Beaumaris Castle was the latest stronghold erected by the English king Edward I after his conquest of Wales in the second half of the 13th century. Construction began at the beginning of 1295, immediately after the defeat of the Welsh rebellion of Madog ap Llywelyn, on the place called Beau Mareys, or “Fair marsh”. It was run by a master architect of Savoy origin, James of Saint George, using 1800 workers and 450 stonemasons. The work absorbed a high of £ 270 a week, making the project fall into debt quickly, forcing officials to issue leather tokens instead of paying with a normal coin. In 1296, the construction was slowed down, and around 1298-1300 was halted completely. This was primarily the result of Edward’s new wars in Scotland, which began to absorb his attention and financial resources. The inner walls and towers did not reach their full height, and the northern and north-west parts of the castle had no external protections at all. Because of fear of the Scottish invasion of North Wales, the work was resumed around 1306, first under the direction of master James, and then, after his death in 1309, master Nicolas de Derneford. Construction was finally stopped in 1330, and the castle still did not reach the intended height. More than £ 15,000 were spent on it, which was a huge sum.
In 1400, a revolt under Owain Glyndŵr broke out in North Wales against English rule. The Beaumaris Castle was besieged in 1403 and taken over by the insurgents, and then recaptured by the royal forces in 1405. After this event, the castle fell into disrepair; in the sixteenth century, the castle constable complained that it was protected by an arsenal consisting of only eight or ten small guns and forty arches, which were considered completely inadequate to protect the fortress from a potential Scottish attack. In the following years, things worsened and until 1609 the castle was classified as “completely ruined.”
When in 1642 a civil war broke out between the supporters of king Charles I and the supporters of Parliament, Beaumaris was a strategic place, controlling the route between the king’s bases in Ireland and England. Thomas Bulkeley, whose family managed the castle for several centuries, held Beaumaris on behalf of the king and got about £ 3,000 to improve its defences. This was not enough, however, and when in 1646 the royal army was defeated, the castle was subordinated to the forces of Parliament. Two years later, the island of Anglesey rebelled against Parliament, Beaumaris was briefly taken over by the royalist forces, but surrendered again for the second time in October 1648.
After the war, many castles were ruined, damaged and slighted to prevent their use for military purposes, fortunately for Beaumaris, Parliament was concerned about the threat of royalist invasions from Scotland and spared the castle. Colonel John Jones became its administrator, and when Charles II returned to the throne in 1660, he restored authority over the stronghold to the Bulkeley family. In 1807 Lord Thomas Bulkeley bought a castle from the Crown and incorporated it into the park created by him. At that time, the romantic trend began, during which the castles became attractive places visited by painters and travelers. The first renovation and repair works at the Beaumaris castle began in 1925 and continued in the post-war period.
Built in the eastern part of the town of Beaumaris, the castle has never been fully completed. It was managed to build concentric, circumferential defensive walls, reinforced with symmetrically arranged 6 towers and two gatehouses of incomplete height, closing the inner ward with a square shape. An additional defense was the outer, octagonal, lower belt of fortifications with 12 cylindrical towers and two fortified gatehouses. There was an irrigated moat in front of it.
The stone used in the construction was a mixture of limestone, sandstone and green schists, which were randomly placed by raising walls and towers. The use of schists was discontinued after a break in construction works in 1298, as a result of which it is limited to lower levels of the walls.
The main entrance to the castle was the southern, external Gate next the Sea, located next to the castle dock, which allowed for supply directly by sea through the artificial channel. The dock was supplied with sea water and the moat with water from the stream, the level between them was leveled by using of a lock. The dock was protected by a wall, later named the Gunner’s Walk and by a platform that could place portable defense devices in the Middle Ages, such as trebuchets or ballistas. The Gate next the Sea led to the barbican of the inner southern gate, protected by a drawbridge, murder holes in the ceiling of the gateway and numerous other arrowslits. The outer belt of fortifications with 12 cylindrical towers was equipped with around 300 shooting positions for archers, including 164 arrowslits. It was also planned to place an outside gate from the north, but it was never fully completed. In the outer walls there was also a significant number of latrines. They were designed to use water from the moat, but this system probably did not work very well in practice.
The inner walls were higher, they were 11 meters high and 4.7 meters thick. In the corners there were four cylindrical towers and one horseshoe in the eastern and western curtains. The inner north and south gate consisted of two horseshoe towers, between which the passages were placed. From the side of the inner ward, two communication towers were erected at each gate, allowing access to the top. The inner northern gate was designed as a two-story building, with two sets of five large windows, of which only one floor was completed. On the first floor there was to be a large hall with dimensions of 21 to 7.6 meters, divided into two parts, with separate fireplaces for warming. The inner south gate was to have the same look as the northern one, but the work on it was less advanced. The walls of the internal fortifications contain passages on the first floor, designed to enable the crew to move between the towers, access to the guard rooms and latrines of the castle. Six towers of the inner circumference were to have three floors and contain rooms warmed by fireplaces. The chapel was built into the central eastern tower.
The Beaumaris Castle survived to the present day in the form of a ruin, but it is more due to the unfinished construction than from later destruction. A complete external circumference and inner wall with incomplete height has been preserved. There were also no internal buildings in the castle inner ward. In 1986, UNESCO recognized the castle as one of the “best examples of military architecture of the late 13th and early 14th century in Europe” and added it to the World Heritage List. Beaumaris is currently managed by the Cadw government agency and open to the public, as one of the largest historical attractions in North Wales.
Kenyon J., The medieval castles of Wales, Cardiff 2010.
Taylor A. J., The Welsh castles of Edward I, London 1986.
Website wikipedia.org, Beaumaris Castle.