Castle of the Week 18 – Conwy Castle

Conwy Castle is one of the castles built by Edward I in the 13th century to keep peace in the newly conquered territory of Wales. It was built on the site of a monastery and was one of a ring of large castles around Mount Snowdon.

The castle was started in 1283 and amazingly was completed in 5 years, thanks mainly to 1500 imported English workers. It had 70 foot high walls and eight drum towers over 30 foot in diameter and was surrounded by water on three sides. From the outside it still looks much the same as it would have done in the 13th century.

The walls are 15 feet thick and follow the rectangular shape of the rocky outcrop on which it stands overlooking the estuary of the River Conwy. There was no gatehouse. Invaders coming from the direction of the town had to climb steep winding stairs, cross a drawbridge and go through two gateways, only to be confronted with the strongly fortified barbican which was overlooked by two massive towers. The interior was divided in two separate wards by a cross wall, so that either half could hold out if the other should fall. The outer ward was the home of the garrison and the dungeons and the inner ward contained the king’s living quarters.

Despite the great fortifications, Conwy Castle was susceptible to a siege because of the lack of supplies inside. In 1294 Edward I, who was staying at the castle, was almost captured by Welsh rebels who cut him off from his main army and his supplies with the help of a very swollen river. Food ran very low, but luckily the river subsided before any attempt could be made to capture the king.

In 1399 King Richard II was at Conwy Castle when he was promised safe conduct to meet the rebel Bolingbroke. However he was ambushed on the road and dead within a year. In the 15th century the castle was briefly held by the Welsh but was soon recaptured during the War of the Roses.

After this, the building started to deteriorate. By the time of the Civil War in the 1640s, it was almost in ruins but at the start of the War, like many other castles, it was repaired. An ardent Royalist, the Archbishop of York, who was from the area undertook the repairs at his own expense. Despite this, it was taken after a three month siege by the Parliamentarians in 1646 and in the 1660s the Earl of Conwy shipped all his things (and a lot of the stone and lead) to his castle in Ireland. The castle stayed in this dilapidated state until it was put in the care of the government in the mid 1900s and it was restored.

It is now a World Heritage listed site.

Write-up and images provided by GillB


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