last complete royal castle, (now disappeared), of the Middle Ages was built by Edward III at Sheppey and of the surviving castles Skipton is one of the most complete.
The great castle builder however was Edward I who died Today in 1307 after subduing the Celtic fortresses of Wales,and the outlawing of Llewellyn ap Gruffyd in the last quarter of the 13thc. (1)
Edward had been inspired when on Crusade by the castles of the Holy Land in particularly Krak de Chevalier and in 1273 commissioned Master Thomas of St. George to mastermind his Welsh castles.
In 1278 James set out for Wales to direct the building of the castles, ‘in partibus Wallie ad ordinandum opera castrorum ibidem’: in eighteen years ten new royal castles, some with major town fortifications were built.(2)
Castles initially would have been the wooden Motte and Bailey design, later to enlarged in stone and whitewashed, serving for administration and trade, as residence for the monarch and militarily controlling hostile territory.
Pleshey Castle near Colchester c 1180 by William de Mandeville was on the motte and bailey pattern. Others built were at Restormel, Cornwall; Lewes, Sussex and Warkworth in Northumberland.
Welsh historian Gerald of Wales born in 1196 at Manorbier described the castle: ‘it is excellently well defended by turrets and bulwarks…set on a hill….having on its northern and southern and southern flanks a splendid fish-pond under its wall….there is also a beautiful orchard enclosed on one part by a vineyard’.
Richard de Clare taking his name from a Suffolk town, becoming its lord and castle builder and soon expanded into Wales becoming Earl of Gloucester and builder of Caerphilly.
The reign of Edward I saw Builth Castle finished by 1282, now wholly destroyed, Aberystwyth and Flint, both finished by 1286, and Rhuddlan in 1280. Ruthin and Hope were started in 1277. The most magnificent example and still a sight today, is Conway where castle and town walls were substantially finished in five years.
Two other castles still extant are Harlech which was finished in seven years, and the magnificent Caernarvon, with its town walls was completed in 1283.
The years after 1284 saw the start of work on four new Marcher (boundary) lordship castles: Hawarden, Holt, Denbigh and Chirk. The concentric moated Beaumaris on Anglesey, was never finished as by 1330 castles were obsolescent.
Little did Edward I realise how his castles would be later over-run, not by the hostile, but by camera-toting tourists of the modern era.
(1) Edward III was crowned on 19th August 1274.
(2) In 1280s he is referred as ‘magister operacionum Regis in Wallia’ (master of the King’s works in Wales).
Master James had many aliases: Magister Jacobus ‘Ingeniator’ alias ‘Cementarius, alias ‘le Machoun’, alias ‘Latomus’, alias ‘Machinator’ showing his versatility as a stonemason, construction engineer, maker of engines of war.