Conwy Castle is included in our 16 days "Best Castles of
Britain and Ireland" tour.
information was researched by our volunteer team member
Location: Conwy, Wales
A successor of Robert Wynn was called away from Conwy Castle to fight in a distant war. Time was nearing for his return and his wife and child climbed the steep staircase to the lookout tower to look for him. He had been late and it was dark when his wife and child left the tower in darkness. On the way down the steep staircase his wife slipped, and took along with her, her young child, they fell to the bottom of the tower stairs. They were taken to the lantern room where "Doctor Dic" had been summoned and upon examination of both the mother and child he said he could do nothing to save either victim. A servant locked the doctor along with the dying family in the lantern room for fear of the wrath of lord of the castle upon his return. When the Master did return, he found the door of the lantern room unlocked. He found the bodies of his beloved wife and child, but there was no sign of the doctor. The doctor was never seen again. The husband was so stricken with grief he eventually went mad and died soon after. His ghost has been seen looking for the missing doctor in the lantern room and it is believed that he will continue to look until the doctor is found.
Throughout the 13th century the war between the Welsh and English swept in one direction and then the other. Llywelyn ap Iowerth, or Llywelyn the Great (d. 1240) was the founder of Conwy and was one of Wales’ most heroic and popular medieval leaders. "Gwynedd (the native name of North Wales) reached new heights of power and influence in the 1260’s under the leadership of Llywelyn ap Gruffud but in the war of 1282/83 Edward I undertook to end the independence of the country." It was during his second campaign that King Edward gained control of Conwy Valley in March 1283. The native Welsh were violently opposed to the English occupation of their homeland. Edward I "methodically conquered Gwynedd and the English castles still proudly standing here a testimony to the fear and respect in which the Princes and their people were held by their conquerors." "The monastery of Aberconwy, the spiritual heart of Gwynnedd and the burial place of Llewelyn the Great, was destroyed."
King Edward I and his English army had completed the conquest of Snowdonia and terminated the rule of the Welsh Princes in 1283. He captured Dolwyddealn Caste on January 18, 1283 which gave him control over the Conwy valley. Edward moved to Conwy in March of 1283. He destroyed the monastery of Abercony which was located here and moved it eight miles away to Maenan along with it’s monks.
Conwy castle was built above the original tomb of Llewelyn the Great. One of the most picturesque of Welsh castles, Conwy is a masterpiece of medieval military architecture. "The castle and town walls, are in the UNESCO World Heritage List as site of outstanding universal value." They remain the finest and most complete example of a fortified town and castle in Britain.
"Conwy castle is a gritty, dark stoned fortress which has the rare ability to evoke an authentic medieval atmosphere" Construction began in 1283. Conwy was a key part in Edward I’s plan to surround Wales in an ‘iron ring’ of castles which were to keep the native Welsh population subdued and to protect English colonies planted in Wales by Edward I. The fact that the town wall and the castle have both survived at Conwy shows the original medieval character of a Welsh castle-town.
Some may see Conwy Castle and the other Edwardian Castles of the "iron ring" as a badge of conquest of the Welsh people, or, a sad memorial to their inferiority, but most can surely see that these magnificent military strongholds, every one built to the very height of architectural strength and scientific development, are what Edward I needed to seize Welsh lands, and each and every one stands as a monument to the tenacity of the resistance of the Welsh, and are testimony to the immensity of the task of uprooting Wales and the Welsh rule.
The castle consists of eight massive identical towers, four on the north and four on the south. The "equal distance" spacing of the towers is quite striking and divides the high curtain wall into exact sections. Each rising to a common "battlement" line, and each with "perfectly matching" arrowloops which are all intact. Visitors today to Conwy have the fortunate opportunity to walk along portions of the castle’s "wall walk" and can even ascend higher to the tops of the towers. From this bird’s eye view of the castle’s interior and with a little imagination.... well, you know, it must be breathtaking! A linear castle, it was built with a barbican at each end.
