Mark of Conquest: Conwy Castle

In the early Middle Ages the mouth of the River Conwy was a peaceful site, occupied by Aberconwy Abbey, burial place of famous Welsh Princes such as Llewellyn the Great and his son Dafydd ap Llewellyn, while on the other side of the river, the ancient Deganwy Castle protected this stratigic waterway. However all that changed in 1282 with the arrival of the occupying English, led by Edward I.

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The formidable walls of Conwy Castle
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Conwy Town and the town walls

Edward, determined to establish English authority over North Wales once and for all, abandoning Deganwy Castle and forced the monks out of Aberconwy, on the site of the abbey he began construction of a new  town, Conwy. Surrounding this town was a huge town wall to protect the migrant inhabitants from attacks by the native Welsh and to limit native access to this primarily English settlement. But the crowning glory of Conwy was the spectacular Conwy Castle, built on a coastal ridge located at the northern edge of the town. Designed by one of the most famous military architects of the time, the Savoian James of St George, Conwy Castle possessed  an inner and outer ward, eight large towers, two barbicans and access to the sea; making it a neigh impossible task for any potential besieger. However such vast defense made for an expensive enterprise, by the time the town walls and the castle were completed in 1287 the cost was presented at £15,000, a huge sum in those days. This cost combined with the expenses of rest of Edward’s Castles nearly bankrupted the crown.

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Conwy Castle

 

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Conwy Castle proved impossible to besiege due to its capability of being resupplied from the sea

Conwy Castle’s first test came in 1294 with the rebellion of Madog ap Llweyln. At the time Edward I was sheltering in Conwy and soon found himself besieged in his model town by Welsh fighters. However despite 2 months of fierce attacks, the defenses held and reinforcements arrived via sea in February 1295 to break the siege and rescue the king. Despite being the main residence for visiting royals and having construction actually completed (Castles at Caenarfon and Beaumaris having never actually been completed) , the cost of maintaining the castle proved too much and by 1321 Conwy Castle was already in a poor state, with leaking roofs and rotten timbers. in 1399 the castle was the refguee of Richard II who enjoyed his last days as a free man in the castle before traveling to Flint Castle where he surrendered to Henry Percy and was subsequently imprisoned for the rest of his life.

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Conwy’s eight towers provide clear views over the town and its surrondings
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The castle’s inner ward provided apartments for any royal guests

In 1401, during the Glyndwr Revolt, the castle was taken in a spectacular display of cunning by two Welsh nobles, Rhys ap Tudur and his brother Gwilym, both great great uncles of Henry VII, founder of the Tudor Dynasty. Disguised as carpenters to gain entry, the two brothers subsequently killed two watchmen and took control of painfully unprepared Conwy Castle, while other Welsh rebels attacked and took control of the town. Though the Tudur Brothers’ hold over the town lasted only 3 months it was nonetheless an embarrassing defeat for the English.

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Conwy Mountain rises up in the distance

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During the Civil War, North Wales served as a bastion of support for the Royalists, however by 1646 the New Model Army marched through North Wales, retaking all of the Edwardian Castles including Conwy. After the end of the Civil War, Conwy, like so many other castles; was slighted by the army to ensure that it could never again be used in a military fashion.

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Today the castle is only inhabited by local pigeons

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The castle ruins became an attraction for many Victorian artists in the 19th century and today is part of a World Heritage Site and is situated snugly between the two picturesque towns of Conwy and Llandudno. This was one of the first places I ever visited when I arrived here in Bangor and the site is a must see for any potential visitors to the area.

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