The entrance to the outer ward was reached by a long stepped ramp which lead up to the west barbican. Its defenses included a drawbridge and portcullis. The interior was divided by a "cross wall", which formed two separate wards, so either could be defended if necessary. Inside, four towers provided some of accommodations for the castle’s garrison. The dank dungeon was located at the base of the Prison Tower. Located to the left are foundations which mark the sites where the castle’s kitchens and stables once were. To the right, is the Great Hall. It’s unusual "bowed" shape is due to the castle’s rocky foundation. 125 feet in length, the Great Hall dominates the outer ward.
Once richly decorated, and with its many fine windows, the Great Hall must have presented itself as a grand place for the "Royal Feast." At the far end of the ward was the castle wall, and further, beyond that was another drawbridge, which protected the castle’s inner ward (which was the heart of the castle). Luxurious private apartments were built for King Edward I here in the inner ward. The King and Queen’s private apartments’ principal rooms were located on the first floor, with heated basements below them. "They included a hall and a sumptuous presence chamber," although only the shells of the windows remain; they still give an idea of the magnificence of it’s former splendor. "A beautiful little chapel gives one of the towers it’s name, and the King’s Tower provided further private rooms."
Madog ap Llywelyn attacked the castle during the rebellion of 1295. King Edward I was besieged here during that time but the castle and Edward both withstood the rigors of the siege.
Some remodeling was carried out in the 14th century, by the Black Prince.
In 1339, Richard II surrendered to Henry of Bolingbroke at Conwy Castle.
In 1403, the castle "fell by trickery" to Owain Glyndwr and was held ransom until paid by the English.
"Conwy saw some action during the Civil War", afterward it was left for ruin until the last century. Almost all of the castle is accessible and well preserved.
CONWY THE WALL TOWN:
Plans for an accompanying garrison town were made at the same time the castle plans were drawn. The Castle, town and walls were all built in a "frenzied" period of just four years, begun in 1283, in a tremendous achievement, considering how laborious construction was during the dark ages, and 1,500 craftsmen and laborers, completed all three by 1287.
The Town of Conwy replaced a native Welsh settlement. It was built by Edward I of England as an "English City". He had English Noblemen settle in this conquered town, the massive walls kept the native Welsh out. They were only permitted inside the town on periodic market days.
The town walls are the finest and most complete set of walls in all Europe, over 3/4 of a mile in length the walls have 21 of it’s towers still standing and and three original gateways. Most of the town walls have wooden walkways built along their tops; so, visitors today can walk down long sections of the walls just as the garrison had done over 700 years before.
The walls were built to subdue the Welsh and defend the largest of King Edward I’s fortified towns. The town’s walls were the outermost defence of the royal castle, each of the twenty one Towers served as a "circuit breaker", cutting off attackers allowing them to be slain by the Tower’s guards. On the other side of town walls was the castle’s outer ward which housed the castle’s garrison. In the castle’s inner ward were the King’s private apartments, doubly defended by the town walls and the garrison’s outer ward, the inner ward’s towers still contained guarded turrets on top for protection of the royals.
This reaffirms the tenacity and strength that the native Welsh must have projected. A small town with narrow one way streets, time has passed Conwy by. With the exception of a few modern shops, Conwy is the same ancient town built nearly 800 years ago. The simple streets offer very little to remind the visitor of the present day. "Conwy is something of a paradox". Originally, a symbol of English domination of Wales, in time, the Welsh managed to reclaim the town, replacing English oppression; it has held on to its medieval character which has been lost by other medieval Welsh castle towns over the centuries.
In the center of the town square is a statue of Llywelyn ap Iowerth, or Llywelyn the Great (d.1240). He was the founder of the settlement where Conwy now stands, and he was one of Wales’ most heroic and popular medieval leaders. The statue is painted according to Llywelyn’s heraldic colors and forms part of a small fountain that serves as the centerpiece for the town square.
A lovely suspension bridge was built (one of the first in the world) in the 19th century by the great bridge builder Thomas Telford. Started in 1822, it also took only four years to complete. The bridge no longer allows cars to cross, but visitors can walk across it. Every night the castle, towers, town, town walls, and the old suspension bridge are lit by floodlights, creating such a spectacular sight it is said even the most picturesque photos could not do it justice. This sounds like someplace I would love to visit!